The best alternatives to bottled water – healthy & eco-friendly reusable drinking bottles (complete guide)

Florian

As a passionate windsurfer, Florian comes into direct contact with the increasing pollution of our oceans. That's why he's been researching the growing problem of ocean plastic for years and constantly looking for solutions to it.
Florian

Disposable plastic bottles are not only bad for the environment, but they are also suspected to be a risk to our health.

A recent shift in momentum has seen many people move away from disposable plastic bottles. We need to be more responsible as a civilization with what we use.

Of course, any steps to reduce the consumption of plastic are positive, but one of the best ways is with a reusable water bottle.

But which one is the right choice?

In this post, we’ll show you the best alternatives to disposable PET bottles and what to look out for when it comes to choosing the right bottle for your specific situation.

At the end of this article, you will know which bottle is the best for you.

6 reasons why disposable plastic bottles are a bad choice

Before we take a closer look at healthy and environment-friendly alternatives, it’s worth taking a closer look at the problems with PET bottles first.

What exactly are the disadvantages of disposable water bottles?

Why should you even consider switching to a sustainable, reusable alternative?

1. Disposable plastic bottles increase our garbage problem

PET plastic bottles garbage
disposable bottles contribute to the growing garbage problem

Many countries are very proud of their high recycling rate, especially in Europe.

Let’s take Germany as an example, which is often called a recycling champion in Europe – or even worldwide.

While the high recycling rate is correct, another fact is just as true: Germany also produces an above-average amount of waste – with an upwards trend.

Until recently, Germany (like many other countries) conveniently shipped huge quantities of its garbage to China – 1.5 million metric tons per year. This is a thing of the past now, as China has recently stopped the import of foreign garbage freight.

China’s rule change does not only cause problems for Germany, but also for many other countries – like the USA – which are now scrambling to find solutions to their growing garbage problem.

2. The misconception of PET recycling

plastic bottles garbage
Only a small percentage of PET can be recycled into new bottles

“But Germany has such an excellent recycling system”, is often brought forward as an argument for PET bottles.

At least from the point of view of the environment and the consumption of raw materials, plastic bottles are not that bad, because they are recycled and turned into new PET bottles? Right?

Unfortunately, wrong.

The truth is, a maximum of 28% of PET recyclate can be used for new bottles. This is confirmed by Thomas Fischer, head of circular economics at German environmental nonprofit Deutsche Umwelthilfe:

“the bottle you take from the chiller…will only contain up to 28 percent recycled material”

In other words:

Each PET bottle that you buy consists of more than 70% freshly produced plastic. Click To Tweet

This is because PET recycling is not really a closed loop, but rather so-called downcycling. This means that the quality of the raw material is deteriorating during the recycling process and therefore can only be used for inferior products. That’s why that much “fresh” plastic must be added to create new PET bottles.

3. Plastic bottles pollute the environment

environmental pollution

As we have just seen, PET recycling is not exactly brilliant, because even in a best-case scenario, only a fraction of each new bottle is made from recycled waste.

And that, mind you, in a country like Germany, which has a world-leading recycling system and most of the plastic waste actually does find its way into the waste cycle.

But make no mistake: the overwhelming majority of the countries in the world do not have such a sophisticated waste cycle system – often, there is none at all. Anyone who has ever been to India knows what this looks like.

That is not an offense to India. Even many developed countries still have a lot of room to improve their recycling.

The United States, for example, recycles only 9% of its plastics and is far behind many other countries in that regard.

The blunt truth is this:

The majority of plastic waste worldwide does NOT end up in garbage cans or recycling plants but in our forests, lakes, and oceans. Click To Tweet

And once it ended up in nature, it stays there for a long time, since plastic is not biodegradable. Instead, it disintegrates very slowly into microplastics and its mostly toxic components.

Oh, and yes: Ultimately, of course, all of those harmful particles come back into our bodies via the food chain. So in that sense, one could indeed call it a closed cycle.

