Plastic vs Glass vs Metal (Stainless Steel & Aluminum) Bottles & Water Bottles: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

Plastic vs Glass vs Metal (Stainless Steel & Aluminum) Bottles & Water Bottles: Comparison, & Which Is Best?

In this guide, we compare the pros and cons of plastic, glass, and metal (stainless steel and aluminum) bottles, and water bottles.

We also look at which material of bottle might be best from a sustainability/environmental, cost and practical perspective. 

 

Summary – Which Bottle Is Best?

Ultimately, which bottle is best comes down to how exactly you measure ‘best’ (there’s many individual ways to do this), and what your individual preferences are in a bottle.

But, it’s understandable people want a quick, clear answer. 

So, these are our own interchangeable rankings, from best to worst, of the best bottle options overall (based on the research provided in this guide):

  1. Not using a new bottle at all e.g. if you are at home, you can use an existing cup instead and a filtered tap/purified tap water. Or, re-using an existing bottle as many times as possible (instead of buying a new bottle), and then repurposing it it in some way. The one problem some people may have with an existing bottle is concerns with BPA leaching, or if it’s glass for example, breakage (or some other practical issue).
  2. The best new bottle option might be a recycled Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel bottle (to prevent leaching, and to prevent a metallic taste of the beverage inside), that is recycled when disposed of, and is used at least 500 times. If it comes with a lifetime guarantee, that’s even better. Stainless steel is usually durable and practical over the long term, extended use gives the production footprint a chance to be averaged out over the lifetime of the bottle, and recycling of the metal means that new ores aren’t having to be extracted and processed as regularly. Make sure the stainless steel bottle you buy isn’t mixed with aluminum, doesn’t have a plastic liner, and has been tested for lead.
  3. Aluminum is tricky to place. According to several estimates, new aluminum has a higher lifecycle footprint than stainless steel. Also, several sources indicate the lining of aluminum can contain BPA (because it’s the main ingredient in the epoxy or enamel used to prevent aluminum bottles reacting with acidic liquids). But, several studies indicate that using recycled aluminum instead of new aluminum has only a fraction of the energy, emissions and resource footprint. Metals get extra points for practicality and durability of use over glass. A BPA free, leaching tested, reusable aluminum bottle made of recycled material, that you use more than 500 times, might be the second best option after stainless steel.
  4. Reusable, recyclable, BPA & BPS free hard plastic bottles might be next best, as long as you use them as many times as you can. You get the benefits of a lower production and transport footprint that plastic provides, along with lower leaching and health risks, but the one downside is that plastic eventually loses it’s integrity and economic value once it has been recycled too many times, and has to be turned into long term plastic fill, sent to landfill or burnt/incinerated. So, disposability and recyclability may be an issue here.
  5. Glass bottles might be next best, specifically Borosilicate glass which tends to be higher quality than soda lime glass. Glass tends to have a production footprint on par with or slightly higher than plastic according to some estimates (even though the use of a furnace for melting glass can require a lot of energy and fossil fuels). Using recycled glass cullet in some types of glass can reduce energy requirements and environmental footprint. Glass loses points though for fragility and potential to break, the fact you can’t take glass everywhere (such as public pools), glass’ usually high transport/delivery costs and footprint due to the weight of glass, and the economic and systematic difficulties of recycling some types of glass in some places. Glass may shoot up the list to as high as first or second place if it can be recycled effectively, breakage and practicality of use isn’t an issue, and the weight of the glass or the transport/delivery footprint and costs aren’t an issue. Glass usually has the advantage over plastic and metals in that it doesn’t usually leach under any circumstances and maintains purity of flavor, but it also takes the longest to naturally degrade of all materials on this list (and broken glass can be an issue for recycling or a hazard in the environment or in public). So, glass has some glaring and extreme opposite pros and cons.
  6. Disposable and single use plastic bottles are clearly the worst option if you use them frequently. They lead to higher costs, higher waste, and higher pollution, amongst other issues.

