Should You Reuse Plastic Water Bottles?

Are Plastic Water Bottles Safe To Reuse?Ever been tempted to reuse a plastic water bottle? After you've paid for bottled water, it's convenient to refill the bottles with juice, water, or other beverages. You may even think that you are reducing landfill waste by using bottles multiple times.

A Step Toward Conservation

From the standpoint of conservation, this thinking makes sense. Americans drink 21 gallons of bottled water per person per year, at a total cost of $11.8 billion. That means that 30 billion bottles or 150,000,000 tons of plastic waste are potential fodder for landfills. Producing all those containers takes 1,500,000 gallons of oil and a considerable amount of energy to make bottles, fill them, store and chill them, and ship them throughout the country. Many bottles are carelessly discarded and have become a major source of ocean pollution and a threat to water life. You might think that any bottle you save would be a tiny step in the right direction of conservation.

The Water Bottle Hoax

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of controversy about whether the bottles themselves are safe. Most bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and contain the chemical BPA (bisphenol A), which is been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and reproductive development disorders.

The theory is that when the bottles are exposed to sunlight and heat, they leach out these chemicals. The same thing happens if you stock up on 24 packs of bottles when they're on sale at the store and keep them in your garage. The more you use a bottle, the more likely it is that you are exposed to harmful chemicals. When you wash the bottle in between with hot soapy, water, you further break down its structure to make the leaching process more likely. The more you use a bottle, the more likely it is to develop tiny nicks when it is dropped or squashed in a backpack, which leads it to release other chemicals. While it's unlikely you will drop dead from drinking a bottle of water, the cumulative effects of chemicals can lead to illness.

In case you're wondering why dangerous bottles containing PET and BPA are on the market, it's because the FDA determined that much of the bad press that water bottles receive resulted from an email hoax that was later disproved. Both the American Cancer Society and Cancer Research UK claim that scares over the bottles were unfounded and that the bottles pose minimum cancer risks from chemical leaching.

So for the average person, reusing a bottle is safe as long as you clean it between uses.

The Real Danger With Plastic Water Bottles

Here's where the real threat comes in. After coming in contact with your hands and mouth, the bottles are covered with bacteria that contaminates the new liquid that you add to the bottle. Because the throats of the bottle are narrow, they're hard to clean. A Canadian study in 2003 examined 75 plastic water bottles from an elementary school classroom and concluded that their bacteria levels were so high that, were the water coming straight from the tap, a boil-water order would have to be issued by the city. However, the bacteria was not due to the water or even the bottles themselves, but due to bottle hygiene.

Protecting Your Family

Bottled water itself has come under scrutiny because test after test has shown that it is often no purer than tap water. If the water in your area does not meet your own personal taste tests, a better alternative is to install a water purification system in your house or even use a pitcher purifier to remove impurities and improve taste.

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