4. Waste of energy and resources

glass and bottle of water
In some countries, tap water is actually healthier than bottled water (photo: Clint McKoy)

Additionally, we need to ask the question of how sustainable and reasonable it really is to put in the significant effort of producing PET bottles when they end up in the garbage / nature / oceans after only one use.

Not only because crude oil is a limited resource, but also because its extraction causes a lot of damage to nature. The subsequent processing in oil refineries and the transport of bottles halfway around the world also take their toll on our environment.

And one might ask: why all this?

So that we can drink French bottled water from a small PET bottle, even though our tap water has been proven to be even healthier in most cases?

Especially in Germany, the drinking water quality is excellent and strictly controlled. We can easily refill our water bottles directly from the tap.

And in case of doubt – or water of doubtful or outright insufficient quality – there are excellent water filters.

The effort, environmental damage and eventual “benefit” of disposable plastic bottles are therefore obviously out of all proportions.

5. Time-consuming & expensive

OK, so disposable bottles are very difficult to recycle, pollute the environment enormously, waste energy and resources – and do not even contain healthier water.

But maybe they are the cheaper or more practical option?

Cheaper? Nope. Bottled water is many times more expensive than tap water. Even home-filtered water is much cheaper – and cleaner. Especially with water, which most of us drink every day, this adds up to considerable costs over the years.

Oh, and someone has to haul all of those bottles from the store as well. Although this could be considered physical workout and thus pass for a benefit.

6. Plastic is a health risk

girl drinking water
Foto: Johnny McClung

First off, we do not think much of alarmism. In recent years, the new specters in the world of plastic products have become increasingly popular: bisphenol A (BPA), plasticizers & Co.

Even among experts, there’s still no consensus regarding their potential (or actual) health risks. In this article, we have taken an in-depth look at the facts to gauge how great the danger really is.

So here’s the gist: there’s a whole range of chemicals in plastic bottles that have at least the potential to harm our health – both directly and indirectly (because they’re released into the environment).

Even if we put all the aforementioned problems caused by plastic bottles aside for a moment – wouldn’t it be simply more prudent to avoid this potential health hazard, as long as there is no evidence of its harmlessness?

Our criteria for a recommendable drinking bottle

Okay, disposable plastic bottles are a dead end for our health and the environment – so bring on better alternatives!

But what exactly is a recommendable bottle in our book? How did we choose our favorites?

Recommendations for drinking bottles are a dime a dozen – however, very often it is not transparent at all which criteria were used to pick the products.

So, instead of simply presenting our recommendations, we would first like to make it very clear to you which were our criteria for a great drinking bottle.

That way, you can judge for yourself how important these criteria are for you.

Harmless to your health

Being contaminant-free is obviously a very important aspect when it comes to choosing great drinking bottles. That means no chemical substances (which pose a potential health risk) leach from the water bottle into the liquid.

That’s why the material a drinking bottle is made of is so crucial. More on that in a second.

Environmental friendliness

environmental protection hands on tree heart shape

Next, we looked at what impact the bottle and its production have on our environment.

This means that not only the bottle itself should be free of hazardous chemicals, but also the production process should have as light a footprint as possible on our environment.

Environmental friendliness also includes the longevity of the bottle to preserve our limited natural resources. Also, the possibility to completely recycle the bottle when necessary is an important factor.

Functionality & practicality

stainless steel drinking bottle
refilling a stainless steel bottle on a hiking trip (photo: Kate Joie)

Obviously, a worthy drinking bottle must fulfill its basic functions perfectly.

In the case of water bottles, these include above all essential requirements such as being leak-proof. This is particularly important as it is very likely that the bottle will share the same bag with an expensive smartphone or tablet.

A great bottle is also easy to clean, dishwasher safe, resistant to damage and easy to use.

We are aware that what “practicality” exactly means for you depends entirely on how and where you intend to use your new bottle.

That’s why we have chosen models for every purpose – be it for the office, weekend camping trips with friends or climbing Mount Everest.

From sustainable companies

focused on the environment
The sight set on the environment (photo: Pine Watt)

The points mentioned so far would actually already make for a pretty solid drinking bottle.

