When you’re on-the-go and caught without your reusable bottle, what bottled water do you grab? Do you grab one at all? And if you do, do you pay attention to the bottled water packaging? Do you think about how long that bottle will stick around and where it will end up after the last refreshing drops are gone? If you are conscious about what’s happening to our planet and the gobs of waste humans are generating on things like bottled water, maybe you should.
We’ve taken a look at the most common packaging available for bottled water, and carefully created a rated guide based on reusability, recyclability, durability, if the bottle is shatterproof, and whether the bottle contributes to a circular economy. We gave a star next to each type of bottled water packaging material, based on these five important considerations. The assessment we created is designed to look beyond the water inside the bottle, and into the packaging that is proving to be the most damaging factor of single-use bottled water on our environment. Remember, sustainability is a spectrum, so let’s take a look at where different bottled water packaging falls on this spectrum.
Is plastic the best material for bottled water? The quick answer is NO, never.
We give plastic bottled water a 1 out of 5. The vast majority of bottled water comes in plastic bottles, otherwise known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Most people still feel good about purchasing these bottles, because they’ve been disguised as recyclable. We have all been lead to believe that by tossing single-use plastic water bottles in the recycling bin, our actions just saved the planet. We are now finding out this has never been the case, and less than 30% of all plastic bottled water has ever been recycled. Even the current recycling system is broken, and some plastics have been taken as “recyclables” to other countries only to be incinerated or dumped in the landfill. Here’s a great explanation on why and what is real about “recycling” plastic.
Here’s why we give single-use plastic 1 star out of 5 stars
- Reusability. Plastic is made from oil; the bottled water brands that choose to manufacture plastic bottles are selling bottled water that cannot safely be reused. Estrogenic chemicals are known to leach into the water from the single-use plastic, which can be dangerous to our health. Plastic bottled water is graded for reuse, and when we toss the bottle into the recycling bin, it inevitably will end up in our oceans and landfills. This gives plastic 0 stars for reusability.
- Infinite Recyclability. Single-use plastic is not genuinely recyclable. It is downcycled into inferior products such as carpet and other fibers for clothing, which inevitably ends up in our landfills and oceans. Plastic is not part of a closed-loop system, which excludes it from being infinitely recyclable. Along with the recycling rate of plastic expected to drop to 2.9% in 2019, we give plastic 0 stars.
- Durability. Although plastic is meant to be indestructible, it doesn’t mean plastic is durable. Plastic comes with environmental concerns. On the one hand, plastic lasts nearly forever, and on the other hand, the purpose for which it was created to serve is short-lived. For example, plastic is easily crushed, punctured, or cracked. These are one of the many horrible characteristics for packaging, giving a 0-star rating in the durability area.
- Shatterproof. Plastic cannot be shattered, so we gave 1 star here.
- Contributes to a Circular Economy. Since plastic cannot be genuinely recycled and made into new products over and over, single-use plastic can never contribute to a circular economy. The diagram below shows that there is no circular motion in the life cycle of plastic water bottles. Plastic does not receive any stars in this area. Here’s a breakdown of what a circular economy is and the debate over whether plastic can be part of a circular economy.
Are paper-based bottles, like Tetra Paks, the best for bottled water?
Tetra paks, or paper-based products, maybe slightly less harmful on our planet than PET plastic for water bottles, but they still pose environmental concerns. They’re intended for single-use and are challenging to maintain for the long run because they’re made from cutting down trees. We like trees, and we want them to stay in the ground, alive and evapotranspiration for us.
Here’s why we give Tetra Paks and other paper-based products 1 star out of 5 stars
- Reusability. Tetra paks are intended for single-use and are challenging to maintain for the long run. 0 stars given for reusability.
- Infinite Recyclability. For Tetra Pak, the international recycling rate is only 26%. Just 75% of the packaging is made from renewable paper resources. There are not many facilities that exist to recycle tetra paks and other paper-based products, and they aren’t infinitely recyclable, which is why 0 stars are given.