 

Other Variables & Factors To Consider For Bottle Materials & Types

  • ‘Best’ depends on the individual indicator or measurable being used. You could measure, emissions, air, water (fresh water, and ocean) or soil pollution, resource depletion and scarcity of resources, impact on humans and human health, impact on wildlife, waste generated, ease of waste management, water use and consumption, energy usage, economic impact and impact on employment, practical usage of the bottle. For example, plastic may be cheap to make, transport and buy, but rate poorly in terms of litter and ocean pollution indicators. Another example is that stainless steel may rate poor in terms of energy usage in production, but have great recycling potential and be very practical to use because of it’s durability.
  • ‘Best’ also depends on personal preferences as to what is most important to an individual i.e. environmental or sustainability measurables may be more important to some people than cost and economics. But, potential health concerns in terms of BPA leaching may be more of a priority to avoid for some people.
  • ‘Best’ may also differ for individuals, society and businesses separately (and for different reasons). Businesses for example may find certain types of bottles far more cost effective and logistically easier to offer than other types of bottles. 
  • Some water bottles are mixed material e.g. glass inner bottle with a hard plastic protective sleeve, or stainless steel with a plastic lid, or a mix of stainless steel and aluminum. These different types of bottles and mixed bottles can make assessment difficult (ultimately, there are many types of bottles on the market such as glass, stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, insulated, bottles with flavor chambers, bottles with outer sleeves and tubes, disposable, collapsible, and so on)
  • Different manufacturers ultimately design, make and deliver their bottles in different ways – so, it can be a manufacturer specific decision that requires research on each company and product.
  • Different cities have different waste collection and waste management (landfill, recycling, and incineration) systems and facilities – this can impact factors like recycling rates. Also, just because you put something in your recycling bin, it doesn’t mean it will be recycled. You may need to research the effectiveness of recycling of certain materials or items (like bottles) in your area to check how likely it is something gets recycled.
  • Something that is not often considered with reusable bottles (especially in lifecycle assessment studies) is washing these bottles with hot water or a dishwater. Over the lifetime of using the bottle, this can significantly add to the energy usage compared to washing with regular cold water. Even then, there is water usage component to reusable bottles to consider

Ultimately, a life cycle assessment may need to be done on each individual company’s product, and the local conditions for waste management for where the product is used and disposed of, to get the most accurate assessment of which bottle might be best. There can be continually changing variables and factors with different products, materials, companies, locations, waste management systems, and so on.

Just as one example, how many times you reuse the bottle matters for metals because of how energy and resource intensive they can be to produce. The more times you use them – the more the production footprint averages out over the lifecycle of the bottle. 

The above and below information is more so general information that may be used as a starting point for consideration for each type of bottle.

 

Moving on to the potential pros and cons of each bottle type and bottle material …

 

Pros & Cons Of Plastic Bottles

Plastic bottles come as disposable/single use plastic bottles, as well as the harder and more durable reusable plastic bottle options.

PET or PETE … is the clear plastic used for most [disposable] soda and water bottles (shopkablo.com)

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • Plastic manufacturing starts off with [refining and processing of crude] oil and natural gas [so, ultimately relies on mining, and relies on a non renewable resources] (earth911.com)

Production

  • [In Australia, overall] plastic [recorded] the greenest results in production and manufacture [compared to aluminum and stainless steel]. [It was found that] 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. (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … the energy required to produce one [disposable] plastic water bottle is equivalent to filling the bottle ¼ of the way with oil … Unlike tap water which is distributed through energy efficient infrastructure, producing bottled water involves burning vast quantities of fossil fuels … By the time a bottle of water makes it to a store near you, it has a total carbon footprint equal to 82 grams (or 3 ounces) of carbon dioxide … Producing plastic water bottles also exhausts water resources, taking over three times as much water to produce a bottle of water than the contents of the container itself (shopkablo.com)
  • [In Australia, when comparing plastic to stainless steel and aluminum, it’s interesting to note that plastic consumes] 8.2 per cent of the energy used in the manufacturing sector, but contributes only 1.4 per cent of the carbon emissions (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Transport & Delivery

  • Plastic can be much cheaper to deliver and transport than glass because plastic is far lighter as a material, and because of the shape of plastic … you can get more plastic into the same transportation or packing space than glass. Plastic is also less fragile than glass
  • Plastic bottles [are] 40 percent lighter today than they were 20 years ago (inquirer.com)

