What To Look Out For When Picking a Water Bottle

Here’s an unexpected win for the environment: reusable water bottles are having an it-girl moment, thanks in part to the wildly popular Stanley cups. While we’ve successfully eschewed single-use bottles and opted for giant tumblers from which to sip iced coffees and sparkling mocktails, it’s worth investigating the materials used. So, which material is best? We chatted to an expert for the low-down on how to pick a water bottle.

Meet the expert: Charlotte Metcalf is the CEO of the South African National Bottled Water Association.

What to look out for when picking a water bottle

Check its sustainability

“Every single material used to manufacture reusable/re-fillable beverage bottles has an impact on the environment,” says Charlotte Metcalf, CEO of the South African National Bottled Water Association. “This impact differs between each material be it plastic, aluminium, glass or stainless steel, or any other less well-known packaging materials which may be used for this function.”

Having said that, the longevity of your reusable water bottle plays a role in its sustainability. Stainless steel, for example, will last longer than single-use plastic, making it a more sustainable option. Bottom line: the longer you hang onto your water bottle, the better for the environment, since this lowers its impact.

Check for scratches

Another factor to consider, when picking a water bottle, is how likely it is to harbour bacteria. “What is particularly important to consider is that all materials are prone to scratching, pitting and wearing from regular cleaning,” says Metcalf. “These surface imperfections offer the ideal breeding ground for bacteria as they trap and protect bacteria and are difficult to clean.” To keep your bottle clean, experts advise that you wash your water bottle once a day with vinegar or bicarbonate of soda and water. Bleach will leave an odour and is unsafe, so steer clear. Another note: avoid abrasive products in your water bottle, as these create tiny scratches where bacteria flourish.

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Consider the design

By this, we don’t mean a water bottle with aspirational wording or cute colour. Rather, Metcalf explains that ridges, bends and other design features inside the walls of the bottle could create crevices where bacteria flourish. “Good design will feature no parts, voids, ridges, liners and spaces in which bacteria can accumulate and that cannot be properly cleaned,” says Metcalf. “With these design features, a reusable bottle can easily become like your pet’s water bowl, lined with slime-forming bacteria or even air-borne disease-causing organisms.”

Dedicate your bottle to water

Even if you’re a flavoured water queen or have a penchant for cooldrink, aim to consume those from a different container. “It is important that reusable bottles must be dedicated to water,” explains Metcalf. “Once you fill the bottle with other beverages containing sugar, fats and flavouring, it becomes difficult to clean all traces of these ingredients as these ‘added nutrients’ will fuel the growth of unwanted organisms.” Yikes.

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How to pick a plastic water bottle

While plastic uses the least amount of resources to manufacture, its health impacts are murkier. For starters, studies link the popular water bottle material BPA (Bisphenol A) to adverse health outcomes like hormonal disruptions. While you can look to BPA-free bottles, their alternatives, like bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) are also used in plastic water bottles and the studies on their health impacts remain to be seen. Per Metcalf, bottles made from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) are seen as safe. “The inert PET bottle is a well-accepted package all over the world and is completely safe to drink from,” says Metcalf.

If you’re using a plastic water bottle, make sure you clean it regularly and prevent scratches and pitting on the inside. “Reusable/refillable [water bottles] must be regularly examined for pitting and wear-and-tear, regardless of the material they are made from, and discarded as soon as they become worn and difficult to clean,” says Metcalf.

Plastic water bottles

How to pick a glass water bottle

Glass, generally speaking, is good. They’re much easier to spot when dirty, making it easier to keep clean. They’re also free of chemicals, are natural and are dishwasher-safe.

Glass water bottles, however, are not the most sustainable of the bunch. “Although glass is inert, it takes a lot of energy to produce, transport and recycle. Glass breakage in the environment is dangerous and extremely difficult to remove,” explains Metcalf. If you treat it well, however, it could last a long time.

Glass water bottles

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How to pick a stainless steel water bottle

Steel’s known for its ability to keep hot drinks warm and cold drinks cool, making it a versatile option to lug around to the gym and everywhere else. If you’re leaning towards metal, Metcalf suggests opting for something other than aluminium, which can leach toxins into the environment.

Stainless steel, if made from low-quality materials, can be a problem. “Low-quality stainless-steel bottles can present toxic lead levels from the sealing dot on the base,” says Metcalf. To mitigate this, she suggests checking that your stainless steel water bottle is 18/8 food-grade stainless steel.

Stainless steel bottles

Michelle October

Michelle is the features editor at WH. She’s immensely curious about the world, passionate about health and wellness and enjoys a good surf when the waves are good. Find her on Instagram here.

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