Stainless Steel vs. Plastic – Pros and Cons

If you look around today, there are many choices when it comes to reusable water bottles. Some well known brands include Camelbak, Nalgene or Dopper, here in the Netherlands. Sometimes it’s hard to make a decision with which bottle to go.

Let’s take a look at some of the bottles that are out there, and what the differences are between them. We will focus on three areas of comparison here:

  1. Material
  2. Functionality
  3. Price

Let’s start with the material, there is a lot of concern today about plastic. Is it safe to drink from? Where does it end up afterwards? How long will it really last? These are all important questions to address about plastic. But there is also an alternative, stainless steel. SIGG, Klean Kanteen and Chilly’s have been providing stainless steel bottles for some time now.

#1 Material

Stainless Steel

There is one big battle here: Stainless Steel v.s Plastic. At first sight it may seem obvious. Plastic pollutes our oceans and takes up to 700 years to deposit. Stainless Steel is the clear choice. But wait, let’s dig a little bit deeper. How is stainless steel manufactured?

Stainless steel is derived from Iron Ore, this means the ore has to be mined, shipped and processed until the precious stainless steel is derived from it. The production of stainless steel is very energy extensive. From mining the ore to having a finished product is a long process. Stainless steel is also heavier, it can be 6 times heavier than thermoplastics, meaning transporting stainless steel bottles adds to more fuel being burned. However, stainless steel is way lighter than glass on the other hand.

What type of stainless steel is there?

The quality stainless steel you are looking for is Food grade 304 or 18/8 stainless steel. The 18/8 meaning 18% chromium and 8% nickel. The biggest benefit of stainless steel is it’s ability to heal itself. Yes, you heard right. The other one is 316 stainless steel is similar to 304 stainless steel but with the addition of 2 to 3 percent molybdenum to increase resilience against chlorides, making it more suitable for meat products and foods with mild salt contents.

What does stainless steel have to offer?

It has X-men like abilities. In a process called passivation. When a chromium surface is scratched, in the presence of oxygen the surface rebuilds itself. This also prevents chemicals from leaching into your water. This is something that no other material can compete with.

Stainless steel is also 100% recyclable. Although there are very few stainless steel recycling plants. This is due to the fact the stainless steel is used for too long that usually it does not end up in the trash for a very long time. If it does, nothing to worry about.

How sustainable is it really?

As mentioned earlier, the manufacturing of stainless steel is much more energy extensive than stainless steel. However, if you use a stainless steel bottle about 500 times, it beats plastic in terms of energy consumption.

Plastic

Plastic is a great option if you want a durable and relatively durable water bottle. It is not a secret that plastic is causing many problems in our environment. About 14 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, 40% of which is single-use plastic. We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year and 150 million tons (half) of it is single-use plastic. 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the U.S. in 2014, or 315 bottles per person.

What is actually recyclable?

Many people think that plastic is recycled but, according to the EPA, about 30% of recyclable plastic bottles and jars were actually recycled in 2015.

Tritan [TM] bottles for example, have the recycling code 7. This means that it’s a non-recyclable plastic. This means that although you might stop using single-use plastics, where does your reusable plastic bottle end up after it breaks or you replace it? Yes, that is correct.

BPA, BPF and BPS

Another factor to keep in mind is that plastic bottles do not repair themselves and when they are scratched or cracked, they leach out chemicals into your water. Even though most reusable bottles do not contain BPA anymore, some studies found that replacement chemicals could be just as dangerous as BPA. However, too little research has been done on this. BPA, an abreviation for Bispenol A is a chemical used to manufacture plastics. BPA is an endocrine disruptor. It can imitate the hormones such as estrogen and can interfere with the production, secretion, transport, action, function, and elimination of natural hormones.

Bisphenol S (BPS) and Bisphenol F (BPF) are now replacing BPA. Unfortunately studies have shown that BPS and BPF are related to obesity and weight gain. The results were published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society in 2019 [0].

#2 Functionality

When it comes to functionality, plastics can be molded into many different forms and are easier to work with than stainless steel. In that sense, you might find that plastic bottles are more functional than stainless steel bottles.

Even though some plastics such as Tritan are very durable, the average lifespan of a stainless steel bottle is 12 years. Stainless steel also has great insulating properties, keeping your water hot or cold for much longer than plastic.

What about cleaning? Stainless steel bottles are also completely dishwasher safe. Plastics may loose their shape over time and may leach more chemicals when heated to high temperatures.

#3 Price

Here is where a lot of people step back a little bit when they face the choice between plastic and stainless steel.

Some plastic bottles are sold for less than 5 Euros whereas the cheapest stainless steel bottles usually start at about 10 Euros. Clearly stainless steel bottles are more expensive. However, if you keep it for 12 years, an investment of double the amount is definitely worth it given all the health benefits and environmental benefits it offers.

So what would be your choice of bottles: stainless steel or plastic? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below, we would love to get to know what would be your end choice in terms of materials.

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