In an effort to be responsible and thrifty, you may reuse a plastic water bottle over and over gain. Why not?
It’s lightweight and practical and if it’s only ever used for water, you may think that’s a good thing. Not so much.
The bottled water you buy is in a thin plastic bottle that isn’t meant to be reused, not to mention many times over.
Even before you can see it, cracks form in the delicate plastic and bacteria can lodge there. Rinsing the bottle doesn’t help; you need to wash thoroughly with soap and water and then dry completely. Washing in a dishwasher in this case is not a good thing because the plastic breaks down when subjected to very hot water.
Plastics are Not Static.
The danger of reusing a plastic bottle not meant for that purpose is two-fold: the structure of the plastic breaks down easily with regular use; the potential for leaching of the chemicals into the water is cause for concern. Heat and frequent use causes the plastic to break down faster.
One component of some plastics is BPA (bisphenol A), a known endocrine disruptor. Then there’s the bacteria. Hardy buggers, they are.
In one study of water bottles used by elementary school students, levels of bacteria well above drinking water guidelines were found in most of the bottles tested; the hygiene habits of young children is questionable at best.
The consequences of their hand-washing neglect after playing and using the toilet transferred to the water bottles. If a bottle isn’t washed properly, the bacteria will find cozy places to hang out and stay there. The researchers’ conclusion:
“The use of personal water bottles for students in elementary classrooms is not recommended.”
Other Issues Surrounding Plastic Water Bottles are Just as Concerning.
Often we don’t know the source of the water in the bottle. The common perception is that it is safer/cleaner than tap water. That’s not necessarily true; it’s estimated that twenty-five percent of bottled water is really tap water.
On top of that, some of it is tap water that’s been zapped with ultraviolet light or shot with mineral additives to make it sound more “natural”.
A four-year study by the National Resources Defense Council of bottled water found toluene, o-xylene, arsenic, bacteria, fluoride, and phthalates (among other toxins) in various brands. In a report submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, the findings are summarized:
“Millions of us are willing to pay 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than we do for tap water–though we probably rarely think of it that way. However, some bottled water contains bacterial contaminants, and several brands of bottled water contain synthetic organic chemicals (such as industrial solvents, chemicals from plastic, or trihalomethanes–the by-products of the chemical reaction between chlorine and organic matter in water) or inorganic contaminants (such as arsenic, a known carcinogen) in at least some bottles…Moreover, as Chapter 4 documents, bottled water regulations have gaping holes, and both state and federal bottled water regulatory programs are severely underfunded. In Chapter 5 we present evidence that there is substantially misleading marketing of some bottled water, and in Chapter 6 we argue that consumers should be informed about the contaminants found in the water they purchase.”
Only a fraction of the bottles used for water are recycled and many of them end up in the oceans.
No Plastic is 100% Safe from Leaching…
Research published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal in 2011 found that seventy-two percent of the plastic containers and storage products they tested leached synthetic estrogens. “And every type of plastic commonly used in food packaging (polypropylene and polystyrene, for example) tested positive in some cases, which suggested there was no surefire way to avoid exposure.”
One study at the University of Alberta in Canada had to be scrapped because the chemicals that leaked from the polypropylene labware were so potent they affected the function of the human brain protein that was being studied.
There are much safer, more durable, and more environmentally-friendly options for taking your water with you than plastic. Glass-lined bottles are optimal because they’re easiest to keep clean and will not leach. Stainless steel comes in second as long as you make sure to wash it thoroughly with soap and water, inside and out.