Waste Management & Recycling

  • … [the general view from some governments worldwide is that] plastic managed well can be as good as glass. With recycling, downcycling and incineration plastic has a similar carbon footprint and does no harm to the environment (tappwater.co)
  • If single use plastic bottles are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 30% less [and around 9.5% of bottles are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • Estimates show that less than 9% of all plastic produced gets recycled … With current technology, it’s less expensive for companies to produce new plastic water bottles than it is for them to recycle used bottles. Converting plastic bottles into carpet and apparel is less energy-intensive and laborious than converting it back into food-grade drinking bottles … [and] degradation of the plastic material [is a problem in the current recycling systems] (shopkablo.com)
  • Plastic can be recycled, but it can lose it’s integrity eventually after a certain amount of recycling, where it then needs to be turned into some type of plastic fill or long life plastic, or needs to be incinerated or sent to landfill. Metal and glass don’t have this loss of quality problem.
  • Plastic takes up less space in landfills than some other materials like paper
  • If no additives are used, PET bottles can be recycled back into PET bottles … Otherwise, they get “downcycled” into carpeting, clothing, and other fibers (inquirer.com)
  • [On an individual level, plastic bottles have been re-used as] plant pots, salt shakers, lighting fixtures, irrigation, and even walls for a greenhouse [in some countries and States] (canr.msu.edu)
  • There’s a 27% recycling rate for plastic bottles [specifically compared to plastic as a material in general] in America (drkarenslee.com)
  • [In Australia, re-usable] PP bottles are less likely to be recycled as there isn’t a kerbside scheme devoted to just this type of plastic [and, plastic type PP has a lower recycling % than PET] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Pollution

  • Plastic takes a long time to decompose/degrade as a material, and plastic bottles and plastic bottle tops are some of the most littered and inadequately disposed of items found on beaches, on land, in rivers and natural waterways, and in the ocean
  • Micro plastic pollution and leaching of plastic additives and chemicals can be a problem out in the environment with plastic, along with plastic entanglement and ingestion by wildlife
  • Plastic bottles might take 70 to 450 years to decompose in landfill sites, compared to 1 to 2 million years for glass bottles, compared to 200 years for aluminum cans (down2earthmaterials.ie)

Human Health

  • [the chemical BPA is used in some water bottles than contain] polycarbonate plastic [and a major study linked low levels of BPA exposure to some health impacts for humans]. [Some national food regulators say] BPA poses no significant health risks at the low levels that migrate from plastic packaging into food and drink. [As a solution to BPA concerns -] 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 (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • Though BPA has been banned in some plastic products — such as baby bottles and sippy cups — its often replaced by a chemical called BPS that may also be toxic, as well as harmful. Check labels carefully, and look for the number “7” printed in the plastic, as this can be an indicator of BPA content (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • … plastics made with BPA will often have a resin code of 7 appearing on the item. (canr.msu.edu)

Usage

  • Soft plastic can dent and lose it’s shape or scrunch up when in use, where as hard plastic and reusable plastic water bottles last far longer and keep their shape far better
  • [plastic bottles have lifestyle benefits including being more] lighter and more flexible (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Other Notes

  • Globally, we spend over $100 billion every year on bottled water … [and in theory] one year’s revenue from these [plastic water bottle] corporations could be used to permanently resolve the global water crisis and they would still have a few billion dollars left to pocket. (shopkablo.com)
  • [re-usable plastic is better than single use plastic environmentally] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • plastic is much better for the environment in many cases [compared to glass] (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • … many water bottle distributors use tap water to fill their bottles, and the truth is, tap water is better regulated than bottled water in terms of safety requirements … [so people are buying water they get for free and buying bottles that produce waste] … The US is one of the worst per capita plastic bottle users in the world (shopkablo.com)
  • [One estimate put plastic at 400 years to decompose, with very high impact on wild life and micro plastic decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)

 

Pros & Cons Of Glass Bottles

[Be aware of the] different types of glass. Borosilicate [used in Pyrex]… can withstand high and low temps without shattering and is lighter and less prone to break. Soda lime glass or traditional glass are also great options that are less expensive (aquasana.com)

… borosilicate [is] stronger, lighter and handles a greater temperature range than typical glass (ogdenclinicblog.com)

So, with glass, soda lime glass may be used for the disposable glass bottles you see and buy, and borosilicate for the reusable glass water bottles you see and buy.