- Durability. Tetra Paks are not durable. They are made from paper, so they break down rapidly, are easily punctured. Some tetra-pak bottles claim to be reusable even though they aren’t graded for reusability - it’s more like a suggestion. Unfortunately, this attempt at reusability is very short-lived, earning this material 0 stars for durability.
- Shatterproof. Tetra Paks are shatterproof since they are made mostly out of paper and plastic, so we gave 1 star here.
- Contributes to a Circular Economy. Paper-based products, or tetra paks, maybe slightly less harmful on our planet than PET plastics for water bottles, but they still pose environmental concerns. Tetra paks are not part of a closed-loop recycling system because they're made with plastic and aluminum. The plastic and aluminum tetra paks are made from, are bound together and cannot be taken apart to be recycled individually. They either get thrown away or recycled into specific construction materials that have one life and then thrown away after use. Which means they do not contribute to a circular economy and is why 0 stars are given here.
Is glass the best material for bottled water?
Glass bottled water was one of the first-ever water containers found as far back as 1500BC in Mesopotamia. Since glass is inert, meaning it doesn’t react chemically with anything it comes into contact with, it’s safe to drink from. The majority of sparkling water comes in glass bottles. The drawbacks are that glass has an energy-intensive recycling process. The extremely high heat requirements needed to melt glass back down into silica make it less efficient than aluminum to turn into a new product. Also, most glass bottles have a small mouth, which makes it difficult to reuse or add ice to.
Here’s why we give glass 3 stars out of 5 stars
- Reusability. Glass bottled water can be reused infinitely, so we gave glass 1 star here.
- Infinite Recyclability. Glass can be recycled endlessly. Glass earns 1 star here.
- Durability. Because glass can easily be broken, durability is not a strong suit. 0 stars are given for this section.
- Shatterproof. The drawbacks are that glass is prone to shattering. 0 stars are given for this section as well.
- Contributes to a Circular Economy. Because glass is inert, it becomes earthly minerals, silica, again. It does contribute to a circular economy since it can be recycled endlessly — another star given for glass.
This brings us to Aluminum and why reusable aluminum bottled water gets 5 stars out of 5 stars
Is aluminum the best material for bottled water?
Aluminum has been used for many years. Aluminum is highly durable and recyclable. Currently, aluminum is the best material for bottled water; here’s why...
- Reusability. Aluminum that is thick and graded for reuse with the proper lining, like PATHWATER, can be reused infinitely, and why it earns 1 star here.
- Infinite Recyclability. Aluminum will actually be recycled when it makes it into the recycling bin. 100% of a recycled aluminum container will be made into another container and be back on the store shelf within two months. 1 star for aluminum.
- Durability. Aluminum is highly durable, and the thicker the container is made from aluminum, the more durable it is, giving it a 1 star for durability.
- Shatterproof. We don’t have to worry about shattering with aluminum. Another star for aluminum.
- Contributes to a Circular Economy. 75% of all Aluminum ever produced is still actively in use today because it keeps getting recycled over and over again. Aluminum recyclables are melted down then made into new products, including new PATHWATER bottles, infinitely. Aluminum is probably the best contributor to a circular economy and is given 1 star.
According to the Container Recycling Institute:
- Almost 1 million single-use plastic beverage bottles are sold every single minute globally
- In the United States, nearly 42.6 billion single-use plastic bottled waters are bought each year. Almost 80% end up in a landfill or an incinerator
- Hundreds of millions of single-use plastic end up as trash and pollute our streets, oceans, rivers, and waterways
We are currently in a global plastic crisis. Single-use plastic packaging has become a major problem and an unnecessary option since there are other viable packaging solutions. According to Plastics Today, bottled water consumption in the U.S. rose by 284% between 1994 and 2017, and bottled water continues to be the most preferred beverage of choice. Most bottled water is PET plastic, a single-use packaging type made from petroleum. Not only is plastic bottled water produced from oil, a nonrenewable resource, but it was also made to last forever. Scientists are now saying it never decomposes; it just continues to break down into tiny pieces called microplastics. All we know is that every piece of plastic ever made is still around today, except that which has been incinerated. According to MIT, “when plastic is burned, it releases dangerous chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, furans, and heavy metals, as well as particulates. These emissions are known to cause respiratory ailments and stress human immune systems, and they're potentially carcinogenic.”
