Refilling plastic water bottles seems like a no-brainer when it comes to being environmentally conscious. It's a quick and easy way of on-the-spot recycling and lengthens the time before you have to shop for new bottled water. While it may seem like an easy, harmless way to take water with you on the go, refilling plastic water bottles may actually pose health risks. There are three major factors to consider when choosing to reuse your plastic water bottles.
According to experts at the Global Healing Center, refilling plastic water bottles can be a bad idea. They site studies like the one performed at the University of Calgary, where water from refilled bottles was found to contain dangerously elevated levels of bacteria. Plastic bottles can harbor bacteria around the lid and neck, where the bottle comes in contact with the mouth, but also inside the bottle. Disposable plastics develop microscopic cracks over time, where bacteria can grow and flourish, contaminating your drink. This bacteria can be eliminated or reduced to a safe level through regular washing of bottles, but washing may increase the level of toxins released from the plastic.
The second caution against refilling water bottles involves chemicals from plastics leaching into the water. The most common of these is bisphenol A (BPA). BPA disrupts the body's endocrine system and is released into water through plastics made of polycarbonate, labeled as PC or with a "7" on the bottom of the bottle. The FDA has not determined how much BPA is safe to consume or how much is released into water. Heat, washing bottles with detergent or sterilizing them with boiling water or bleach can cause the plastic to degrade more quickly, potentially increasing the amount of BPA in your water.
Washing bottles to make them safe for reuse uses energy and natural resources involved in heating water. It also introduces extra detergents or bleach into waste water. The plastic bottle will disintegrate over time, making it only suitable for so many uses before it will need to be replaced with an additional plastic bottle. Recycling is also a trade off--it uses similar amounts of energy and creates similar amounts of pollution to recycle a bottle as it does to make a new one. There is no perfect solution, but many people choose to use glass, stainless steel or heavier grade plastic water bottles designed for long-term use.