But we haven’t stopped there – instead, we raised the bar for our product recommendations even further: they should be more than “just good” products.

That’s why we looked behind the scenes – who makes the bottles? How does the company treat its employees, suppliers, customers and the community? How does the company play its role in society and the environment?

The result: all of our recommendations come from companies that are committed to fair trade sourcing, carbon neutral production through renewable energy sources and the support of social or environmental projects.

Which material should I choose?

In the search for alternatives to plastic, most people think the choices boil down to stainless steel, glass or aluminum.

But aluminum is not really a valid alternative in our opinion. Why not?

Aluminum is harmful to the environment and to your health

Aluminum foil on face

The production of aluminum is extremely problematic, virtually throughout the entire process. Without getting bogged down in the details, here’s the gist of why we think aluminum bottles are not a good choice:

  • Easily passes into drinks and foods (especially carbonated drinks, fruit juices, etc)
  • Due to its chemical reactivity, most aluminum products have a coating on the inside that often contains harmful substances
  • Aluminum is suspected of being harmful to human health
  • Accumulates demonstrably in human organs and cells
  • Huge areas (often rain forests) are deforested for the mining of the raw material bauxite
  • The production process produces highly toxic red mud as a waste product that has no further use
  • This red mud is deposited in huge outdoor pools and contaminates soil, groundwater and the air (occasionally, the dams break and devastate entire villages)
  • Aluminum production is extremely energy-intensive: 1 metric ton of aluminum consumes 27 times more energy than 1 metric ton of glass

For these reasons, there is no drinking bottle made of aluminum among our recommendations. The only advantage of that material – its very good weight-to-stability ratio – is far outweighed by its many serious disadvantages.

Glass – the (almost) perfect material for drinking bottles

Glass is chemically inert – meaning that it does not interact with other substances.

glass bottles
Glass – an excellent material

As a direct consequence, glass is absolutely tasteless and odorless. In addition, it is therefore resistant to virtually all substances (acids, alkali, detergents, etc.).

In the case of drinking bottles, glass does not change the taste or smell of the drinks whatsoever, nor does it adopt them. You feel like tea today, fruit juice tomorrow, and just pure water the day after?

No problem at all with glass bottles – the enjoyment of your beverages is always genuine and unaltered (provided you gave it a good rinse in between, obviously).

Furthermore, glass contains no harmful substances, so it is one of the healthiest choices and suitable for everyone.

Due to its very hard and smooth surface, it is very easy to clean and therefore very hygienic. Even after many years, a glass bottle still has the same pristine quality as on the first day.

Glass is made from abundant raw materials and the production process is far less harmful to our environment than, for example, aluminum or plastic.

In addition, glass can be recycled endlessly – with minimal energy consumption or any loss of quality.

Sounds like the perfect material for a drinking bottle – does glass have any disadvantages?

Yes, unfortunately, it is not perfect.

drift bottle

Glass is noticeably heavier than plastic or stainless steel. So, if you’re looking for minimum weight, a glass bottle may not be your best option.

In addition, there is always the risk of breakage (and subsequent risk of injury).

That being said, glass bottles are actually much more robust than many people think.

Furthermore, glass is a very good heat conductor. This can actually be an advantage if you want to quickly cool down or heat up your beverage inside the bottle.

However, if you’d like to keep the bottle’s content at a certain temperature over an extended period of time, glass is not going to be able to do this – it has virtually no insulating effect.

Stainless steel – light & sturdy

There are quite a few types of steel alloys, the variety used in our recommendations is called 18/8 and is the most widely used in the food industry.

The 18 stands for the 18% of chromium, and the 8 for 8% nickel content. This particular mixture makes the stainless steel version 18/8 rustproof and resistant to all food acids. This means it is dishwasher safe and thus easy to clean and hygienic.

insulated stainless steel bottle
Double-walled, insulated stainless steel bottles are popular not only with outdoor enthusiasts (photo: www.kleankanteen.com)

Stainless steel contains no harmful additives and is therefore harmless to your health. Only for people with a nickel allergy, it may not be suitable.