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • [… glass comes from mostly natural abundant materials, but these materials may need to be quarried – such as limestone] (earth911.com)
  • Glass is a resource efficient material which is made of abundant natural raw material such as sand and glass waste (cullets) (glassallianceeurope.eu)

Production 

  • Glass production can still use fossil fuels for energy involved in melting glass and using a furnace that burns at high temperatures to do this
  • The production and use of glass has a number of environmental impacts … New glass is made from four main ingredients: sand, soda ash, limestone and other additives for colour or special treatments. Although there is no shortage of these raw materials as yet, they all have to be quarried, which can damage the landscape, affect the environment and use more energy … [But] The addition of domestic waste glass (known as cullet) to a furnace in the glass manufacturing process, substantially reduces the energy requirement and decreases CO2 emissions (recyclenow.com)
  • [the production process and melting of flat glass uses fossil fuels and results in greenhouse gas emissions in the form of CO2, but also air pollution in the form of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles] … Other environmental issues are water pollution, the use of non-renewable natural raw materials such as sand and minerals, production of solid waste and emission of volatile organic compounds (used in production of mirrors and coatings) … A glass furnace runs 24/7 and cannot be stopped and cooled down during its lifetime (15-18 years). Most technologies can therefore only be installed during a furnace rebuild … [development of environmental techniques to minimise environmental impact are ongoing] (agc-glass.eu)
  • … fossil fuels [are] required to generate the very high temperatures needed to manufacture glass (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • [Glass is made from raw materials where] Silica (sand), soda ash, limestone, and cullet (furnace-ready, recycled glass) are combined. [But materials are melted at very high temperatures in a furnace, which uses a lot of energy] (oberk.com)
  • … manufacturing [a] low weight PET bottle is [the] equivalent to manufacturing a glass bottle, which is heavier, causing carbon emission that’s similar to a PET plastic bottle (drkarenslee.com)
  • [some sources indicate reusable glass bottles beat out reusable plastic bottles across abiotic materials, water usage, and GHG emission indicators in production/manufacture] (giynow.com)
  • [glass is actually more eco friendly per gram in production across several eco indicators compared to plastic, but similar plastic items tend to be lighter – so, the totals of glass vs plastic items, especially for single use plastic items, tend to win out] (giynow.com) 

Transport & Delivery

  • Glass is usually heavier than plastic and also metal bottles, so it can cost more to ship and transport/deliver to where it needs to go. There can be more fuel used, as well as greenhouse gas emitted from increased fuel use. Glass also may not make as efficient use of packing space as plastic and some metals. Glass may also require more packaging in transport because of it’s fragility and potential to break.
  • Glass bottles [though] … are 40 percent lighter today than they were 20 years ago, which means it takes less fuel and produces fewer emissions to transport them (inquirer.com)
  • A 500mL glass bottle weighs about 400g, but a comparable 500mL PET bottle, cartoon or aluminium weighs about 10g … that 40 to 1 weight ratio is a very big problem for manufacturers and distributors. It means more wear and tear on packaging machinery, less efficient shipping and distribution, and, as a result, higher fuel costs and emission responsibility (tappwater.co)

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • Common soda-lime cullet [is] made from [recycling glass] bottles and jars (cen.acs.org)
  • [Glass has] an unlimited life and can be melted and recycled endlessly to make new glass products with no loss in quality. [And, using recycled glass in the form of] cullet [with new ingredient for new glass] benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers. [But, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually and the rest ends up in trash]. There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries (cen.acs.org)
  • The UK currently recycles around 50% of [soda-lime-silica] container glass (like bottles and jars) … [compared to other types of glass like borosilicate glass, lead glass and glass fibre that are not widely recycled] (recyclenow.com)
  • Some curbside recycling organisations and facilities are choosing not to deal with glass because of increased processing costs and because they don’t have the proper equipment to clean glass properly [they choose not to or can’t upgrade recycling facilities and equipment], but others are choosing to recycle glass – so, glass recycling rates can be dependent on the city … [but] viability of the material, end markets, economics, supply and processing costs [all have to be considered with glass before recycling it]. There are some claims around glass recycling that broken and mixed glass are problematic, glass must be washed and cleaned, glass can contaminate other materials, and glass has no end market. But, [in some markets] Demand for recycled glass exceeds supply, [and many issues surrounding glass recycling can be fixed with the right glass recycling equipment] (recyclingtoday.com)
  • Glass is a fully recyclable material that can be recycled in close loop over and over again … This is particularly true for glass bottles which on average have a recycling rate varying from 50% to 80%. Thanks to glass recycling, significant amounts of raw materials are saved and natural resources are preserved. Glass recycling also helps in saving energy as cullets melt at a lower temperature than raw materials. Consequently, less energy is required for the melting process [and less emissions are produced]. (glassallianceeurope.eu)
  • There’s a 33% recycling rate for glass bottles in America (drkarenslee.com)
  • Glass is 100 percent recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity. An estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles … [and] A glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass can be more expensive to recycle than plastic (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • 50% of the energy is used to recycle glass compared to making a new glass (drkarenslee.com)
  • The advantage is that glass can be recycled almost infinite times. At least with non-clear glass … According to a study … switching from clear glass to green cuts packaging-related CO2 emissions by 20%. This is due to the higher recycled content in green glass bottles, which is as much as 72.4%, against an industry standard of 28.9% (tappwater.co)