We are living amongst piled up plastic trash from about 70 years ago. We potentially have 680 years left to find out if it will ever go away. However, it will probably just break down into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastic. Between the oil drilling and decomposition issues of plastic, we’re living through a major manufacturing crisis, the plastic crisis. The pollution from this invasive single-use plastic material is now killing our ocean life and polluting the air we breathe; we are barely scratching the surface on finding out what it has been doing to human health this whole time. This is why the best material for bottled water will never be single-use plastic, tetra packs, or anything that relies on plastic and is not reusable or truly recyclable.
It’s time for bottled water to break free from plastic
If we continue producing single-use plastic at the rates we are today, scientists have estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish, by weight. Because China is no longer accepting the world’s plastic trash, western countries are on a collision course of our own corporate greed making. Plastic waste has nowhere to go, so we are seeing many western countries and U.S. states burning trash out of desperation.
Here’s the thing, we have better solutions. We have aluminum and glass, for starters. Aluminum and glass have successfully been used for packaging for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years. We now must ask ourselves and our lawmakers why aren’t we banning single-use plastic when we have viable solutions? Being a society that is truly single-use plastic free, boils down to making reusable options the norm. “Single-use bottled water is a relatively new, short-lived phenomenon. We’re now adapting to the plastic waste issues that arose by going back to simpler ways of staying hydrated with refillable containers. This is an inevitable shift,” says Ali Orabi PATHWATER co-founder.
What makes PATHWATER so unique and the best bottled water based on the material?
While aluminum is currently the best material for bottled beverages, most aluminum cans are only lined for single-use and sold as single-use. To take this powerhouse packaging material one step further, we want reusability in a container so everyone can safely carry their bottle with them into infinity. This is why we’ve created PATHWATER. The hybrid vessel with purified reverse osmosis water in a 100% durable, refillable bottle for the same price as the so-called smartest plastic bottled water. Oh, and by the way, if you do have to recycle a PATHWATER bottle after many reuses, the liner inside can easily be separated from the aluminum, making it easy to recycle. The PATHWATER bottle is the ultimate packaging system to support a bottled water habit sustainably.
Aluminum is a highly valued element that can be broken down time and time again to its original, pristine form and still become yet another beverage container, countless times over. Aluminum is also the third most abundant element on the planet and is backed by the most robust closed-loop recycling system in the world.
So what bottled water material will you choose now that you’re armed with the knowledge you need?
This is one, if not the most important guides you need for choosing the most sustainable bottled water. We’ve moved beyond being bamboozled by bottled water claims of being “healthier” for us or making us “smarter.” It’s about how healthy the packaging is for our environment and the future of our planet. This is why reusability, recyclability, durability, shatterproof-ness, and whether the bottle contributes to a circular economy are crucial factors to evaluate when choosing between different packaging. We no longer have a choice; we must consider the packaging materials allowed to be manufactured and the footprints they leave for future generations.
Each of these areas let us know what the packaging is made of, and if it is safe for us, our animals, and our planet, as well as how many times the packaging can be recycled and reused. The more a packaging material does not end up in the trash and oceans, the better are choices are. “Single-use bottled water is a relatively new, short-lived phenomenon. We’re now adapting to the plastic waste issues that arose by going back to simpler ways of staying hydrated, with refillable containers. This is an inevitable shift,” says Ali Orabi PATHWATER co-founder.