Comparing Reusable Water Bottles on Sustainability: Stainless Steel, Glass, and Plastic {Infographic}

Stainless steel, glass, and plastic facts

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.

(Note to self: Get an organizer for the utensils drawer.)Stainless steel, glass, and plasitc facts

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. klean kanteen reusable water bottle collection

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. 

Copy and Paste the Code below to share this infographic on your site

 
Check out these related posts from Green Sisterhood

Green TalkStainless Steel Beats Plastic
Healthful MamaSave $500 per year with reusable water bottle
Conscientious ConfusionHow to Pack Waste-free Lunches for Summer
Condo BluesTips for Low Waste Air Travel

This post is sponsored by Klean Kanteen and Green Sisterhood. My opinions are based on the research and facts from sources mentioned in the infographic.

Comments

  1. gnesiosgibbs says

    You’ve only covered drinking bottles, which I can understand, since there are a LOT of other issues and you can only do one thing at a time. But SS doesn’t work in the microwave, so glass is a decent alternative. As is Corningware and some ceramics. Microwavable ceramics also have a benefit if they are locally made. I buy much of my bakeware and storage stuff at yard sales, so I am at least reusing glass and Corningware.

    • says

      gnesiosgibbs Yes. I was only addressing reusable water bottles for this post but you are right; SS does not work for microwaves, not dinner parties (lol..). And as you can tell from my cupboards, I LOVE Corningware! I visited Corning’s museum and even made a handblown glass ornament! But for reusable water bottles, I love my SS. I’m too klutzy to carry a glass bottle outside. But I repurpose mason jars for drinking at home.

      • gnesiosgibbs says

        ecokaren gnesiosgibbs I kinda wondered about Corningware, as it is glass, so it must be as toxic to produce as regular glass?
        I microwave stuff in glass or Corningware, but I do have some ceramic stuff I use that is locally made and beautiful, and as long as the maker tells me it’s microwave-okay, I’ll use it. If it has a good, thick glaze (no porous stuff).
        AND I think it’s a good point to make for people to try to recycle glass, and find sources (like canning jars and stuff at yard sales and thrift shops) so you aren’t buying new.

        • says

          gnesiosgibbs Corningware takes a LOT of energy to manufacture since it’s a special kind of glass. It takes longer to make it non-breakable. More compact and more silica and sand needed. And higher temp too. If you are going to use local artisanal ceramic, make sure they are food grade and they don’t use lead glaze. One of the reasons why i don’t buy vintage ceramic or glassware because I can’t tell if they are glazed with lead. Corningware do not use lead but who knows what others use.

        • gnesiosgibbs says

          ecokaren gnesiosgibbs I have used older Pyrex and Fireking glassware…I don’t think they’d have lead, would they?
          I do ask my local artisans if it’s microwave-safe, but I should also ask if it has lead in the glaze, just to be sure.

  2. ecokaren says

    Thanks! Bet your swimmers don’t carry glass bottles to the pool. Yes?

  3. Sarah Barrett says

    Charlotte still has her SS Klean Canteen and Emily uses the Camel back

  4. ecokaren says

    Way to go! I’m a Klean Kanteen addict myself, as you can see from my post. Thanks for sharing Mama.

  5. greentalk says

    I was blown away by the infographic.  I never knew those facts about glass vs stainless steel.

  6. says

    I faced the glass/ stainless steel dilemma with straws and settled on stainless steel b/c they can’t break. Glass definitely has its advantages, but stainless steel is definitely the more kid-friendly choice and also the best outdoor choice. We have stainless steel sippy cups, cups, water bottles, plates, to-go containers — my favorite replacement for plastic. Interesting to see how glass and SS compare in terms of manufacturing. I had heard that glass takes forever to biodegrade, so we always reuse/ recycle glass containers. Thanks for all this wonderful info!

