Why Your Reusable Plastic Bottle Isn't Cutting It and What You Can Do About It

Plastic water bottle sorting

You know single-use plastics are bad for the environment, and perhaps you try to do your best about limiting plastic use in your life where you can. Maybe you have already made the switch away from plastic straws, or you have invested in a few reusable bags for your produce instead of relying on the plastic ones at the grocery store. All of these are great! But a major step exists that every eco-friendly consumer should consider: cutting down plastic bottle usage.

One common solution people try in an attempt to put a dent in the plastic bottle problem is to extend the life of bottles that were intended for single use. Sometimes this might mean using a plastic water bottle two or three times before tossing it, or saving a plastic 2-liter bottle for other liquids at home once it’s empty. Let’s be clear: any of these strategies is preferable to constantly using single-use plastic bottles–75 percent of which never get recycled. That said, however, plastic bottles are still highly problematic even if you plan on using them multiple times. Here are a few reasons why your reusable plastic bottle isn’t really the eco-friendly option you think it is, and some suggestions for what you can do about it.

What is Wrong With Reusing Plastic Bottles?

The most glaringly obvious problem with using plastic bottles is that, no matter how long you use them, they will eventually break down beyond the point of usability and will need to be discarded. Even the sturdiest of plastic bottles will break, warp, or diminish in quality in some way over time. Trying to extend the lifespan of a plastic bottle before it begins its journey to the landfill is a noble gesture, but ultimately you’re much better off never having purchased it in the first place. Why? Because they simply won’t last you forever, and you’ll need another one before long. That cycle of disposal is what makes single-use plastics so dangerous: they wreak havoc on the environment.

What is the Environmental Impact of Plastic Bottles?

plastic water bottle in a creek

The “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” nature of discarding plastic bottles makes it all too convenient to overlook just how devastating single-use plastic bottles are for our planet. Of the 29 billion water bottles that Americans purchase every year, only a sixth of those will make it to the recycle bin; the rest will literally sit around on the planet for 1,000 years until they decompose, all the while producing chemicals into the ground, water, and air. According to Healthy Human Life, landfills in the United States alone are teeming with plastic water bottles, to the tune of 2 million tons.

It’s not just the discard of plastic bottles that makes them dangerous, but the actual production itself. To make a plastic bottle requires three times as much water as it takes to fill it. That means the creation of a 12-ounce bottle requires 36 ounces. You can quickly imagine how fast that adds up when you consider the mind-boggling amount of plastic bottles produced every day. Plastic bottle production is also heavily dependent on fossil fuels, with the bottled water industry itself requiring 17 million barrels of oil annually.

Isn’t It Good That I’m Reusing My Plastic Bottle? Why Are Plastic Bottles Bad?

Though it almost goes without saying that plastic bottles are a clearly imperfect choice because of the devastating effect they have on our planet and the environment, it also bears mentioning that they are also not the best option for drinking vessels. Plastic is softer and prone to scratching and scuffing, which can open up space for mold and mildew to grow, and because plastic is porous, it will also trap and retain odors and tastes of previous beverages.

In fact, USA Today points out, plastic containers–especially bottles–are extremely prone to carrying bacteria, becoming a haven for them. “Left unwashed, reusable water bottles can become a breeding ground for poop particles. Bottles that go days between cleanings can leave us gulping down germs with every drink.” It’s estimated that each plastic bottle carries about six times as much bacteria as you would find on a pet’s food bowl, and almost as much as a toothbrush holder near a toilet. And, even if you are cleaning your plastic bottle religiously, remember that porous plastic retains flavors–and that includes soap.

So plastic bottles, single-use or otherwise, are bad for the environment and they are crawling with disgusting bacteria. As if that weren’t enough reasons to stop using them, there is also the fact that plastic is a poor retainer of temperature–plastic water bottles, especially clear ones, allow light into the cold liquids inside of them, and often can have a magnifying effect that easily causes drinks to warm quickly. Conversely, warm drinks hold up better in plastics when it comes to staying warm, but higher temperatures inside of plastic bottles causes chemical leaching and can actually be unsafe to drink–this is why many experts advise against drinking water out of plastic bottles that have been left in hot cars or outside.

What are Good Alternatives to Plastic Bottles?

For beverage quality, temperature maintenance, longevity and, above all else, benefit to the environment, you should strongly consider replacing all your plastic bottles–even your reusable bottles–with stainless steel. Immediately, you’ll never again need to bother with buying a single-use plastic bottle and then have to use it repeatedly to extend its life, but the real upshot is that stainless steel is infinitely better for the planet. Stainless steel is 100-percent recyclable, meaning it will retain its full quality even after it is recycled, which cannot be said for plastics.

From an eco-friendly standpoint, the 90-percent post-consumer recycled stainless steel we use in Klean Kanteen bottles, tumblers, straws, and food boxes is far superior to even the most reliable reusable plastic bottle. Whether you are trying to replace a plastic sports bottle in your gym bag or a larger plastic jug that accompanies you on hikes, we have stainless steel versions that you’ll be able to use forever. Klean Kanteen extends the life of existing steel and puts it back into circulation for use, all the while retaining its incredible durability and quality.

