Disposable plastic water bottles and their alternatives

Posted: May 4, 2009 in environment
Tags: ,


Given the kind of foul taste of tap water, I’ve been buying bottled water for years. Even though they get recycled (at least that’s what we’re told), I have been using them in what I considered was a relatively sensible way: for a week I refilled them with purified water from my Brita water filter before dumping them into the recycling bin.

Lately though doubts have crept into my mind about buying bottled water and I started to investigate a little. Unsurprisingly I found a lot of information speaking out against the use of bottled water, especially that sold in plastic bottles:

  • Depending on how much bottled water you use, it can become quite expensive.
  • I haven’t found information on safety testing for bottled water in Australia, but I would not be surprised if it is as lax as it is in the US where the EPA tests bottled water only once a week without making the results public. Recently a dozen high school students in California were taken to hospitals after getting sick from drinking Pepsi’s Aquafina bottled water.
  • When plastic bottles get warm, they can leach chemicals into the water and therefore into our bodies. One particularly nasty chemical is BPA (Bisephenol A) which mimics estrogen and therefore messes with your hormones plus has a known cancer link.
  • There’s a huge environmental cost attached to plastic water bottles. In Australia, a lot of city councils (not all of them!) operate recycling services that pick up bottles from households, but don’t cover a lot of businesses, office buildings and rubbish bins in public places. In all these cases different wastes don’t get separated and therefore plastic bottles end up in landfills. I don’t have any figures for Australia, but if the US is anything to go by, that impact is considerable. Apparently Americans throw away eight out of 10 bottles, sending about 38 billion drink bottles a year to landfills (including bottles for water, juice, energy drinks, sports drinks, and so on). It takes 24 million gallons of oil to make just a billion of those bottles. That’s enough oil to fuel 30,000 cars for a year. Now multiply these 24 million gallons by 38 billion bottles and you end up with 1.14 million cars! Add to this the fuel burned in the distribution of bottled water on trucks, ships and even planes and you get to quite a considerable global warming contribution. [US data from Celsias]

Tap water of course has it’s drawbacks too. It’s easier on the global warming account but it has its fair share on the chemical side of the ledger. First there are the treatment chemicals for control of algae, coagulation and flocculation, adsorption, water softening, oxidation, disinfection, pH adjustment, buffering capacity addition and corrosion inhibition (to follow up on some of these terms click here). In addition we have fluoridation and we have the unwanted environmental chemicals, like pesticides in water catchments, lead leaching from old water pipes and chemicals leaching from modern plastic pipes, for example those made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), polypropylene (PP), polybutlyene (PB), and polyethylene (PE).


Anyway, some of that stuff get’s filtered out by my Brita filter while I just have to live with the rest. But I certainly wanted to do something about the throw-away plastic water bottles, and therefore decided to replace them with a couple of non-disposable ones. After much search I decided on buying Nalgene bottles. After the cancer scare in 2008 the company pulled all its bottles containing BPA off the shelf and the new ones are sold now with a huge and unfortunately extremely hard-to-remove ‘bpa free’ sticker.

I did look at stainless steel and aluminium bottles, but they were much heavier of course and in terms of design looked very unappealing. In the meantime though I found out about Sigg, a Swiss company that produces aluminium bottles with a supposedly leach-proof lining. The bottles seem to have something like a cult status in the consumer world, which unsurprisingly has escaped me so far; they’re sold worldwide and are roughly 85%-95% more expensive then the already quite pricey Nalgene bottles (I paid AUD25.- for a 1l Nalgene bottle).

Right now I’m quite happy with my choice, especially since I haven’t indulged in reading the negative Nalgene reviews 😉 . The question though is: how long will that bliss last? 😀

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  1. dsr22 says:

    Great post. We’ve gotten way to used to the wasteful convenience culture and it’s time to dispose of it (pun intended).

    Personally, I like Klean Kanteens, but they are a bit heavy.

  2. […] Disposable plastic water bottles and their alternatives (isiria.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] Disposable plastic water bottles and their alternatives (isiria.wordpress.com) […]

  4. stocktoc says:

    Great post! I’m still nervous about drinking out of anything plastic, but kor claims that their plastic is BPA free and I’m happy with the bottle I purchased off their site a couple years ago. You can read about it here:


  5. Love to browse your blog…always learn something new

    Water Softener Reviews

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