    • says

      Eco novice I was shocked that glass doesn’t get recycled as much as I thought it should. I always recycle mine but why wouldn’t people recycle glass? It’s so weird. I agree about SS straws, especially for kids. Glass ones DO break. So dangerous. Like I said above, Etsy has sellers that make SS straws with brushes. I’ll get you the name if you need a replacement.

      • The Mulled Mind says

        ecokaren Eco novice I have a feeling that glass doesn’t get recycled because most materials in the chain are used by companies. At a factory, you recycle metals because scrap dealers will pay for them.

        • says

          The Mulled Mind  Eco novice That’s a good point. I wonder how we, the consumers, are about recycling as well. I know most people may not return their bottles and I wonder what they are doing with them at home.

  7. says

    Wow, I was shocked about the glass bottles! What a great infographic. We don’t have nay reusable straws yet, so I think I, too, just made up my mind based on this. We love our KK water bottles and tumblers already!

    • says

      almostallthetruth I didn’t think I’d love SS straws but I found some on Etsy that comes with brushes. So I think I’m going to replace my glass ones when they break with SS ones.

  8. greenmomscollective says

    My instinct felt that stainless steel was best because it is unbreakable! I love this inforgraphic and the research you shared! Thank you!

    • says

      greenmomscollective And SS last a lifetime and when it outlasts you, it can be recycled to be reborn! It truly is sustainable forever!

  9. says

    Very nice infographic…well-researched!  I recently did the same research for us, and came to the same conclusion.  In order to do a bit more comparison, I ordered 2 different bottles…one Klean Kanteen and one Camelbak.  My girlfriend and I both tested each one, and while I love the Camelbak, she prefers the Klean Kanteen.  We both feel so much better about reducing our carbon footprint just a little bit, as well as not ingesting chemicals from plastic bottles.  Congrats on a great post!

    • says

      VegetarianZen Thank you for sharing your own experiment! Anything to reduce waste and reduce carbon print is awesome! And if you avoid chemicals in the process, why not? Thanks for visiting!

  10. The Greening of Westford says

    I kind of suspected this. Plastic – no brainer. And after having been to a recycling facility I realize how difficult it can be to actually recycle glass. I love my insulated stainless steel. It seriously keeps my drinks cold for hours, in the sun! Barely any ice needed.

  11. ecokaren says

    I was disappointed about glass’s un-recycling practices at my local MRF center. Shocked, in fact. And plastic is worse. They only recycle 1 and 2 in my town.

  12. La Vie En Green says

    Sticking to SS and glass here too. The first one was a gift and the glass ones were (probably) saved from the trash at a restaurant where we got them for dinner. All have been well playing their part for years!

  13. glassticbottle says

    @ecokaren 
    Good point!  Glasstic, http://www.glassticwaterbottle.com, is a glass water bottle we have built to bring by the pool.  It was built to be reusable and mostly recyclable but the biggest reason was for the taste and peace of mind that comes with drinking liquids in glass without the worry of breaking it in your backyard.  It is great for offices as well.  Our focus is reducing single-use water bottles while increasing consumers options with safe alternatives.

  14. This Tree of Life says

    We use a lot of stainless steel and reusable glass containers. very interesting stuff!

  15. gent says

    Since i purchase the cheapest water i can find in plastic bottles i rinse it and refill it as soon as possible and continue to use it as many times as possible until it gets lost or forgotten i believe that the worst fill is probably the poorest quality because the bottles come out of the machine and have the raw chemicals on them for a undermined amount of time (shipping,storing,distributing etc,etc) i think a refill of fresh water tap drank that same day is my first choice

  16. says

    Well I second that thought of using stainless steel, glass and ONLY clean plastic. As far as my personal input is concerned, I am never sure about using plastic because I don’t have the ability to judge the quality and thus my opinion for plastic is always poor. Steel is preferable for the quality and life long durability. I find it credible too. Many thanks for sharing such a detailed article, great infographic. I am sure this information is of great use for all :)