A great way to begin replacing your plastic bottles is to start by investing in sustainable, reusable bottles that will stand the test of time. Think about the situations where you currently are most likely to use a plastic bottle, and start by replacing it with stainless steel! For most people this will be 12-ounce or 16-ounce water bottles, both of which can be permanently replaced with high-quality Klean Kanteen insulated bottles. Our vacuum-insulated TKWide 12-ounce bottle is versatile, portable, and designed for comfortable drinking and easy cleaning. Additionally, this bottle is not only available in a large range of designs and colors to match your own style and personality, but it is also compatible with tons of accessory caps, from its leak-proof Twist Cap with reusable steel straw, the TKWide Loop Cap, or the TKWide Chug Cap. Likewise, the same bottle is available in a 16-ounce size, which also features our TK Closure internal thread design. Klean Kanteen insulated bottles were designed to be the best water bottle on the planet, checking all the boxes–including eco-friendliness, temperature control, construction quality, aesthetics, and versatility.

If you are replacing a larger plastic bottle–for instance, a sports jug you use for long hikes or camping trips–there are a number of superior Klean Kanteen options for you as well. Our 32-ounce and 64-ounce TKWide bottles feature the same outstanding temperature control and drinkability technology of their smaller cousins in a larger size, and they pair great with the TKWide Chug Cap. This leak-proof, screw-down cap helps protect against spills whether your bottle is in a gym bag, a bike mount, or a backpack, and allows for fast fluid replenishment when you need it most, no matter if you’re on the soccer pitch or a grueling hike. Plastic bottles simply can’t keep large liquid quantities cool for as long as our insulated bottles can, making stainless steel bottles the obvious replacement.

Are Stainless Steel Water Bottles Safe?

Bar none, stainless steel is the safest material for storing and drinking liquids there is–better than aluminum and certainly much better than plastic. Even in its recycled form–which is essentially every bit as good as brand-new, or “virgin,” stainless steel–it is non-toxic and easy to clean. Klean Kanteen has committed to using certified 90-percent post-consumer recycled stainless steel, which features 18/8 food-grade materials that represent the industry standard for sanitariness and quality. Unlike plastic, which can leach chemicals and other toxins into your beverage under high temperatures or when the surface of the bottle gets scratched, stainless steel will remain safe to drink from in perpetuity, as long as you keep your bottles clean. Have you ever noticed how your plastic cups, after a while, eventually start to smell and taste like your dishwasher soap? That is because of the porous quality of plastic, which not only allows it to absorb odors and tastes, but to leach out the chemicals within the plastic over time.

What Does “BPA-Free” Mean?

BPA–short for bisphenol A, a chemical known to disrupt human hormone function–has been linked to cancer, infertility, brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular abnormalities, and a number of other serious health problems, according to Eat Well Guide. It has been used in the creation of plastics and resins since the 1950s, most notably in polycarbonate plastics–the kinds found in plastic water bottles. BPA is also used in epoxy resins, which are often used to line the inside of aluminum bottles–stainless steel does not require any kind of internal lining and such epoxy linings are not used in Klean Kanteen bottles or caps. The Mayo Clinic advises against consuming any food or beverage from heated plastic containers specifically because of the likelihood of BPA leaching into your food, and also recommends using BPA-free products. Plastics containing BPA are often marked with recycle code 3 or 7. Most importantly, the Mayo Clinic recommends using plastic alternatives whenever possible, specifically naming stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids.

What Plastic Bottles Are BPA-Free?

One of the most common concerns with plastic bottles is the potential for harmful chemicals. While not all plastic bottles contain these chemicals, making sure the plastics that are used are BPA-free and recyclable is your best bet. Better yet, using a stainless steel bottle, such as our TKWide, provides a stainless steel interior with a BPA-free plastic cap. The caps can be disassembled for cleaning, they don't degrade, and they are dishwasher safe.

It can be difficult to break out of the habit of using plastic bottles and containers. Many food and beverage producers have relied on plastic packaging so heavily that Americans simply accept that plastic bottles should be the default, while better, more environmentally conscious options like stainless steel are viewed as “alternatives.” But when you take a minute to consider just how much better stainless steel bottles are than plastic bottles across the board, it really stops making sense to keep using that old plastic bottle. Trying to cut down on plastic waste by removing single-use plastics from your daily lifestyle is definitely a worthy effort, but we’d urge you to take it one step further and get away from non-biodegradable plastic containers altogether. While plastics do have their uses in our world, we have become overly dependent on them for our food and drink consumption, to our own detriment. Replacing your reusable plastic bottle with a certified 90-percent post-consumer recycled stainless steel bottle is one of the most straightforward, effective ways you can upgrade your beverage game while also benefiting the environment.