Pollution 

  • More pollution is created in the manufacture, shipping and recycling of glass [than plastic] (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • Glass can take a long time to degrade in the open or in landfills – up to 4000 years.
  • Broken glass can be a health and safety hazard for humans and animals

Human Health

  • Glass generally doesn’t leach chemicals or have BPA issues like plastic might
  • [But, you might want make sure a glass bottle you buy has been] tested for lead and cadmium content (aquasana.com)

Usage

  • Using glass bottles can come with fragility and breaking concerns if not protected by an outer sleeve or pouch
  • Glass isn’t allowed into some places in public such as public pools or other places with a no glass policy
  • Glass is generally dishwasher safe

Other Notes

  • the best alternative for your health and the environment is glass (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass is non-permeable and won’t absorb color, odor or taste (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com) … and there’s a reason wine and spirit bottles use glass [for purity of flavor]
  • Some glass bottles come with a plastic outer shell in case the bottle is dropped and broken … but glass has problems with fragility and breaking (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • Glass creates more than 6 times the global warming gases than plastic (blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com)
  • Reusing a glass bottle three times lowers its carbon footprint roughly to that of a single-use plastic beverage bottle (tappwater.co)
  • … [one study shows that total] greenhouse gas emissions for the manufacture of the packaging and the transportation, [and] all other things being assumed equal, are 265 grams for [a] glass [bottle], 101 grams for [a] plastic jug, and 32 for [a] tetrapak. If the glass is reused 30 times it gets closer to tetrapak but that excludes the collection and transportation back to where the milk is produced (tappwater.co)
  • If glass bottles are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 26 to 40% less [and around 80% of bottles are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • [One estimate put glass at 1 million years to decompose, with minimal impact on wild life and glass decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)
  • … [the best glass bottle might be a] BPA-free borosilicate glass water bottle for yourself and each member of your family. These can be reused and they are non-porous and non-leaching, ensuring that one purchase saves years of waste and provides clean water throughout the day (shopkablo.com)

 

Pros & Cons Of Stainless Steel Bottles

Stainless steel bottles are generally reusable.

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • … SS uses iron ore, chromium and nickel – which all have to be mined, and processed, and metals extracted from the ore

Production 

  • Producing [a] 300-gram stainless steel bottle requires seven times as much fossil fuel, releases 14 times more greenhouse gases, demands the extraction of hundreds of times more metal resources and causes hundreds of times more toxic risk to people and ecosystems than making a 32-gram plastic bottle (archive.nytimes.com)
  • … the process that converts iron ore into stainless steel (where the steel is alloyed with chromium to prevent corrosion and create a shiny finish) is energy intensive (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … [the process of extracting useful metal from ores can also cause air, water and soil pollution] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • …producing stainless steel results in about 10 times more pollution than regular steel … [but using recycled iron, and a lighter single wall design for bottles can reduce environmental impact] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • … the manufacturing process for stainless steel bottles is unsustainable … [it] requires the processing of nickel and chromium ores, resulting in ten times more pollution than ordinary steel … ore extraction is energy intensive [and releases pollutants] … (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)

Transport & Delivery 

  • [transport of stainless steel bottles makes up only 1 to 5 % of the environmental burden … the energy used by the store you buy the bottle and producing the bottle have the biggest burdens] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • [transportation costs of stainless steel are usually lighter than glass due to it’s lighter weight] (drkarenslee.com)