In addition, a stainless steel bottle is extremely durable, since it is shatterproof and virtually indestructible. This resistance to breakage, combined with its very low weight, makes it a favorite among many outdoor enthusiasts.

Furthermore, there are double-walled, insulated stainless steel bottles available. These have the added benefit of keeping drinks cold (or hot) for a long time – at the “cost” of slightly more weight compared to non-insulated single-walled variants.

Like glass, stainless steel is an environmental-friendly material that can be recycled unlimited times relatively easily, without any loss of quality.

Are there no “good” plastic bottles?

You may wonder why we do not recommend reusable plastic bottles as alternatives to disposable PET bottles. After all, there are many other plastics than PET.

First of all, it is certainly true that from an environmental point of view, they are definitely the better choice than short-lived, disposable PET bottles.

But then the question quickly arises as to which type of plastic they should be made of in order to avoid the health risks mentioned here.

Besides, we have not found any potential products from companies that meet our criteria mentioned earlier regarding sustainability as well as environmental and social commitment.

Having said that, if you really want or need a plastic bottle, because you do not like our plastic-free recommendations below for one reason or another, then we can recommend the following two alternatives:

Either go for dopper or for sigg:

Both are very light and made of polypropylene (PP), which is food-grade and considered harmless.

So if you’re a marathon runner with a nickel allergy, those two plastic bottles are fairly solid options. At any rate, there is no doubt that they are way better choices than disposable bottles – for your health and the environment.

Our recommendations – truly sustainable & healthy water bottles

You now know more than enough reasons to switch from PET bottles to healthy and eco-friendly drinking bottles.

In addition, we have revealed to you which criteria a water bottle must meet in order to be included in the following recommendations.

If you know a product or company which you think should be included here, please let us know.

Well then, without further ado, let’s check out the best bottles for the environment and your health!

Soulbottles – sustainable glass bottles “Made in Berlin”

soulbottle
Soulbottle made in Berlin (photo: soulbottles.de)

Founded in 2012, the Berlin-based company “soulbottles” has set itself the goal of finding a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bottles – and seems to have achieved it with their glass bottles.

Unique designs

soulbottle soulsailor
Soulbottle with the design “Soulsailor”(photo: soulbottles.de)

Soulbottles does not offer any old “normal” glass bottles but presents unique designs as its most eye-catching feature. These are created by designers from all over the world, and new designs are constantly being added by the community.

“Drink plastic-free and look great while doing so”, says the company’s slogan.

You can have your own design printed on your bottle, or choose from among the many existing designs. Also, you have the choice between different colors and screen printing or laser engraving.

Glass – an absolutely clean material

As already mentioned above, glass is an excellent material for contact with food and absolutely harmless to health. In addition, it is also suitable for people with a nickel allergy who can’t opt for stainless steel bottles as a plastic-free alternative.

In addition, it is endlessly and 100% recyclable – and thus particularly environmentally friendly and resource-saving.

The soulbottle itself is particularly break-resistant, leak-proof, dishwasher-safe, tasteless and completely free of any harmful substances.

Just be careful if you want to fill them with hot liquids. Glass, in general, does not tolerate excessive temperature differences – you should not submit it to a difference greater than 40 ° C.

So if you want to fill up your bottle with hot tea, you have to preheat it (to at least 60 ° C to prepare it for boiling water).

soulbottle soulsleeve
the “soulsleeve” protective cover protects your soulbottle reliably (photo: www.soulbottles.de)

Of course, there is always a risk of breakage with glass. Should you ever drop and break your bottle, though, the company will send you a new bottle in exchange for a proof of purchase or a photo of the mishap.

If you want to further reduce this risk right from the outset, you can also buy the protective cover for your new soulbottle – called “soulsleeve”.

This soulsleeve is made of fairtrade Portuguese cork and straps made of natural rubber – and fits snugly around your soulbottle.

In addition to protecting your bottle, the soulsleeve is also very useful when handling bottles that are preheated or filled with hot liquids.

The cap of each soulbottle is made of a stainless steel fastener and a porcelain lid. The leak-proof rubber gasket (which is available in several colors) is made of food-grade natural rubber.

