water bottles: plastic vs metal

G Magazine has run a useful update on the old ‘which is the best’ water bottle debate.

While we all know that re-usable bottles make much more sense than using bottled water, perhaps the key difference between aluminium and plastic bottles that has been highlighted to date has been around personal health rather than environmental issues. As a result,  many plastic and metal bottle manufacturers are now billing themselves as BPA free.

But G Magazine have produced a great article which also considers the environmental impacts of the production of both plastic and metal bottles. As you might expect, they found that plastics have far less environmental impact in the categories of:

  • contribution to greenhouse pollution,
  • water use, and
  • waste.

They estimate that the difference between the two options can be up to 80%. This difference is largely due to the relatively large energy cost that goes into the processing of the metal to actually make the bottle. On the basis of greenhouse emissions, plastics come out well ahead.

If you are still going to buy a metal bottle, than the better option is stainless steel. The article cites research by the CSIRO which says that aluminium has a greater overall environmental impact in terms of energy required and hence contribution to global warming than stainless steel.

Another significant point from the article (Reusable water bottles: plastic vs stainless steel vs aluminium, G Magazine, November/ December 2010 by Angela Tufvesson) is that the overall impact of the metal bottles can be reduced somewhat if you recycle them at the end of their life. In contrast many hard plastic bottles (recycling code 5 and 7) are not covered by municipal recycling schemes.

For my earlier assessment of plastic bottles on this website, please check here.


About Cam Walker

I work with Friends of the Earth, and live in Castlemaine in Central Victoria, Australia. Activist, dad to Tali & Mia, mountain enthusiast, climber & would be telemark skier.
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