We’ve all heard just how much single-use plastic water bottles contribute to pollution. If you’re still using them, you may have considered reducing your environmental impact by recycling every bottle yourself — that is, refilling it with water and using it again.
But is it safe to reuse water bottles? If not, what are the alternatives?
Here’s what you need to know about single-use plastic water bottles and why you may want to rethink your approach to recycling.
Can You Refill a Plastic Water Bottle?
Before you refill that wrinkled plastic single-use bottle, it’s worthwhile to take a few things into consideration.
What Are Plastic Bottles Made From?
When you’re deciding whether to reuse something, you likely start by looking at the material it’s made from. In this case, that’s usually one of three plastic types usually identified by their recycling code:
- Plastic #1: Also called polyethylene terephthalate, PET or PETE, plastic #1 is used to manufacture many plastic bottles.
- Plastic #2: High-density polyethylene (HDPE), or plastic #2, is designed to minimize the growth of bacteria. However, it is still intended for one-time use.
- Plastic #7: This plastic is often called “other” because it can be made of different materials. Unfortunately, those materials often include bisphenol A (BPA). If you use bottled water with a #7 recycling code, never heat or reuse it.
It’s important to know what type of plastic bottle you’re looking at before you consider reusing it. Even then, there are more things to think about before making a final choice.
Can You Reuse Plastic Bottles If You Disinfect Them?
Bacteria can grow quickly on many types of plastic bottles. Just touching your mouth to the bottle is enough to start the growth process, which can turn into harmful bacteria over time.
Although #2 plastic bottles are designed to minimize this problem, they still are not designed for repeated use. Furthermore, #7 plastic bottles that may contain BPA should never be exposed to heat or hot water, which means it may be difficult to disinfect them.
Even durable plastics break down over time, which means your used bottle may have tiny cracks or imperfections that make it difficult to disinfect completely. On top of that, plastics can leach microplastics when exposed to heat — so you may not want to wash and disinfect that bottle anyway.
Are All Plastic Bottles Dangerous to Reuse?
For the most part, it’s best to avoid reusing a disposable plastic water bottle. However, there are some plastic water bottles that are made to be reused. These are manufactured with thicker materials and can be disinfected and reused safely. Just make sure to use soap and warm water for everyday cleaning and a diluted bleach solution (1 teaspoon of bleach per quart) for weekly disinfection.
Keep in mind that, from an environmental perspective, these reusable water bottles still aren’t the best choice. While they can often be recycled, those that aren’t will end up in a landfill or the ocean.
Cutting Back on Plastic Bottles
Now that you know the truth about reusing plastic water bottles, let’s take a look at a few more reasons to say goodbye to these single-use containers:
- Water quality: Did you know that some bottled water is actually just tap water with added minerals? Other sources include springs and wells, but it’s not always easy to tell where exactly this water came from and how it has been treated. Furthermore, one study found that 93% of bottled water samples showed some sign of microplastic contamination.
- Plastic safety: Even if you don’t plan to reuse water bottles, there’s some evidence that it’s not very safe to use them the first time. For example, the BPA present in some plastic bottles can leach into your water, and the American Cancer Society notes that BPA is considered a probable carcinogen.
- Cost: Depending on your local water conditions, bottled water can cost thousands of times more than tap water. That’s especially true if you’re recycling every bottle after a single use.
- Environmental friendliness: It takes 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down. During that time, a single bottle can cause a lot of trouble — especially if it ends up in the ocean, where the bottle cap and other elements can be consumed by sea life and otherwise harm the ecosystem.
The good news is that there are easy ways to cut back on plastic bottles while still getting all the water you need in a day. For example, you could choose a reusable water bottle made of glass or stainless steel, both of which can be cleaned in hot water (unlike plastics #1, #2 and #7). However, even a reusable water bottle won’t do much good if you can’t trust your home’s water quality.
That’s why your best bet is to start with a drinking water filtration system. The most comprehensive of these systems use reverse osmosis to help improve your water quality, which means you can fill your reusable bottle with a virtually endless supply of cleaner, safer water.
5 Better Ways to Use Empty Plastic Bottles
Even if you swear off single-use plastic bottles right now, you probably have a few lying around the house. If you can’t reuse them for drinking, how can you make sure they do some good before being recycled?
Here are a few creative ways to put that plastic to good use:
#1: Water Bottle Spirals
Looking for a fun way to spruce up your next outdoor get-together or kids party? Try making water bottle spiral decorations. Grab some markers and scribble designs on water bottles, and then cut them into long spiral strips. Hang them outside or in your windows so they catch the light like stained glass.
There are all kinds of ways to turn a plastic bottle into a planter. For example, you can cut a larger bottle roughly in half, put plants in the bottom half and replace the top to create a terrarium. You can also cut the tops off of water bottles to make skinny planters for tabletops and counters.
Need to make a perfect circle in a painting project? Just dip a plastic bottle cap in some paint and you have a stress-free stamp. You can also cut the bottoms from different bottle sizes and use them to make flower-like shapes with paint.
#4: Makeshift Watering Cans
Don’t have a watering can handy? No problem — just fill an empty plastic bottle, poke holes in the cap and head out to the garden.
#5: Recycling Aids
If you like finding creative ways to reuse and recycle, you probably have plastic grocery bags crammed in a drawer somewhere, waiting to be used for other purposes. Big plastic bottles can give those bags a home and make them easier to reach. Just cut the top and bottom off your bottle, turn it upside down and fill it with bags. Paint or decorate your new bag dispenser so you can’t see through it, then put it on the wall for easy access.
Say Goodbye to Plastic Bottles
Plastic bottles aren’t a great choice for your health, your wallet or the environment. Because they can grow bacteria or leach harmful chemicals into your water, they are not safe for repeated use — and every single-use plastic bottle can sit in a landfill for 450 years. That means that the smartest move is to say goodbye to plastic water bottles once and for all.
A big part of making that happen is ensuring that you can trust your home’s tap water. A water test will tell you whether certain contaminants are present in your home’s water supply, how hard your water is, what the pH level is and more.* With that information, you can choose the best drinking water filtration system for your home.
Ready to get started? Schedule your free water test and consultation today.
*Contaminants may not necessarily be present in your water.
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