Why Use Reusable Water Bottles vs Bottled Water?

glass water bottle in hand of faceless man near wall

Benefits of Reusable Water Bottles

Getting in the habit of using reusable water bottles vs bottled water is a must in the check list of sustainability.  Even if you haven’t given it much thought, it makes sense.  But today, let’s give it some thought.  Let’s look at some facts around plastic water bottles and arm ourselves with information for defense the next time someone calls you a VSCO girl as you’re cradling your hydroflask.  At the end of this, it will make good sense and can help you combat the naysayers that think this simple, convenient habit is a dumb trend or worse, meaningless.

reducing plastic use

Depending on the type of plastic, water bottles can take an average of 700 years to break down. Each year we add 38 million water bottles to the landfill in America alone. “Yeah, but we can always recycle them” says the know nothing, know-it-all guy in the back that always tries to find a reason to NOT save the planet. Yes Donald.  We can recycle, but only 20% of water bottles currently get recycled; so although we are capable of recycling, we just don’t do it.  And those that are recycled still require an enormous amount of resources such as oil and water to be downgraded into a lower quality plastic that has limited uses.   Recycling is a mediocre answer. 

impacts to marine life

bottled water plastic trash.

 Of those bottles that don’t get recycled or end up in the landfill, many find their way out to sea.  Although plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it does breakdown into smaller pieces.  It continues to do so and can mimic food for marine life.  Birds, fish, marine mammals all have been found with plastic in their stomachs.  They cannot digest the plastic, and oftentimes will consume so much that they can actually starve.  And as plastic finds its way into the food chain, we may end up eating pieces of our own plastic water bottles.  Would you like some plastic with your salmon? No?  Too bad.   It’s yours, take it back. 

health impacts

We drink water as a healthy alternative to sugary sodas and juices and aspartame-fake sweeteners.  And it is.  It absolutely is!  But, when you drink water from certain plastics, you could be doing more harm than good.  Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a building block of strong plastics.  However, it has been identified as a hormone disrupting carcinogen.  Now, the likelihood that you are ingesting BPA when you drink from a plastic water bottle might be low, but if that water bottle is old, or has been subjected to a lot of light, it may begin to photodegrade and actually leach BPA into the water you are guzzling. 

So how can you tell?  Well, you can’t.  So the best course of action is avoiding plastic water bottles.  And this goes for the reusable bottle too.  I’d highly recommend avoiding plastic every chance you can. You may notice that some bottles say BPA free.  There are new chemically altered plastic recipes coming out constantly.  And although something may be BPA free, there may be a different addition that is equally as harmful but hasn’t hit mainstream as a compound to avoid yet.  The chemical makeup of the bottle is not shared on consumer packaging, so we really have no idea what else we are swallowing in our water.

water quality

refillable water bottle being filled at the tap in the kitchen.

Water can be bottled from a variety of sources, including springs, glaciers, rivers, surface waters, and even municipal water authorities.  All bottled water does have to meet FDA standards, but so does municipal water, which is also held to EPA standards.  So, in most cases, you have the same, if not better, guarantee that the water coming out of your tap is as safe to drink as bottled water.  

If you don’t like the quality or taste of your tap water, you can use a secondary filter, such as a Brita filter.  Of course, if there is something unusual about your water, it has a strong smell, is discolored, has suspended solids, or anything else noticeable, you should reach out to your local water authority and have it tested.  But generally, your tap water should be as safe to drink as bottled water.  In fact, some of the bottled water you can buy might be water you are already paying for from your faucets! 

the personal costs

To note, 90% of the cost of bottled water is the bottle itself.  So you are really paying for a container that you are going to throw away in 5 minutes.  That seems fiscally irresponsible.  And with our recommended intake of at least half a gallon of water a day, you would be discarding 5 12-ounce water bottles daily; almost 2000 water bottles a year.  If each bottle is $1 a piece, you are tossing out $5 a day, $150 a month, and $2000 a year; You are literally throwing away $2000 a year.  So, go ahead.  Make it a daily habit to crumple up that $5 bill and toss it in the trash.  Or, buy a $12 water bottle once, and stack your $5 bills neatly, and at the end of the year, buy yourself a Peloton bike.

