When you consider the entire life cycle of a plastic water bottle, you'll get a clearer picture of why reusable alternatives like metal water bottles are not only safer for your health but also better for the environment and your budget. The chemicals in plastic bottles, their environmental impact, and the sheer cost are just a few reasons to rethink single-use bottles. Here, we’ll consider those reasons and dig deeper into why it’s time to ditch the plastic and invest in a bottle of your own.
1) Plastic Water Bottles Contain Harmful Chemicals
When you drink out of a reusable water bottle that you’ve done your research on, you can rest assured your beverages are uncontaminated. With plastic bottles, unfortunately, you can’t say the same. Known as bisphenol, BPA is commonly found in many types of plastic, including the kind used to make plastic bottles. The problem with this common chemical is that it acts as an endocrine-disrupting compound. When you drink out of plastic water bottles that contain BPA, these chemicals can leach into the body and mimic hormones, resulting in a disruption of normal hormone functions.
As Johanna Rochester from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange explains, "What's kind of disturbing about this is hormones regulate almost everything in our bodies." In the case of BPA, researchers are particularly concerned about its ability to mimic estrogen, which can result in significant damage to the reproductive system in both males and females.
The History of BPA
In fact, the dangers of BPA have been documented in many studies over the past few decades. Researchers have discovered negative effects on reproductive, metabolic, and developmental systems in a long list of wildlife, including mice, zebrafish, nematodes, and monkeys. There have also been several human studies linking BPA to many health issues, including metabolic disease, infertility, and developmental conditions in children.
BPA was first used in the '50s as a building block for epoxy resins. Shortly after, the chemical was used to make a durable, hard plastic known as polycarbonate, which was manufactured into everyday products like plastic plates, the liners in canned foods, grocery receipts, dental sealants, sippy cups for kids, water bottles, and dental sealants.
Unfortunately for consumers, they were unknowingly consuming large quantities of BPA on a daily basis. The chemical became so common that 93% of people tested in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey had detectable levels of the compound in their urine.
As the research into the harmful effects of BPA began to explode, companies started to feel more and more pressure to label their products as BPA-free. Although the term ‘BPA-free’ has become a trendy buzzword in product packaging, the FDA has only banned the compound from certain products such as baby bottles, infant formula packaging, and sippy cups. According to the FDA website, studies conducted by The National Center for Toxicology Research have not found any adverse health effects caused by low-dose BPA exposure.
How “Free” is BPA-Free?
But BPA-free does not necessarily mean that the product is safe, including kids water bottles. According to researchers, alternatives to BPA can be just as harmful. As the BPA-free label has become increasingly popular among consumers, manufacturers have responded by developing variations of the compound like BPS, BPF, BPAF, and many more. While slightly different, they all contain bisphenol, the same basic chemical structure found in BPA. Scientists have found that these BPA replacements can also disrupt the reproductive system in mammals and humans.
Brent A. Bauer, M.D. from the Mayo Clinic recommends using alternatives to plastic in an effort to reduce exposure to BPA and similar chemicals: "Use glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic containers." More specifically, we recommend a stainless steel metal water bottle with a BPA-free plastic lid, a safe alternative for staying hydrated throughout the day.
2) It's Better For the Environment
It's also common knowledge that single-use plastics like plastic water bottles often end up as accumulated pollution in the oceans and other bodies of water — that is, when they’re not adding to landfill waste and litter on roadways and other land areas. Reusable water bottles eliminate this problem because you, well, re-use them. You’re not adding another piece of plastic to the mix because you’ve invested in a sustainable container.
Skip the Greenhouse Gases
The problem with plastic water bottles is more than just the eyesore it creates in nature, however. As polycarbonate breaks down, it releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In oceans and bodies of water, microplastics from plastic water bottles significantly reduce the growth of microalgae and the efficiency of photosynthesis. As a result, more plastic production could impede the ability of plankton to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Coupled with the increase of greenhouse gases from single-use bottles, that’s a double whammy.
Another hidden cost of plastic bottle pollution is the effects on waste management, particularly with incineration. According to a 2015 CIEL report, the emissions from plastics incineration in the U.S. was the equivalent of 5.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The World Energy Council predicts that production and incineration of plastics will increase by 49 million metric tons by 2030. Many of these incineration facilities are also built near low-income communities, making it a serious environmental injustice in the U.S. and countries all over the world.
Using a metal water bottle means you’re not contributing plastics that will need to be incinerated or that will break down in nature and release greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment.
The Problem with Plastic Production
It’s not just a plastic breakdown that’s bad for the environment — the production of plastic itself is also an issue. As Brooke Bauman from YaleClimateConnections.org points out, the refining and manufacturing of plastics is another major contributor to greenhouse gases. "In 2015, emissions from manufacturing ethylene, the building block for polyethylene plastics, were 184.3 to 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent…" Putting these numbers in perspective, this amount of greenhouse gases equals the emissions of 45 million passenger vehicles for one year. On a global scale, experts predict that carbon dioxide emissions from ethylene production will expand by 34% between 2015 and 2030.
This doesn’t take into account additional harm from the extraction and transportation of oil, coal, and gas, which is needed for the manufacturing process. According to Matt Kelso of FracTracker Alliance, about 19.2 million acres have been cleared for oil and gas pipelines. Approximately a third of the impacted land was cleared of forests, resulting in 1.686 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.
What About Recycling?
Complicating the issue, even more, is the issue of recycling, which comes with its own set of problems. A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that only 2% of plastics are recycled into products with the same level of function. The other 8% are 'downcycled' into a lower quality product. Whatever is leftover gets sent to landfills, which allows harmful chemicals to leach into the environment as it breaks down over time or through incineration. Although recycling is an important factor in reducing waste, the massive amount of plastics in the modern world have made domestic recycling increasingly inefficient.
Another problem is the contaminated waste that can't be recycled into usable products. In the U.S. and other Western countries, most of this contaminated waste from recycling plants was sent to China and other countries like Thailand and Malaysia. But starting in 2018, many of these countries began to stop accepting these shipments, resulting in more waste piling up in landfills and less plastic being recycled.
A reusable water bottle can mean hundreds of plastic water bottles moved from the equation for environmental destruction — and that’s just your personal use. Investing in a metal water bottle is an environmentally-smart solution not just for you, but for all of us.
3) It Costs Less Over Time
Finally, as if the benefits of avoiding chemical-laden plastic and damaging the environment weren’t enough, it’s also just financially smarter to invest in a reusable bottle. Single-use plastic bottles are popular because of their convenience, but a reusable water bottle made from durable materials like stainless steel has many benefits, including financial ones. A study by researchers from Penn State University found that a family of four can save $123,000 from using reusable water bottles after five years; the average individual can save $1,236 a year by using a reusable water bottle instead of plastic. After five years, that number averages out to approximately $6,180, which adds up to a significant amount of money. When you think about that in terms of the larger population, if more families move to reusable bottles, that’s a lot of dollars.
When you look at the big picture of what it takes to produce plastic water bottles, buy them on a daily basis, and manage the resulting waste, the choice becomes crystal clear — reusable metal water bottles made with safe, sustainable materials like stainless steel are better for our bodies, our wallets, and the planet.