phthalates, polyethylene, polycorbonate, bisphenol A
What are these and what do they have to do with my water bottle?
I’ll admit, though I’m green, I’m not the greenest of travelers. And sometimes when people start talking to me about toxins, and thates and thyles, I cringe and tune out. I mean, isn’t some of this just hype?
Yes, some of it is just hype, but when it comes to my personal health, I’m more likely to listen.
And I think you will too. And because I’m afraid you might stop reading, I’m going to give you the bottom line right away:
Here is an overview of different water bottles detailing which are safe and which aren’t:
Now if you’re like many hikers, backpackers, and cool kids, you might be saying “What! I can’t use my Nalgene anymore?! I’ve been carrying my Nalgene since high school!!” (I have.) Don’t worry – there are alternatives.
So here’s the rundown on water bottles – I’ll lay out the common materials used in water bottles, the key things you should know about each, and additional sources of information. You are left to your own best judgment as to what action you take. My choice was easy since I based it completely on my (and my family’s) health, but you might value durability or design more.
Basic Throw-Away Bottle
What it’s made of: PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)
Key Things to Know: With reuse, PET can degrade and because the plastic is thin and wrinkled it can build up germs. It can also leach DEHP, a probable carcinogen.
Use or Don’t Use: Don’t reuse. (Though I will reuse one on a 1-3 day business trip).
New Zealand Government
Signorile Scientific Study
Nalgene or Similar Water Bottle
What it’s made of: Polycarbonate (a thermoplastic polymer)
Key Things to Know: Polycarbonates leach a hormone disrupting chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), even at room temperature. See the resources section below for more about BPA.
Use or Don’t Use: Don’t use. (If you want another reason to not use Nalgene check out this picture.)
All About BPA from River Wired
From NIH Environmental Health Perpsectives
North Carolina Conservation Network
Opaque Nalgene or Similar Water Bottle
What it’s made of: HDPE High-density polyethylene (softer and opaque and made from petroleum)
Key Things to Know: No known problems.
Use or Don’t Use: The jury’s still out. No known problems to date.
Klean Kanteen or Stainless Steel
What it’s made of: Stainless Steel (both inside and out). See note on Sigg water bottles below.
Key Things to Know: Klean Kanteens don’t leach (or contain) BPA.
Use or Don’t Use: Use.
Other Water Bottles:
Sigg:There is a HUGE debate over Sigg stainless steel water bottles. They are lined, and the lining most likely contains a trace amount of BPA. Sigg won’t come out and say the bottles contain no BPA, which is what makes them suspicious. (Read the debate here in comments or here.)
new CamelBak (Tritan) or new Nalgene Choice (Tritan): Because of the concerns with BPA and phthalates, water bottle companies are now starting to use a different compound called Tritan. As I mentioned in my review of a BPA free Better Bottle by CamelBak, thus far tests have revealed no problems with Tritan. Tritan is a copolyester and while I’m not a chemical expert, this makes me a little wary. (Though it’s definitely better than BPA-leaching bottles.)
Water bottles with soft “nipples”/valves: The soft plastic “nipple” or valve (see an example of a water bottle with what I’m talking about at REI) that you drink from likely contains phthalates. Phthalates are hormone disruptors that have been linked to reproductive problems and birth defects. More here and here.
“To be certain that you are choosing a bottle that does not leach, check the recycling symbol on your bottle. If it is a #2 HDPE (high density polyethylene), or a #4 LDPE (low density polyethylene), or a #5 PP (polypropylene), your bottle is fine. The type of plastic bottle in which water is usually sold is usually a #1, and is only recommended for one time use. Do not refill it. Better to use a reusable water bottle, and fill it with your own filtered water from home and keep these single-use bottles out of the landfill. Unfortunately, those fabulous colourful hard plastic lexan bottles made with polycarbonate plastics and identified by the #7 recycling symbol, may leach BPA.”
For me, the choice is easy; I use a Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle (Klean Kanteen also sells Sippy Cups for kids.)
Green Guide Plastics Cheat Sheet
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Plastics Cheat Sheet:
Slate Review of Water Bottles
PBS Interview on Plastics and Safety
MSNBC Video on Leeching Water Bottles and a follow up piece
CamelBak BPA Free Better Bottle Water Bottle Review
Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle Review
You might also enjoy reading our post about best stainless steel cookware set and why you don’t want bird-killing toxins in your kitchen.
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