Whether it’s from a work conference, sporting event, or o-week at uni, most of us have a reusable water bottle of some kind sitting untouched in the back of our kitchen cupboards. One spring clean later and you’re left with an assortment of reusable remnants that, although gifted with good intentions, are a pain to figure out what to do with.
Even if they have a regular spot in your reuse rotation, these ‘eco friendly’ alternatives to single use plastic inevitably reach a point where they can’t be reused, and what do we do then?
What happens to reusable water bottles at the end of their life and…
Are reusable water bottles actually much better than single use?
The concept of reusable products is great, there’s no doubt about it. Stopping the spread of toxic single use products? Great! Building sustainable habits and practices? Even better. But humans tend to love a trend and the result can often be overproduction.
To withstand multiple uses, reusable containers such as tupperware, drink bottles, and even tote bags have to be stronger and more durable than their single use counterparts. Their carbon footprint is inflated by their need for constant cleaning, and the resources they require over their lifetime.
The materials used in ‘sustainable’ products can have a bigger environmental footprint than single use plastics in terms of hidden impacts like water consumption, resource extraction and power-plant emissions. Put simply, it costs the environment more to produce one aluminium water bottle than one single use plastic water bottle.
To measure how environmentally sustainable a product is, you can use a tool known as a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCAs can give us a break-even point that indicates how many times a reusable product needs to be used to balance the cost against its single use counterpart. For example, a reusable bottle made from aluminium would need to be used at least three times to ‘break-even’ climate wise.
The important takeaway message is that for reusable products to make a tangible difference, they actually need to be reused.
The Resin Identification Code (pictured below) was introduced in Australia in 1990 to categorise types of plastic. Generally speaking, reusable water bottles made from plastic 1, 2, and 5 are accepted for recycling, but 3, 4, 6 and 7 are not. However, you should ALWAYS check with your council or local waste management facility first, to ensure they won’t contaminate your recycling or end up in landfill.
Moreover, it isn’t one size fits all; most reusable items are made from a combination of materials rather than just plastic. Reusable water bottles are often mostly made from materials like stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastics. In some cases, the bottle itself can be placed in your kerbside recycling bin once it’s reached it’s end of life. But, if the bottle has any additional parts like a rubber lid or a straw, it’s important to separate those components and check their recyclability individually.
Repair and Replace
The most sustainable option is always to use what you already have. If your water bottle has multiple parts or pieces, and you’ve lost or damaged one of them, check with the manufacturer to see if they sell the individual piece. Take the classic Frank Green emotional support water bottle, on their website, you can purchase any of the smaller pieces to replace the bit you need, rather than having to buy the whole thing again.
Reusable water bottles or pieces that are broken beyond repair sadly cannot be recycled, and need to be put in your landfill bin.
Before purchasing, do your research and invest in great quality products that will have a long life span, and offer solutions for extending their usability and ultimately their end of life.
If you don’t know where to start, we created the RC Directory to make it easier for consumers to find genuinely sustainable businesses and products.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts
As previously mentioned, your reusable water bottle is likely made up of a few different materials, each of which need to be identified in order to figure out their recyclability. Your bottle will likely be made of rigid plastic, metal or glass.
Some councils will accept rigid plastic water bottles in your kerbside recycling, but from our research, it’s unlikely. Terracycle offers a Plastic Packaging Zero Waste Box which accepts any flexible or rigid plastic packaging including plastic bottles and food storage containers. However, this option is more costly, with the box priced at $176, rendering the service a less accessible solution for most people.
If your water bottle is made of metal but you aren’t entirely sure which metal, use a fridge magnet to check. If the metal water bottle attracts the magnet, it’s probably stainless steel; if it’s not magnetic, it’s likely aluminium. Metal is usually recyclable at your local waste management facility. Alternatively, Recycle Smart collect stainless steel and aluminium reusable water bottles in select areas.
Glass water bottles that are not broken can go in your yellow bin for recycling, but remove the lid and check the material. Bottle tops are notoriously difficult to recycle due to their size, but an increasing number of recycling facilities now accept them. If the glass is broken, it should go in your landfill bin.
For rigid plastic, metal, or mixed material water bottles, follow these steps:
- Turn it into an upcycling project, or if it’s still in good condition, donate it to a charity shop.
- Check on your council website if reusable water bottles or containers are accepted in your yellow bin.
- If not, use Recycling Near You to find your local waste management facility, and check what they accept. The website conveniently shows you if they accept metals, food and beverage packaging, glass containers, containers and packaging, and rigid plastic.
- If none of your local facilities accept your reusable water bottle, put it in your landfill bin and pat yourself on the back for doing this much research.
What’s The Solution?
Recycling these common items can be very confusing, so think before you purchase, and just try your best!
The rules around what can be recycled and how are constantly evolving. Hopefully one day, all of the products put into circulation will have a solid end of life solution that doesn’t include the landfill, and the onus is taken off the consumer altogether.
We understand better than most just how important your morning coffee is. Whether you’re making it at home or picking it up on the way to work (or both), we would never deny Australians their daily caffeine. Our problem is that we fundamentally disagree that our...
Content creator and social media maven, Amy keeps our Cafes and fellow waste warriors connected and updated across all of the Responsible Cafe socials. Passionate about inspiring positive change, sustainability, and performing, she can usually be found filming and editing videos with her furry sidekick, Banks!