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • Stainless steel is 100% recyclable … The main alloying elements of stainless steel (chromium, nickel and molybdenum) are all highly valuable and can be easily be recovered and separated from other materials (bssa.org.uk) … [and] The amount of recycled stainless steel in any stainless object is approximately 60% (bssa.org.uk)
  • [it’s worth sending stainless steel back to a mill for recycling to cut down on mining and process of ores] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • [In Australia it is likely that aluminum and stainless steel water bottles would be picked up and recycled from kerbside recycling programs, and this can] offset some of the impacts of the original manufacture (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [In Australia] both [aluminum and stainless steel] 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. (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Pollution 

  • Unlike many other metals, in this situation stainless steel will have no damaging effects on the soil and water [when it finds its way into disposal sites] (bssa.org.uk)

Human Health

  • Some sources indicate metal water bottles may leach BPA [via a plastic liner or other means], many stainless steel bottles are actually made from aluminum … which is linked to Alzheimer’s, and Stainless steel bottles can leach iron, chromium and nickel into alkaline and acidic beverages (blog.glassticwaterbottle.com)
  • There are no known safety concerns associated with using stainless steel, assuming it is indeed stainless and lead free [so, look to see they are tested for this] (aquasana.com)
  • When made from culinary grade, lead-free steel, there’s no danger of chemical leaching [from stainless steel] (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • … high quality SS [like Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel] means, there is no nickel leaching … [and they] should not taste metallic either. Unlike aluminum bottles that need to be lined, SS does not need to be lined because of chromium’s unique protective layer that prevents any chemicals from leaching (drkarenslee.com)

Usage

  • [washing a SS bottle in a hot dishwasher 50 to 100 times can cause the same amount of pollution as was caused in making the bottle … whereas a cold water wash is substantially better environmentally] (archive.nytimes.com)
  • SS bottles are usually very durable, hardy, and some can come with lifetime guarantees

Other Notes

  • Overall, if your stainless steel bottle takes the place of 50 plastic bottles, the climate is better off, and if it gets used 500 times, it beats plastic in all the environment-impact categories studied in a life cycle assessment (archive.nytimes.com)
  • 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 (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • Some stainless bottles actually have plastic liners inside – make sure to look for options that are plain-old culinary grade stainless steel (aquasana.com)
  • If you choose to go steel, look for lead-free, stainless options marked as food grade #304 or 18/8, which indicates an 18 percent chromium and 8 percent nickel content (ogdenclinicblog.com)
  • Some people report a slightly metallic taste with stainless steel bottles (compared to glass which has purity of flavor)

 

Pros & Cons Of Aluminum Bottles

Aluminum bottles are usually reusable, but there can be the disposable single use aluminum bottles and cans (used for soda and alcoholic beverage commonly).

 

Sourcing Of Materials

  • … comes from bauxite and depletion of resources is not really a concern (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [bauxite mining can cause some environmental concerns] (earth911.com)
  • [one study indicates aluminum has a] greater ‘cradle to gate’ (raw material) environmental impact in terms of energy required and global warming potential than stainless steel (greenlifestylemag.com.au)

Production 

  • Aluminium production is one of the most energy-intensive industries [which may lead to greenhouse gas emission concerns if electricity comes from fossil fuels] (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • … [a similar product to aluminum bottles is aluminum cans, and] making a can from an old can instead of the raw material uses five percent of the energy and generates five percent of the emissions (inquirer.com)

Transport & Delivery

  • Generally quite lightweight like plastic – leads to a smaller transportation footprint

Waste Management & Recycling 

  • As a commodity, aluminum brings a significantly higher price [than glass or plastic], so much of the cost of a recycling program is actually paid for by [aluminum cans]
  • Today’s typical [aluminum] can contains 68 percent recycled content

Pollution

  • Aluminum generally has a low impact on the environment compared to a material like plastic when littered or dumped

Human Health

  • … the lining of aluminum cans contains bisphenol A [so, there may be questions around aluminum bottles too] (inquirer.com)

Usage

  • Aluminum is usually harder wearing than disposable plastic, very light, and doesn’t gave the fragility issues of glass