Sustainability, fairness and environmental protection

soulbottle
The protection of our oceans by avoiding disposable plastic bottles was the inspiration for this design (photo: soulbottles.de)

The company soulbottles doesn’t settle for beautifully designed, plastic-free water bottles – it also meets the highest standards of sustainability, fairness and environmental friendliness.

This is put into action by purchasing rubber (for the sealing rings) from “fair rubber” suppliers, the use of 100% renewable energies for the production in Germany, or the cooperation with the GLS Bank for sustainable use of money.

Moreover, with every bottle sold, soulbottle gives € 1 to Viva con Agua and Welthungerhilfe, whose projects help people all over the world to get access to clean drinking water.

B Corporation – a new generation of companies

Soulbottles is a certified B-Corporation, the most comprehensive enterprise certification currently in existence. Essentially, it reviews whether the company is acting for the benefit of all parties involved.

This not only includes the quality of the product and the production process itself but also involves the suppliers, employees, customers, community and the environment. Transparency, the company’s legal structure, and its social commitment are also screened.

Companies that meet the high standards of the “B Corporation” certification set the gold standard for sustainable and positive change through entrepreneurial activity.

In the following short video you can get a good impression of the company and their soulbottles:

soulbottles in 45 seconds

Conclusion – is a soulbottle the right choice for me?

A soulbottle is right for you if you:

  • Appreciate and want the absolute neutral quality of glass (odorless and tasteless)
  • Are looking for a plastic alternative which is completely free of harmful substances, but do not fancy stainless steel (or have a nickel allergy)
  • Like unique and individual designs
  • Want to support clean water projects worldwide with every purchase
  • Don’t mind a few grams more weight (glass is a bit heavier by nature)
  • Don’t need an insulated bottle
  • Don’t intend to regularly expose the bottle to the risk of breaking
  • Like to support a young German company that belongs to the new generation of
    sustainable companies (B-Corporation)

Klean Kanteen – Stainless steel drinking bottle with flexible caps

klean-kanteen-sport-cap
Klean Kanteen Classic with sport cap

Klean Kanteen is a veteran in the business and a real pioneer when it comes to plastic-free and eco-friendly drinking bottles. In 2004, the founder Robert Seals brought out the first stainless steel model – an absolute novelty in those days.

Mind you, that was at a time when most people had not heard of BPA or plasticizers. And even the serious environmental problems caused by disposable plastic products were still largely unknown to the general public.

Since then, the family business based in Northern California has steadily improved their products, which have become increasingly popular – and not just among outdoor enthusiasts who value high-quality, healthy and reusable drinking and food containers.

Practical, light and healthy bottle – the “Classic”

klean kanteen classic with bamboo cap
100% leak-proof stainless steel cap with a bamboo top (photo: www.kleankanteen.com)

The “Classic” model is the original version of the Klean Kanteen drinking bottle, which has been continually improved over the years. It is a particularly lightweight and practical stainless steel bottle for adults and children alike.

It is so light because it is single-walled stainless steel (unlike double-walled, insulated models). Of course, Klean Kanteen uses only food-grade 18/8 stainless steel, which makes it rustproof and acid resistant.

The exterior of the Classic has a special surface coating called “Klean Coat”, which, according to the manufacturer, is particularly hard-wearing and environmentally friendly.

Very flexible – colors, sizes & caps

It’s no coincidence the Classic model is so popular. For starters, it offers a wide range of colors, so everyone will find their favorite – be it matt, glossy, bright or in plain black or silver.

In addition, you can choose between different volume sizes – depending on what you want to use them for. Be it for the car ride to and from the office, to attach the bottle to your bicycle frame, the gym, or any other purpose you can think of.

They are available from the very space-saving and handy 12 oz (355 ml) version up to the big 64 oz (1,9 liter) version – and everything in between.

klean kanteen sport cap
the sport cap is especially handy for one-handed drinking (photo: www.kleankanteen.com)

If you have decided on a bottle in a specific size and color, you can customize it even further to your individual needs – by choosing different caps.

