Don’t Reuse That Disposable Water Bottle—There Are Safer Ways To Be Eco-Friendly
So if it’s not the plastic chemicals you should be worried about, what is the harm in reusing disposable plastic bottles? It’s actually something much more mundane: bacteria. If left unwashed, any water bottle can harbor microbes—a 2002 study in the Canadian Journal of Public Health found that 65 percent of elementary students’ personal water bottles contained bacteria levels that exceeded health guidelines, for example. But disposable water bottles are particularly hospitable to them. That’s because whereas reusable bottles are designed to hold up to repeated refillings, disposable bottles tend to break down—and that leaves room for bacteria to camp out. As the authors of a 2007 article in Practical Gastroenterology put it, “…everyday wear and tear from repeated washings and reuse can lead to physical breakdown of the plastic, such as visible thinning or cracks. Bacteria can harbor in the cracks, posing a health risk.”
Does that mean it’s time to buy a reusable plastic water bottle? Not so fast. There’s one chemical in reusable plastic bottles that the jury is still out on. That chemical is bisphenol A, also known as BPA. It’s considered an endocrine disruptor, a chemical that interferes with the way that hormones behave in your body. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences points out that a 2008 review expressed “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.” More research is needed, but as for now, it may be a good idea to avoid the stuff. BPA tends to lurk in polycarbonate plastic, which you generally find in sturdier plastic bottles.
So what is the answer? You might want to avoid plastic water bottles altogether and go for another material. Stainless steel bottles often have the benefit of double-wall (or triple-wall, in the case of the S’well water bottle) insulation, so they can keep your water cold while keeping germs from populating. If you’re trying to stay healthy, it’s a great idea to drink plenty of water—it’s just healthier if that water isn’t full of harmful bacteria.