other external costs

It will take 50 gallons of oil and water to make those bottles, of which over 1500 will end up in a landfill.  Some will end up in the sea, breaking into smaller pieces for marine life to swallow, which then ends up on your plate.  Grossed out at all? 

water accessibility

When you pack your own water bottle, you are not dependent on finding a store to alleviate your thirst.  If you have a reusable water bottle, you can get in the habit of always having water with you- keys, wallet, phone, water bottle.  Check, check, check, check, out the door! No one likes to be stranded without a sip of water.  Plus, if you are on the go a lot, it really does help to meet your daily water intake goals (if you have such a thing) when you always have it with you. 

selecting refillable water bottles

Avoid plastic, even in refillable water bottles.  Even if it says BPA free, I’d recommend you steer clear of plastic where possible. Stainless steel is a popular material.

Consider the temperature of water you like to drink.  I don’t mind tepid water, but some people will only drink cold water.  If you like cold water, make sure to invest in a nice insulating one.

Consider how you will use it to determine size: What are your daily activities?  If you like to do quick hikes or workouts, a smaller sized bottle will suffice.  If you are out in the field all day without access to a water system, a large one is better.  Maybe you need both.

Maybe you want to slip it into a purse of bag.  These water bottles are a neat way to do so, with a square shape that can fit snugly into smaller bags. (Note, these are plastic, and claim to be BPA free.  I’m not seeing anything on BPS, or other equivalents. They have a mission of supplying clean water to people: 3 months per order for one person. That, and the usefulness of their shape is why I mention them.)

Also, do you need to buy one?  I oftentimes use Mason jars or other glass jars with lids that I’ve kept.  Now, this won’t work for every scenario, but sometimes, a cleaned pickle jar with a lid is a perfectly acceptable refillable water bottle option.

Keep an eye out for swag: This is how I have gotten most my reusable water bottles.  Conferences.  Get free ones!  Grab them up!  Give them to friends!  Spread the joy of saving the planet, your health and money.

white stainless steel refillable water bottle

costs of bottled water

So, as a recap, there are a ton of reasons why we should all be looking to use reusable water bottles vs bottled water.

But I want to reiterate the math, as part of my sustainability series focused on reusables versus single use.

Experts say that buying bottled water is about 2000x more expensive than drinking from the tap.

The average person drinks 64 ounces of water a day.

I searched Amazon for the most popular bulk water bottles, and found FIji’s 16.9 fl oz package of 24 water bottles is the highest seller. If someone were getting their water strictly from bottled water, they’d be drinking 4 of these daily.

That’s 1460 bottles a year.

So let’s check out cost. A 24 pack of 16.9 fl oz. Fiji water, which has sold nearly 18,000 and is a top seller on Amazon, is priced at $26.14 at the time this was written.  That turns out to be around $1.09 per bottle. (larger packs, oddly enough, jumped up to $2.29 per bottle.)

If you got all your water from this brand, you would be spending around $1590 a year. So let’s check out the cost savings of using reusable water bottles vs. bottled water.

reusable water bottles from glass to stainless steel

reusable water bottles vs bottled water

Now, your other option is to replace all your single use bottled water with a reusable water bottle.

Here are some very popular options on Amazon:

HYDROCELL: with 55,000 sales, these bottles come in at $16.99-$22.99 and hold anywhere from 18-40 ounces of water. Buy buying one of these and using it exclusively, you’d save $1567 a year.

IRON FLASK: This keep cool iron flask comes in a variety of sizes, with the most expensive being $32.95 at the time this was written.  This puts savings at $1555 per year.

(And just to note, of course there are other places to buy water and water bottles from. I use Amazon because it’s wildly popular, offers an insight into the market, as there are competing brands, and the sales, reviews, and pricing are all visible. I can link to them so you can check them for yourself in case anything changes.)

Bottom line is this: if you are an avid single-use bottled water drinker, the investment in a (non-plastic) reusable water bottle is the very next sustainable move you have to make.  You’ll save over a thousand dollars a year, and over a thousand water bottles going to the landfill.  Imagine the savings (environmental and financial) over 5 years, or 10 years!

So, switch now- it’s completely worth it.

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