These are my kitchen cabinets. Can you tell I’m obsessed with stainless steel (SS) and glass? Except for Glasslock lids, caps for travel coffee mugs and BPA-free Klean Kanteen water bottle caps, I have very little plastic in my kitchen. Stainless steel and glass have been the ‘go-to’ materials when I decided to reduce plastic in our lives. Because the life cycle for the two are, well, infinity, unless you lose them or break them, which sadly, we’ve have done both, they are far more sustainable than plastic.
But ‘how’ sustainable are glass and stainless steel, really. I wanted to find out since we are all going towards replacing plastic as if SS and glass are going to solve all plastic induced problems. But you know as well as I do that too much demand on one commodity, like steel, can impact the environment by depleting our natural resources as well as creating pollution and a large carbon footprint due to mining, manufacturing and transporting the final products to consumers.
So I did what I usually do when I want to get the ‘low down’ on something. Research. A lot. And I wanted to share what I found as an infographic – (because it’s visual and cool and I know you’ll share with all your friends and pin on Pinterest) – with facts from pages of documents and numerous sites that I could get my ‘hands’ on. It does not contain ALL the facts but I thought these figures were informative enough to convince me – YOU – why I’m sticking with my stainless steel bottles <– click to find out what brand is my favorite) utensils, mixing bowls, pots and pans.
This is a long one – sustainability is a complicated issue – so grab something to drink and let’s dig in.
In addition to the infographic below, check out these additional sustainable facts that didn’t make it on the chart. After all, sustainability has many faces.
Stainless Steel Sustainability Facts
- Energy intensive - I wouldn’t lie to you. From mining to transporting it to our hands for usage, it can be energy intensive. But when you factor in the weight being lighter than glass, the transportation cost is a lot less compared to glass. And the energy cost goes way way down when SS uses more recycled content. Currently though, there aren’t enough post-consumer steel to recycle into making new SS so recycled content is less than what it could be. And why is that? That’s because we are using them longer so there aren’t enough to be recycled. Good problem to have? It’s a double edged sword.
- Long lasting life cycle without breakage or corrosion. The main ore for stainless steel (SS) is iron, which is a durable element. (The crystal structure of iron makes Austenitic stainless steel non-magnetic while Ferritic and Martensitic stainless steel magnetic) And to make it harder and corrosion resistant, Chromium is added, which makes it into an alloy, if my chemistry class serves me right. In addition, a small amount of Nickel is added to stabilize the iron structure which makes it stable at extreme temperature. Note: Food grade #304 or 18/8 stainless steel means, there is 18% chromium and 8% nickel. This is a high quality SS that most high quality utensils or stainless steel reusable water bottles, like Klean Kanteen, are made of. And high quality SS means, there is no nickel leaching, which means safer for the consumers. High quality SS bottles should not taste metallic either, unlike aluminum bottles.
- Chromium’s passivation property heals itself. A process called passivation makes chromium unique in that when the surface is scratched, it rebuilds itself in the presence of oxygen, which makes stainless steel corrosion resistant, enabling long lasting life cycle, even after it’s scratched. Unlike aluminum bottles that need to be lined, SS does not need to be lined because of chromium’s unique protective layer that prevents any chemicals from leaching.
- Stainless steel bottle is safer for any areas for usage. Unlike glass, SS bottles can be used by pool side, schools, camps, school trips, gyms, beaches, and any other areas that do not allow fragile glass bottles for safety reasons. SS has no limitation for usage and will not hurt anyone since it does not leach chemicals (as in plastic) or break (as in glass), and possibly cause bodily harm.
- Stainless steel is 100% recyclable: When recycled, each component can be separated and reused. In fact, stainless steel should never end up as a waste. It can be reused time and time again so the sustainability factor beats any other material for it’s life cycle being longer than any other material.
- Repeated reuse - Even though energy consumption and carbon print is large, if you use your reusable stainless steel bottle at least 500 times, you would have surpassed the plastic water bottle, in terms of sustainability, making it the best choice for the planet.
So, while stainless steel bottles might require a lot of energy, from mining to manufacturing, and all the way up to the point of usage, its long life cycle, 100% recyclability, and safeness of the material makes SS far more sustainable than glass or plastic. And to offset the carbon print even more, I choose to buy a brand that goes above and beyond to make a difference in the mission of keeping the environmental damage to a minimum.
And that’s Klean Kanteen. This certified B Corp made first BPA free metal reusable bottle and I trust their integrity and transparency. Klean Kanteen makes their mission to make their products ethically, and sustainably with high quality resources. Their well-thought-out designs that are easy to use and to clean and maintain are healthy and safe. If I’m going to buy a product that is going to be inevitably energy intensive, I’m going to make sure the product lasts a very long time and so far, these bottles haven’t disappointed me yet! And they are guaranteed for LIFE. How can you get more sustainable than that? … unless you lose them at the gym. Unfortunately, they can’t help you with being absent minded.
Glass Sustainability Facts
- Glass bottling produces similar carbon emission as a PET plastic bottle – manufacturing low weight PET bottle is equivalent to manufacturing a glass bottle, which is heavier, causing carbon emission that’s similar to a PET plastic bottle.
- Glass is breakable. Need I say more? For its heavy carbon print, the life cycle is not as long, especially if you break it. And it can be dangerous for kids if they break the glass.
- Not all glasses are recyclable at the curbside. Check Earth 911 on how to recycle broken glass, non-container glasses, and mirrors.
- Recycling rate is surprisingly low, even for those recyclable glasses, not everyone recycle glasses (Gasp!) so there aren’t enough glasses available for manufacturing into new products.
- Glass containers are not allowed in some places. Some areas forbid glasses, like pools, schools, sporting events, gym, etc…which makes it hard to use everywhere.
Plastic Sustainability Facts
- Most plastics are derived from petroleum - a non-renewal source.
- Short life cycle - plastic has a very short usable life cycle, especially the single use water bottles, since they are not reusable. And once they are discarded and not recycled, they end up in landfills where they sit over 700 years before they start to decompose.
- Dangerous chemicals leach - Plastic production and manufacturing are extremely polluting and energy-intensive processes. And plastic bottles have been known to leach harmful chemicals into the water. (see infographic)
- Recycling process is complex - Recycling rate for plastic is very low. In addition, not all plastics are recyclable or recycled, even if they are collected to be recycled. Much of it still ends up in landfills or oceans, killing marine life.
So, which material do YOU think is more sustainable? If you are still unsure, here is the infographic for you to check out to determine your answer.
Note: If you would like to use and share this infographic, you can copy and paste the code below the infographic. Be sure to link back to the post for a complete info on sustainability of these reusable bottles.
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Check out these related posts from Green Sisterhood
Green Talk – Stainless Steel Beats Plastic
Healthful Mama – Save $500 per year with reusable water bottle
Conscientious Confusion – How to Pack Waste-free Lunches for Summer
Condo Blues – Tips for Low Waste Air Travel
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