How to Recycle a Metal Water Bottle

Did you switch to a metal water bottle to cut back on plastic waste or because of the potential health effects of a reusable plastic bottle? No matter how durable the bottle is, you’ll eventually need to dispose of it, and recycling is a possibility.

Unlike disposable plastic bottles, most curbside recycling programs will not accept your sturdy steel bottle. One reason is that these programs typically crush and bale material for easy transport, and stainless steel bottles are generally uncrushable. But metal bottles are recyclable.

The first step is determining what type of metal from which the bottle is made. For recycling purposes, metal is broken down into the categories ferrous and nonferrous instead of by the individual material.

The easiest way to tell the difference is to use a magnet. If the bottle is attracted, it is ferrous metal (most likely steel); if not attracted, it’s nonferrous metal.

Metal is a valuable material to recycle, so there is a chance recycling a metal bottle can pay off. However, most scrap metal recyclers will pay based on the ton, so don’t expect one bottle to net more than a few cents.

It’s also likely that the bottle cap is made of plastic, so it should be removed prior to recycling. While there are recycling opportunities for disposable bottle caps, most of these programs will not take the rigid cap that came on your metal bottle. It’s best to figure out a reuse option for this plastic or use it to cap other bottles.

There will be additional effort involved in recycling a reusable bottle than a disposable one, but also keep in mind that a reusable bottle can last several years, so the demand for recycling will be lower.

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Feature image courtesy of meg

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Trey Granger
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  1. “No matter how durable the bottle is, you’ll eventually need to dispose of it.”

    Uh… why? If it’s very durable, why wouldn’t you just keep using it?

  2. Because no matter how durable it is, there will eventually come a time when it will be in an unusable condition.

  3. Setting aside whether metal water bottles were the best example to use in the article, it raised a few comments in my mind:

    1. how is it that there is no kerbside recycling of metal (I assume the article was written in a developed country)? We have had it in most places in the UK for years because of the high value and easy recyclability of metals. Even in the absence of kerbside recycling, there were community recycling points for metals that I can remember 30+ years ago, and in Germany you would be talking longer for both types. I’m surprised that anyone today would have any difficulty recycling something like this.

    2. as per Gabe’s point, durability should imply long life. I have a Sigg-type bottle from about 1985 which still looks pretty new. I expect it will outlive me.

    3. which probably leads on to Allen’s point about things getting into unusable condition. I think that is very much about people’s attitude towards looking after things, whether “durable” or not. A disposable plastic supermarket bag can still be used 20 times or more if it’s used properly. In fact, the introduction of biodegradable ones here makes them less durable and after about 3-4 months of use they start to fall apart (I realise that where they’ve been used once and then binned then that is the point). But I think you’d have to treat a metal bottle pretty badly to get to the point where it actually leaks water. Fair enough it might get dented if used in certain situations, but I suspect a lot of damage to everyday items comes from abuse not use.

    As materials become more scarce in the world (combination of finite reserves, capacity to extract, and rising demand from industrialising economies), then rapidly rising prices for things like iron, aluminium and copper will hopefully make people value things that they have more, make them choose more durable options, and look after things better. It will also mean that the value of recyclate to processors will ensure that where systems don’t currently exist there will be a clear investment case to make it happen.

  4. what we really need is a way to recycle those little, green propane tanks everybody uses on lanterns and camp stoves. i feel bad everytime i toss one in the trash.

  5. What would put it in an unusable condition? I doesn’t rust, it doesn’t corrode, it doesn’t crush.

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