Message in a Bottle
Reusable water bottles you'll actually want to use.
Laura Moser was online Aug. 23 to chat with readers about this article. Read the transcript.
Nalgene 32 oz. Polycarbonate Loop-Top Bottle in Moss Green, $9 Disclosure: I've never much liked Nalgene's trademark bottles (or the rugby players who toted them around my college campus). Still, in the name of science, I resolved to give Nalgene a fair shake.
Even without my prompting, audience responses were overwhelmingly negative. The mouth was judged impractically wide, and the bottle itself doesn't fit in most bike cages and car cup holders. Cheaper than most options, yes, and definitely a cinch to wash either by hand or in the dishwasher. But after a day in the sun, the water tasted flat and stale.
For me, the real stumbling block is the ongoing debate about the safety of Lexan, the polycarbonate plastic used in Nalgene bottles. Hard, durable polycarbonate, once considered a revolutionary innovation in plastics, has come under scrutiny following reports of its leaching bisphenol A, a suspected hormone disruptor, into the water. The bottles pose risks, it seems, only when brand-new or ancient—but why roll the dice? I drink water in pursuit of immortality, not a third breast.
Nalgene HDPE Rectangular Loop-Top Bottle, $7.20 These are the no-frills water bottles of my childhood, made from the same opaque, yucky-tasting No. 2 plastic used in Tupperware. Unlike Lexan, HDPE passes muster with the health authorities. And though impractical, I liked how the rectangular shape of this flask-style bottle—surprisingly compact for its 32-ounce capacity—offset the grim functionality of the white plastic. This bottle was also remarkably unsweaty, and left no rings on my countertop. The bad news: Water splashed out far too readily, and the bottle didn't retain the original temperature of its contents for long. After a few hours, the water tasted pretty nasty.
Klean Kanteen 27 oz. Stainless Steel Water Bottle (with stainless-steel loop cap), $19.95 The Klean Kanteen is a reliable choice if you don't mind a little extra weight on your shoulder. It keeps liquids at a nice consistent temperature, and the elegant shape fits just about anywhere. The bottle survived many a dishwasher cycle and resisted dents well. It did sweat after being filled with cold water, but only for half an hour. Cons? Water tasted slightly metallic after marinating overnight. One tester complained repeatedly about the circumference of the lip, which doesn't guarantee a spill-free drive to work. I disliked the over-earnest Planet Earth logo and kreatively spelled company name placed squarely in the center of the otherwise plain bottle.
New Wave Enviro 1 liter Stainless Steel Bottle, $13.95 The New Wave Enviro bottle is a cheaper stainless steel option than the Klean Kanteen, and blessedly free of the offensive design flourishes. Testers liked the plastic sports cap, which somehow solved the whole metallic-taste problem. The impossible-to-close loop top on my bottle detracted from this feature, however—I kept worrying it might burst open in my bag.
But this bottle has plenty to recommend. Water stays cool for several hours and is still tasty after sitting out overnight. The slender shape is a particular draw: perfect for car and gym cup holders, if a little too long for most bike cages. And the bottle's striated design also won high praise, especially among the males. Still, for me, the stainless steel was too hefty to haul around all day.
The Corntainer Corporation Reusable Corn Resin Water Bottle With Filter, $7.89 The sleeper hit of the bunch. The Corntainer isn't much to look at—in fact, it's almost identical to a throwaway Evian bottle you'd buy at your local deli. But unlike those, Corntainers are made from cornstarch instead of petroleum. Ingenious! Right? A major gripe with disposable water bottles, after all, is the oil used to make them. The production of plastic water bottles consume an estimated 1.5 million barrels of oil per year, a figure that doesn't even take into account transporting that water to us from France or Fiji.
Now take the all-American Corntainer: It's made entirely out of renewable resources, composts within three months, and even comes with a chlorine filter that you can reuse up to 90 times. And since corn is the main ingredient, the ultra-portable, lightweight bottle won't leach scary chemicals after multiple uses. The question is: Will it last? The Corntainer is designed to biodegrade in compost systems; but how will it fare in my glove compartment? Sadly, I never got to put mine to the test, as it died young in the dishwasher, shrinking and warping beyond all recognition. True, the Hand Wash Only instructions were clearly indicated on the bottle—but then isn't laziness a basic character flaw of most bottled-water drinkers? If maintenance becomes too arduous, off I toddle to the deli.
I have high hopes for Corntainer's future. Right now, though, the bottle isn't durable enough to justify the expense. If only more bottled-water companies would start packaging their product in corn, then we might really be on to something …
Sigg Directions 1 liter bottle, $19.99 The century-old Swiss company Sigg seems to have the most advanced understanding of what these water bottles really are: baubles. Functional baubles, but baubles nonetheless—used only to the extent that they're admired. Some of Sigg's 144 designs are a little over-the-top, uncomfortably reminiscent of the Swatch watches of my early childhood. While I regret not opting for a "classic" design, these shiny Euro-chic bottles still way out-glam the competition.
Siggs are made out of aluminum coated with a water-based epoxy, a combo that initially worried me. I was reassured to learn that no lab tests have ever found any evidence of bisphenol A leaching, even after prolonged use. The aluminum does dent—every time I dropped the bottle, in fact—but the rather attractive dings have yet to affect its insides. The water tastes pretty good, too, even after a day in the sun. And testers liked the narrow mouth, which prevents dribbling but also makes the bottle trickier to clean. Again, the main problem here is portability: Though the lightest of the metal bottles, the Sigg still takes up substantial handbag real estate.
Platypus Platy Bottle, 34 oz., $7.95 I thought I'd hate the Platypus, which at first glance bears a disconcerting resemblance to a colostomy bag. But to my astonishment, the collapsible Platypus—which is made out of safe No. 5 polypropylene plastic—scored highest in two big categories. It's by far the most portable. And though originally designed for hikers, it also beautifully realizes my urban eco-chic ideal.
When emptied, a Platypus takes up no more room than a single folded-up section of newspaper. For recovering bottled-water addicts like me, that's a huge selling point. The Platypus is also a surprisingly stylish piece of plastic, with its turquoise lettering, fetching platypus icon, and hourglass midsection. On the downside, the Platypus has serious delivery problems—it's too prone to splashes and spills when more than half-full or half-empty. One of Platypus' more efficient tops might easily resolve these issues; maybe not. Either way, for hydration on the go, Platypus has no peer.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.