For example, you can put an absolutely leak-proof cap on your Classic bottle, which can be attached virtually anywhere (to your backpack, for instance). To drink from the bottle, simply unscrew the cap.

If one-handed use is the priority for you, then the sport cap is the perfect choice. It is particularly suitable for sports activities, as you do not have to unscrew it to drink from the bottle.

The sport cap is also ideal for children as it is super easy to drink from. Keep in mind that the sport cap may not be 100% leak-proof – so avoid placing the bottle sideways or upside-down.

More than good products – environmental protection and sustainability

Being a certified B-corporation since 2012, Klean Kanteen is one of the companies committed to the highest standards of sustainability, environmental and social aspects.

In addition, Klean Kanteen is a member of the non-profit organization 1% for the planet and has already supported environmental organizations with more than $ 2 million.

Conclusion – is the Klean Kanteen the right choice for me?

The Klean Kanteen is right for you if you:

  • Are looking for a light-weight, plastic-free bottle
  • Think insulated stainless steel bottles are too heavy
  • Do not need a thermos bottle in general
  • Are looking for a hard-wearing, durable drinking bottle (e.g. for outdoor activities)
  • Think glass bottles are too heavy or risky (risk of breakage)
  • Want to be flexible with different caps
  • Want to support a sustainable, certified B-Corporation
  • Like the support of environmental protection projects that comes with your purchase

Tree Tribe Stainless Steel Water Bottle

insulated stainless steel bottle by Tree Tribe

Like the Klean Kanteen, the drinking bottle from the U.S. company Tree Tribe is also made from food-grade stainless steel.

The cap – furnished with a bamboo cover on top – is made absolutely leak-proof by a silicone gasket.

In contrast to the Klean Kanteen bottle, however, the Tree Tribe is double-walled and can, therefore, be used as a thermos bottle at the same time. The insulation works so well that liquids stay hot (or cold) for up to 12 hours.

So you can keep your tea, coffee or even soups hot on cold days – or enjoy your nice and cold water or smoothie on hot days for a long time.

Of course, that also means that it is a bit heavier than the single-walled Klean Kanteen. However, those of you who really appreciate thermal insulation, certainly won’t mind a little bit more weight that comes with it.

Lifetime warranty

Since Tree Tribe is an outdoor brand, this water bottle has been designed to be extremely practical and durable. Apart from extreme situations, a stainless steel bottle is usually unbreakable.

Tree Tribe not only claims that the bottle will last a lifetime – it gives you a lifetime warranty. If contrary to expectations, there should be something wrong with your bottle at any point, they’ll send you a new bottle.

Trees for the world

small plants
Tree Tribe plants 10 trees for every bottle sold (photo: Francesco Gallarotti)

In addition to offering a high-quality drinking bottle, the company is also committed to the environment: with every bottle sold, Tree Tribe plants 10 trees. Not one tree, but ten. Per bottle. Nice.

For this purpose, the company works with several non-profit and environmental organizations that specialize in this type of projects and have been active worldwide for many years.

The high quality of the Tree Tribe bottle along with the great added benefit for the environment makes it a great option if you are looking for a sustainable thermos water bottle.

Conclusion – is the Tree Tribe right for me?

The Tree Tribe is right for you if you:

  • Are looking for a high-quality stainless steel thermos bottle
  • Don’t mind that it’s a bit heavier than single-walled stainless steel models
  • Are looking for a durable bottle with a lifetime warranty
  • Think that glass bottles are too heavy or risky (risk of breakage)
  • Like the idea of having 10 trees planted with your purchase

Conclusion

So there you go, those are our recommendations for truly sustainable water bottles. Fortunately, as you can see, there are companies that not only strive for great products but also care about sustainability and protecting our environment.

These are three excellent options currently available on a market we expect will change a lot as people start to see the benefits and responsibility of owning an eco-friendly water bottle and reducing their carbon footprint in the process.

No matter what you plan on using your new bottle for – be it for sports, in the office, or that trip around the world – may it serve you well!

Which drinking bottle did you choose?

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