Other Notes

  • [When comparing aluminum to stainless steel via a life cycle assessment] aluminium was the worst performer for water use, stainless steel the worst for solid waste generation and the two metals the worst in terms of global warming impact. Overall, stainless steel was a slightly better performer than aluminium due to lower emissions from the mining of its raw materials and the production process (greenlifestylemag.com.au)
  • [For some beer brewers, aluminum cans are cheaper, more eco friendly, and can be taken places where glass bottles can’t be taken] (inquirer.com)
  • [Some companies are trying to accelerate development of bottles made partly from plants] (inquirer.com)
  • Aluminum bottles look like stainless steel, but are, in fact, very different. Aluminum is reactive with acidic liquids. So, aluminum bottles have to be lined with an enamel or epoxy that can wear away over time.  BPA is often a main ingredient used in epoxy… Aluminum may not always be dishwasher safe (aquasana.com)
  • [Medium estimates of the carbon footprint of different products are 488g for 4 x aluminum cans, 323g for [a single use] glass bottle, 250g for a single use plastic bottle, 32g for a tetrapak carton, and 24g for a glass bottle refilled 30 times] (tappwater.co)
  • If aluminium cans are made of 100% recycled material the carbon footprint will be 96% less [but only 45% of cans are recovered currently] (tappwater.co)
  • [One estimate put aluminum at 100-400 years to decompose, with low impact on wild life and metal scrap decomposition residue] (tappwater.co)

 

Further Ideas For Having A More Sustainable Bottle Footprint

  • Drink more from centralised points with reusable glasses, cups and bottles 
  • For example, drink water from the tap instead, with a cup or container, and, install a reverse osmosis water filter on your faucet and consider adding a water remineralizer to ensure you are not drinking sterilized water (shopkablo.com)
  • Drink from a keg or wine tap instead of individually packaged alcohol bottles
  • Drink other beverages from a soda stream or single point instead of individually packed cans and bottles
  • Re-use all new bottles as many times as possible
  • Repurpose bottles where you can instead of or before throwing them out
  • Buy as few new bottles as you can
  • Buy locally made where you can
  • Offer more public bottle water refill fountains and stations
  • Have more bulk food and beverage stores where people can bring existing bottles, containers and storage items to re-fill
  • Ban or penalise the sale of disposable bottles only where these types of bottles are completely unnecessary
  • Governments can help developing nations who don’t have clean water in the long term by investing in clean water infrastructure instead of sending bottled water to these countries

It’s important to note though that initiatives like re-fill schemes can have economic, logistical and other challenges for businesses, private and public parties, so, this is something that needs proven feasibility in the long term to work effectively.

 

What About Boxed/Carton/Paper Based Water Bottles?

Read more in this guide about whether boxed water packaging might be better and more sustainable than bottles made of plastic and other materials.

 

Sources

1. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/04/19/opinion/20090419bottle.html?_r=0

2. https://tappwater.co/us/footprint-of-glass-vs-plastic-vs-aluminium-best-choice/

3. https://www.drkarenslee.com/comparing-reusable-bottles-stainless-steel-glass-plastic/

4. https://www.down2earthmaterials.ie/2013/02/14/decompose/

5. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/steel_glass_and_or_plastic_bottles_what_is_the_best_choice

6. https://earth911.com/living-well-being/recycled-beverage-containers/

7. https://www.biome.com.au/blog/how-to-choose-the-right-water-bottle/

8. https://www.ogdenclinicblog.com/choosing-a-water-bottle/

9. https://www.aquasana.com/info/education/bottle-battle

10. https://www.inquirer.com/philly/health/environment/20120723_Which_is_greener__Glass_bottles__plastic_bottles__or_aluminum_cans_.html

11. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/steel_glass_and_or_plastic_bottles_what_is_the_best_choice

12. https://shopkablo.com/blogs/the-reformist/the-environmental-impact-of-plastic-water-bottles-and-all-you-need-to-know

13. https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/features/2436/plastic-vs-stainless-steel-vs-aluminium-reusable-water-bottles?page=0%2C0

14. https://www.oberk.com/packaging-crash-course/glass-bottle-formation

15. http://blog.glassticwaterbottle.com/glass-water-bottles-vs-stainless-steel-better/

16. https://www.agc-glass.eu/en/sustainability/environmental-achievements/environmental-impact

17. https://www.bssa.org.uk/sectors.php?id=99#recycling

18. https://blog.theplasticbottlescompany.com/environmental/articles/is-glass-or-plastic-better-for-the-environment

19. https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/how-is-it-recycled/glass

20. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

21. https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/

22. https://www.glassallianceeurope.eu/en/environment

23. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-boxed-carton-paper-water-better-than-plastic-other-bottles/

24. https://giynow.com/2017/05/01/when-glass-is-more-sustainable-than-plastic/

Leave a Comment