Reusing the bottle.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 July

The perils of being a heavy drinker.

Whenever I buy a bottled drink—water, Gatorade, Powerade, iced tea, fizzy water, etc.—I nearly always reuse the bottle. I refill it with water and use it as my regular drinking bottle for about a month. Or until I buy another bottled drink; then I reuse that bottle. The other bottle goes into the recycling bin.

I’ve been warned by more than one person I shouldn’t do this. ’Cause bacteria. Supposedly it’ll build up somewhere within the bottle, infect me, and give me MRSA or something.

“So I take it you don’t wash your bottles,” I respond.

Wash a disposable plastic bottle? Sure. A little dish soap and water; sometimes I even run it through the sanitizer. ’Cause they’re right: If you don’t clean your bottle, you will get bacteria, mold, or some other icky thing growing in there. It’s just it never occurred to them to wash disposable bottles. After all, they’re disposable.

There is the worry that if I expose the bottle to heat, plastic molecules will come off, get into the drink, and who knows what that’ll do to me. Cancer, usually. This isn’t my worry; it’s more like paranoid friends who read some website somewhere and now they’re convinced all our plastic containers are killing us, so they’ve switched to glass. Until someone else figures out how glass will kill us. Then it’s back to waxed paper and earthenware, I guess. Or stainless steel. Or whatever the new fad will be.

Because I drink so much.

I’m a heavy drinker. Typically water, coffee, and tea. Occasionally soda and sports drinks, but I go for the low-calorie stuff whenever possible.

I got into the habit in college. Probably would’ve started in high school, but they wouldn’t let you bring drinks into class. In college they didn’t care, so I usually did, and became known for carrying one giant cup or another.

I bought reusable cups in convenience stores; those plastic 32-ounce containers with a heavy plastic straw. Usually ’cause the store offered a discount if you reused those cups to buy their soda. Over time I’ve likely owned a hundred of them, in varying sizes. I even owned a 120-ounce container once. (Yes, that’s nearly 4 liters of soda… if you’re insane enough to fill and drink it. Which I was.)

Till my mid-20s it was nearly always soda in those containers. It was particularly necessary when I went to Bethany College in Scotts Valley, California: I refused to drink the tap water. If you’ve lived in Scotts Valley you know why: The tap water tastes as if it’s been filtered through an old loincloth. The local water board shrugs and says it’s fine, but everybody in town puts filters on their water systems to block the foul taste. The school didn’t, so that meant I drank a lot of Diet Coke. When our school cafeteria finally got round to filtering their water, I switched to water… but I still drank an awful lot of Diet Coke. Didn’t cut back on the soda till after I graduated… and moved someplace with decent tap water.

At the time it never occurred to me to buy sealable containers—you know, something you could throw into a bag and not worry about its contents spilling everywhere. That is, not till I started going to the public library on a frequent basis. They don’t let you bring any beverages inside; not even bottled water. So I’d tuck my coffee cup into a corner of their foyer, go in, get my books, and get my cup on the way out. Problem is, whenever I had a really nice cup, it wouldn’t be there when I came back out.

Sealable coffee cups are still near-impossible to find. But for other beverages, there are of course reusable bottles. I finally got one such bottle one Christmas: A 32-ounce Starbucks bottle, solid plastic, metal lid, metal base. No straw, but didn’t need one. I started using it all the time. Well, till it cracked somewhere above the metal base, and began to dribble everywhere. At first I thought it was just heavier condensation than usual. I discovered otherwise when I put lemonade in it. So I went to Starbucks for a replacement… but couldn’t bring myself to pay $20 for a water bottle. That’s 10 coffees, y’know.

Then again, a Gatorade is $1, and comes filled with Gatorade. Its mouth isn’t as wide, but still big enough to get a bottle brush in there. It doesn’t crack. And when it wears out, I can get another for $1.

The stigma of being cheap.

When I first started to reuse bottles, I nonetheless kept looking around for a proper reusable bottle. Because there’s a stigma to drinking out of used bottles: People think of it as something the poor or stingy will do. Well, they’re right about my not wanting to spend money if I can help it.

Thing is, nearly all the containers I’ve seen aren’t dishwasher-safe. They say so, right on the packaging: Don’t run this in the dishwasher. Keep this out of the microwave. It’ll melt the plastic, or release those harmful plastic byproducts that’ll give you cancer, or trigger male lactation or something; I dunno.

In the past I totally ignored those “not dishwasher-safe” warnings and put ’em in the dishwasher anyway. And by golly, some of ’em melted. That’s why I’ve gone through so many bottles and coffee cups. Thing is, I put Gatorade bottles in the dishwasher and they survive. Go figure.

So I’m not sure I should bother to buy a reusable sealed container. I’m always gonna buy one sort of bottled drink or another, and wind up with bottles. I may as well reuse them, save my money, and spend it on something more fun.

As for the scare about bacteria in your reused water bottle: I suspect it’s largely a ploy to get you to stop doing that and buy a far more expensive bottle. Which, since they’re not dishwasher-safe, people don’t wash… and they wind up accumulating bacteria. Ah, irony.