by Beth Berry, Demand Media
Many Americans view bottled water as a necessity -- although the product was virtually nonexistent just a few decades ago. Consumers who reuse plastic water bottles are typically unaware of potential health risks associated with the high bacteria levels found on the bottles and the leaching of plastic compounds into the beverage. While the water and the packaging combine to create a consumer offering without significant benefits over what people can generally get for free, reuse of a plastic water bottle could have costs that go beyond the financial.
Most disposable water bottles sold in the United States are made from #1 plastics, also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This type of plastic is popular because it is durable and shatter-proof. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved PET plastic as a food-contact material, repeated use of water bottles made from PET has been shown to increase harmful bacteria levels. Bacteria from the user's hands and mouth, for example, accumulate when the bottle isn't washed between uses. In addition, repeated hot-water washing and handling of PET water bottles may break down the plastic, leaching toxic compounds, such as DEHA, into the beverage inside. (See References 2.)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a compound used in many plastic containers, such as the durable, reusable plastic bottles sold in many sporting goods stores, as well as in baby bottles. Although studies support the safety of BPA exposure at low levels, such as those in normal water-bottle use, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Toxicology Program have expressed substantial concerns about the effects of BPA on the endocrine and cardiovascular systems; infants and children are at particular risk (see References 3). A 2009 study from the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that participants who drank for a week from bottles containing BPA showed a two-thirds increase of BPA in their urine (see References 4).
Alternatives to Reusing Bottles
Safe alternatives to plastic water bottles include reusable bottles made of stainless steel, glass and some types of aluminum. Stainless steel is preferable, as it is durable and unbreakable; it does not leach and does not cause the contents to taste like metal. Glass, though safe, is easily broken. Aluminum is questionable, as most types of bottles have epoxy resin linings, also known to leach. (See References 6.)
Disposing of Plastic Bottles
Rather than reusing them, recycle any plastic bottles you have on hand. If you live in an area that does not provide curbside recycling, seek out a regional recycling center. Plastic bottles present substantial air pollution concerns when they are incinerated with regular trash, creating toxic smoke and fumes. These fumes are not only a health risk but they also create greenhouse gases (see References 5). In landfills, plastic bottles merely sit.