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Plastic Vs Stainless Steel Vs Aluminium reusable water bottles

Water bottles

The beauty of the reusable water bottles is that they're inherently designed to last for many, many years.

Credit: iStockphoto

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Long-life water

The beauty of reusable water bottles is that they're inherently recyclable and designed to last for many, many years. "If a steel or aluminium bottle is retained and reused for a number of years consistently, it is significantly better than a single-use, throw-away drink bottle in environmental terms, even if the PET bottle is recycled," Lockrey says.

He also notes that in kerbside recycling streams, aluminium and stainless steel drink bottles would most likely be picked up and recycled, which would offset some of the impacts of the original manufacture. PP bottles are less likely to be recycled as there isn't a kerbside scheme devoted to just this type of plastic. In fact, 43.1 per cent of PET plastic was recycled in 2009, compared to just 17.4 per cent of PP plastic.

What's more, both metals have achieved high levels of industry recycling. Approximately 75 per cent of the primary aluminium ever produced is still in use, while more than 50 per cent of stainless steel is made from remelted scrap metal.

The verdict

So what's the most environmentally friendly way to rehydrate? It's all over at the beginning of the race, with plastic recording the greenest results in production and manufacture. Lockrey found plastic bottles have around 80 per cent less impact on the environment than the worst performer in all three categories: water use, global warming and solid waste. Although the metals can claim bonus points for recycling, they never recover from the huge investment of energy required in their production processes.

It's also worth noting that plastic bottles are often better suited to our lifestyles. They're lighter and more flexible, which makes them popular as gym companions or desk buddies. And in environmental terms, they're hands down a better option than their single-use, throw-away counterparts.

What about BPA?

Concerned about the health effects of reusable drink bottles? In recent years there has been much debate about bisphenol A (better known as BPA) a chemical in the clear, hard polycarbonate plastic (code 7) used in some water bottles. BPA can act in a similar way to hormones and in some studies on laboratory animals,
this has been linked with effects on the reproductive system. According to consumer advocate Choice, a
major US study has identified a direct link between exposure to low levels of BPA and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Our food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, says BPA poses no significant health risks at the low levels that migrate from plastic packaging into food and drink, as the BPA is "rapidly inactivated and then excreted in the urine in humans".

PP (code 1) and PET (code 5) plastic do not contain BPA and have no known health hazards. If you are concerned about BPA, a number of brands now make 'BPA-free' plastic reusable bottles.

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