Let’s eliminate single-use plastic water bottles to mark World Refill Day. Whether you’re headed out for a long walk or commuting and develop a thirst, there are more sustainable, reusable bottled water alternatives that will reduce your environmental footprint compared to buying a plastic bottle filled with expensive water.
Water is getting more expensive everywhere as drought and population increase competition for available supplies. A recent survey by Holidu, a Munich-based vacation rental company, found that the average price of an “affordable” 500 ml (16 oz.) bottle of water globally is about 80 cents. The most expensive bottle of water was in Oslo at $1.84 and the lowest-priced was available in Beirut for 4 cents.
The price of bottled water is estimated to be about 3,100% more expensive than tap water, based on data from the Harvard University Office for Sustainability. Unless you get a reusable container as part of the purchase, bottled water is never a good choice for the environment. Each PET (plastic #1) bottle, when you factor in the oil used to make the plastic and generate the energy used, requires 0.26 quarts of oil. When you buy a six-pack of water in plastic bottles, you’re using 1.5 gallons of petroleum.
Too many people purchase single-use plastic bottled water because they don’t prepare to go out with their own bottle of water or they don’t pick reusable packaging when they buy water on the go. The result is a flood of empty plastic bottles; an average of 92% of them aren’t unrecycled.
We tried a variety of solutions for avoiding single-use plastic water bottles while keeping hydrated on the go. We hope you’ll consider these reusable bottled water alternatives.
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Caught thirsty away from home?
Too often, we drop into a store to grab a bottle of water because we left home without a reusable water bottle. If that happens, consider buying a bottle of water that comes in reusable packaging, such as an aluminum bottle or a carton. That way, you get the opportunity to reuse the container that same day — just refill at a tap the next time you are thirsty instead of picking up another single-use bottle later.
We tried two options. Carton-packaged water is typically less expensive than water sold in a reusable aluminum bottle. However, cartons are not widely recycled, even when they are labeled “recyclable.” The material is potentially recyclable, but the number of processing plants for this material in the U.S. can be counted on one hand, with fingers to spare.
Cartons are made of a composite of paper, plastic, and metal that requires specialized processes to separate and recycle. Cartons can be refilled a limited number of times. We recommend refilling only with water because cartons cannot be cleaned thoroughly after filling with other liquids.
Refillable aluminum bottles are a better option than cartons because the bottle can be reused many times. And aluminum can be recycled in virtually all the curbside programs and many drop-off locations in the U.S. Unfortunately, Americans recycled only 46.1% of aluminum beverage cans in 2019, far below Europeans (76.1% in 2018) and other nations — Brazil has the highest aluminum can recycling rate at 98%.
Boxed Water Is Better
If you drop in a convenience store, look for cartons instead of plastic bottles. We tried Boxed Water Is Better’s natural fruit-flavored waters and they offer a vibrant flavor compared to plastic- and glass-bottled alternatives. The cartons are made of sustainably forested paper fibers made from the waste produced when making paper. The cap is made of plant-based plastic, which also provides a moisture seal, and aluminum is used as a flavor barrier. Although the company touts the cartons’ recyclability, the vast majority of U.S. recycling programs do not accept cartons.
The carton can be reused but appears to be viable for only a few uses. It is ideal for day trips, but we would not recommend reusing cartons long-term.
Boxed Water Is Better helps you make a positive impact. It contributes 1% of its revenue to 1% For The Planet and has planted more than 1 million trees in the U.S. You can have the company plant a tree by taking a picture of the carton and posting it to your social network account with the hashtag #betterplanet. They also sponsor beach cleanups around the country.
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Another carton-based water comes from JUST Goods, which was founded by celebrity Jaden Smith. The company uses spring water from the Adirondack Mountains and offers fruit-flavored options that are refreshing. JUST is more forthright about its packaging being a challenge to recycle and explicitly states that the carton does not biodegrade because of the use of the bioplastics and metals used to make the carton.
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Imagine you need a drink on a hot summer day and left your refillable bottle at home. PATH Water is a great choice when you stop in at the store for a drink because the bottles can be used over and over. These sturdy aluminum bottles are very reusable and withstand repeated handwashing. We tried the three 600 ml versions of PATH: the Balanced pH still water, 9.5+ pH Alkaline still water, and pH Balanced Bubbly Sparkling water. Each was crisp and delicious. And the aluminum bottles did not retain flavors from water-based beverages when we refilled them.
We’re also impressed with PATH’s dedication to sustainability and social programs. The company pursues interesting partnerships, such as planting 10 trees in partnership with clothing maker tentree for each of PATH’s tentree-themed bottles or donating 10 cents for each of its Made In USA bottles to the Wounded Warrior Project. They also offer accessories to trick out the bottles.
The one shortcoming we found during our trial was that one of the three bottles had a faulty lid; the threads in the cap did not hold it in place. The other two bottles continue to perform fine.
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Going out for the day?
Planning ahead is the best way to reduce your water-related waste. There are thousands of water bottle options, but in recent years, genuinely better options have become available that use recycled content and avoid the use of BPAs and phthalates. Here are just a few of the reusable water bottles to consider.
Tree Tribe Stainless Steel Water Bottle
Stainless steel is the cleanest material available in a water bottle because it does not require a plastic liner. The new 600 ml (20 oz.) double-layered steel Tribe bottle features a bamboo lid and won’t leach BPA into your beverage. The company also plants a tree for every bottle sold.
Ocean Bottle Reusable Stainless Steel Water Bottle
The 500 ml (16 oz.) Ocean Bottle blends recycled stainless steel and ocean plastic upcycled to make the lid, along with PET plastic and silicone; it is recyclable at end of life.
Hydro Flask Stainless Steel Water Bottle
The Hydro Flask 24-ounce stainless steel reusable water bottle has a leakproof lid with retractable straw and keeps your water cold up to 24 hours. If your bottle ever wears out, Hydro Flask offers recycling and credit towards your next purchase.
Have fun and stay hydrated!
Originally published on June 16, 2021, this article was updated in May 2023.