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What Chemicals Are In Plastic Water Bottles?

If you find yourself confused about what chemicals are in plastic water bottles, and whether those chemicals could harm your health, you’re not alone.

The most prominent chemicals found in plastic water bottles are, well, plastic. Plastic’s chemical properties can lead to plastic-related toxins being released in the body. These plastics include polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene, and bisphenol A (BPA).

With a little guidance, you can confidently make decisions that support your health, your lifestyle, and even the environment.

Plastic in the Bottle, Plastic in the Water

When it comes to finding out what chemicals are in a plastic bottle—along with the safety of those chemicals—it’s helpful to provide context.

One study found that 93% of bottled water brands sampled contained traces of microplastics, including companies like Aquafina, Evian, and Nestle Pure Life. In comparison, tap water contained about 50% fewer microplastics than bottled water.1

That study suggests drinking water from any single-use plastic bottle could carry a high risk of consuming water tainted by microplastics. 

The question then becomes, could microplastics hurt you? 

The answer to that tends to depend on the specific plastic. Different types of plastic have different levels of known risks and health effects. 

Types of Plastics Found in Water Bottles

Most plastics used in water bottles fall into one of three categories. Typically, a number on the packaging printed inside a triangle—1, 2, or 7—will indicate what category of plastic a bottle falls into:2

  • 1 means polyethylene terephthalate – Also known as PETE or PET, single-use containers often use this lightweight plastic.2
  • 2 means high-density polyethylene – Abbreviated to HDPE, containers designed to hold heavier content or to last longer might use this durable, sturdy plastic.2
  • 7 means “Other” – As the name suggests, this covers plastics that don’t fit into other classified categories. Importantly, the plastic materials encompassed by this category include bisphenol A, often referred to as BPA. Consuming BPA particles has been linked to various health risks, which we’ll cover below. For now, know that consuming water from a water bottle marked with a 7 could mean exposure to BPA microplastics.2 

Plastics Common in Single-Use Water Bottles

PET makes up most single-use plastic water bottles sold in the U.S.1  

When we say single-use, we mean it. Experts warn that repeatedly using water bottles made from PET can wear down the material, which could allow harmful bacteria to build up in the cracks.3 Washing PET bottles can also cause problems since exposure to hot water can cause plastic chemicals to leach into your water.4

Since they’re are to be used once, disposable water bottles usually get tossed back into the environment. In addition to the health questions raised, single-use plastic water bottles can also have a negative effect on the environment. With a few exceptions like incineration, practically all of the plastic created still exists in some form or other on the planet.4 While recycling can mitigate some of the environmental damage done by single-use plastic bottles, choosing a non-plastic water bottle option can bypass the issue entirely.

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Plastics Common in Multi-Use Water Bottles

Unlike single-use water bottles made of PET, many reusable plastic water bottles tend to be made from plastic polymers such as polypropylene and copolyester, making them both sturdy and lightweight.3 

While these bottles rarely contain BPA anymore, there’s still a lot the scientific community doesn’t know about the potential health risks of these plastics.3

Because we still don’t know the long-term health of these plastics, experts recommend avoiding the dishwasher and washing your water bottle by hand. The heat and abrasion of a typical dishwasher could enhance chemical leaching that would affect any liquids you put in your bottle.3

Lack of Transparency in Industry

When it comes to determining the precise chemicals in a water bottle, lack of transparency remains the biggest hurdle.

In fact, no law or regulation requires corporations selling bottled water to test their water for plastic chemical substances, or even to tell customers where their water comes from.1

American tap water providers, on the other hand, must:1

  • Undergo regular testing to evaluate contaminant levels
  • Prove the water meets EPA standards
  • Provide consumers access to quality reports on their tap water
  • Make information about their water source publicly available

While it’s theoretically possible for a bottle of water to be pure, with the current level of regulation, it’s too hard to know for sure. There’s still research to be done on the health effects and safety of plastic products, especially disposable water bottles. However, With tap water, you can access regulated, quality reports about your water. If necessary, you can also take follow-up steps to improve your water like adding a ro water filter system.

Health Risks of Water Bottle Plastics

Now that you know some of the more common plastics found in water bottles, let’s address some of the health risks associated with each type of plastic, and with plastic bottles in general. 

