The Cost of Being Eco: Bottled water vs reusable bottles

2 min • 15 Jun 2021
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Next up in our series looking at the cost of everyday eco swaps is re-usable bottles. Reusables champion Lauren Bravo looks at whether making the swap is good for your wallet, as well as the planet

Once upon a time it was a status symbol. Now, it’s an emblem for single-use plastic waste and a growing source of eco-shame. But that doesn’t stop us glugging our way through a global total of more than a million plastic bottles a minute, and 7.7 billion plastic water bottles per year in the UK alone – an average of three per person each week.

The environmental cost of bottled water

It’s no secret that our hydration habits are bad news for a thirsty planet. Only 59% of plastic bottles in the UK are actually recycled (in Norway it’s 96%) and one water bottle can take around 450 years to break down in landfill. That’s if it doesn’t end up, as many do, polluting waterways and leaching microplastics into the ocean.

Estimates of the total carbon footprint of bottled water vary wildly, from 14 billion kg to a whopping 203 billion kg of CO2, but one thing is clear – there’s little reason to fly and drive all that H2O around the world if we can safely drink the stuff that comes out of our taps. Water UK reports that if just one in 10 people opted to skip the disposable and refill a bottle just once a week, we’d save around 340 million plastic bottles a year.

Switching to a reusable bottle

And that’s not all we’d save. Prices for reusables can vary hugely depending on design and brand, but with tap water at home costing an average of 0.1p per litre compared to 65p per litre for bottled water (and often far more if you’re buying a single bottle from a cafe or convenience store), it’s hard to argue that the latter isn’t money down the drain. A basic refillable bottle made from BPA-free plastic might set you back around £10. If it replaces that average of three weekly disposable bottles, it will have paid for itself in six weeks and could save you around £500 over five years (including the price of the water).

How to choose a reusable water bottle

But of course, a refillable water bottle will only save money and carbon if we actually use it. The most sustainable water bottle is the one that fits into your life (and bag) most easily, so it pays to shop around.

Splashing out £25 on a stainless steel bottle from trendy cult favourites might be worth it if coolness is your priority (either temperature, or image), while a dishwasher-friendly version might be the difference between a bottle that gets used and one that collects dust in the cupboard. Don’t like the taste of tap water in your area? Bottles with in-built filters start at around £12. For less than a tenner you can even buy foldable drinking pouches that won’t take up valuable space in your bag when empty.

Overcoming the awkwardness

Access and awkwardness can play a part too – according to a 2018 study, 33% of people feel uncomfortable asking to have their bottle filled up in cafes and coffee shops when not making a purchase. So it’s good news that the number of free water refill stations across the UK increased from 1,500 in January 2018 to more than 20,000 in June 2019, and continues rising. There’s even an app, Refill, to help you find your nearest water fountain.

Normalising sustainable habits, for free? We’ll drink to that.

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