  • 1 (PET plastics) – While the FDA considers PET single-use water bottles reasonably safe, that assessment relies on people storing the bottles in a specific way. If the bottles are exposed to high temperatures—say, if left in the back of the car on a hot day, or if left out in the hot sun at an all-day event like a music festival—the risk of chemical leaching increases.2
  • 2 (HDPE plastics) – Again, experts currently consider these reusable water bottles largely safe if used correctly. However, if washed poorly, cracked, or damaged, this type of bottle could foster potentially harmful bacteria growth.2 Additionally, washing in a dishwasher could increase the odds of chemical leaching.3
  • 7 (“Other” plastics) – While not all plastics marked as 7 contain BPA, some of them do. Plastics classified as 7 include polycarbonate bottles. One study suggested that drinking from a polycarbonate bottle for one week could significantly increase levels of BPA in your body.2 Various studies have linked BPA exposure to an increased risk of several health problems like cancer, heart complications, fertility issues, and altered brain development.”1
  • Bacteria growth – Some experts find bacteria growth an even larger concern than chemical leaching. Single-use plastic bottles can grow harmful bacteria if used repeatedly. Bacteria can grow in a single day. If you open a water bottle, drink a sip, and then leave it unattended. While single-use plastic water bottles have the highest risk for bacteria growth, damaged or poorly washed reusable water bottles may also prove risky.2

To avoid the risks associated with chemical leaching, as well as the bacterial growth associated with worn and poorly washed plastic, consider trying a water bottle made from alternative materials.

Alternatives to Plastic Water Bottles

Glass water bottles, metal water bottles, and paper cups could all serve as a healthier alternative to drinking out of water bottles made of plastic. These alternatives can prove more environmentally friendly as well. 

Americans buy roughly 50 billion water bottles a year. By choosing an alternative to the single-use plastic water bottle, you could save about 156 plastic bottles every year.24

  • Glass water bottles – Because most glass water bottles can safely go in your dishwasher, you can often sterilize them more easily, and thus prevent bacteria growth.2 The natural material means there’s no danger of chemicals leaching into your water. However, glass can be heavier and break more easily than plastic or metal.3 That could make glass bottles a better fit for adults than children.
  • Metal water bottles – As with glass, you can easily sterilize metal water bottles to prevent bacteria growth. There’s less risk of chemical leach than with a plastic water bottle.2 However, experts recommend avoiding metal water bottles lined with plastic, epoxy, or resin, which could contain harmful chemicals.3 Metal water bottles may prove an ideal alternative for people concerned about a glass bottle breaking.
  • Paper cups – In situations where glass or metal water bottles would prove impractical and you want a disposable water receptacle (say, a water station at a public event) paper cups can provide an affordable, biodegradable alternative to plastic water bottles.

Use a Reverse Osmosis System to Purify Your Water

After learning more about the chemicals in plastic water bottles, you may vow to switch to a glass or metal water bottle that you refill from your own tap water. 

That’s an important first step, but you could still inadvertently expose yourself to microplastics if you don’t use a water purifying system. Plastics abandoned in landfills can break down into tiny toxic particles that mix into our soil and waterways, potentially exposing you to harmful plastic particles. 4 

To safeguard against stray plastic particles in your water supply, consider installing a reverse osmosis system to purify your water.

An RO system works by pushing unpurified water through a semipermeable membrane. The membrane removes impurities and contaminants like plastic chemicals, along with other unwanted dissolved solids. An RO system can also remove bacteria like Salmonella and E. Coli, as well as viruses like Hepatitis, Enteric, and Norovirus. 

This leaves your water healthy, clean, and delicious.

Trust Rayne Water to Deliver Safe, Clean Drinking Water

In 2017, Rayne Water created the most efficient RO system on the market. Our system eliminates over 95 % of contaminants while saving you water and money.

As the oldest continually operating water conditioning company in the U.S., we’re committed to helping each new generation navigate the challenge of water contamination, including the risk of plastic contamination.

That’s why we offer a range of products designed to improve and protect your water supply. So you can safely—and confidently—enjoy the world’s oldest beverage.

Expert Reviewer – Ken Christopher

Sources: 

  1. Clean Water Action. Bottled Water: The Human Health Consequences of Drinking from Plastic. https://www.cleanwateraction.org/2020/07/29/bottled-water-human-health-consequences-drinking-plastic 
  2. WebMD. Is it Safe to Reuse Plastic Water Bottles?. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/is-it-safe-to-reuse-plastic-water-bottles 
  3. Washington Post. Plastic, metal or glass: What’s the best material for a reusable water bottle?. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/plastic-metal-or-glass-whats-the-best-material-for-a-reusable-water-bottle/2019/09/25/5edcbe6c-d957-11e9-bfb1-849887369476_story.html 
  4. Earthday.org. End Plastic Pollution – Fact Sheet: Single-Use Plastics. https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-single-use-plastics/