10 September 2012

Reusing the bottle.

When I buy a bottled drink, such as water, Gatorade, iced tea, or soda, I reuse the bottle. Usually for a few months. I usually toss ’em in the recycling bin after the expiration date.

I’ve been warned by various people to not do this. Supposedly bacteria will build up somewhere on the bottle, and infect me, and probably kill me. “So I take it,” I tell them, “you don’t wash your bottles.”

Wash a disposable plastic bottle? Yep. Otherwise they’re right—you will get bacteria or mold or something growing in it. And they do wash their non-disposable bottles. It just never occurs to people to wash the disposable ones—because they are after all disposable.

I am a heavy drinker. Usually water, coffee, and tea, and sometimes diet soda. I got into the habit in college. In high school they wouldn’t let you bring drinks into class, but in college they didn’t care, so I usually did. I bought the reusable cups from the convenience stores—plastic 32-ounce containers with a heavy plastic straw—usually ’cause they offered a discount if you reused those cups. Over time I’ve probably owned a hundred of them, in varying sizes. I even owned a 120-ounce container at one time. (That’s nearly 4 liters of soda, if you’re insane enough to fill and drink it.) But I became known for usually carrying one giant cup or another.

Till my mid-20s it was almost always soda in those containers. When I went to Bethany College, I wouldn’t drink the tap water. Scotts Valley tap water tastes as if it’s been filtered through a loincloth. So that meant a little too much Diet Coke. When the café finally installed a filtered water dispenser, I switched to water, but I still drank a lot of Coke. I didn’t cut back on the soda until one Lent after graduating.

For whatever reason, 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. Not till I started going to the library more regularly. There, you can’t bring any beverages into the library. So I’d tuck my coffee cup into a corner of the foyer, go in, get my books, come back out, and pick back up my cup. But I stopped doing that: 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 such a bottle one Christmas: A one-liter Starbucks bottle, made with solid plastic, metal lid, and metal base. No straw, but don’t need one. I started using it all the time. Well, till it cracked somewhere underneath the metal base, and dribbled everywhere. At first I thought it was just heavier condensation than usual. Then one day I put lemonade in it and discovered otherwise.

Time for a replacement. But once I went to Starbucks I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $20 for a water bottle. That’s ten coffees. A Gatorade bottle is $1… and comes full of Gatorade. Its mouth isn’t as wide, but you can still take a bottle brush to it. It doesn’t crack.

Still, I looked around for a replacement bottle. There’s a stigma, you see, to drinking out of used bottles: It strikes most people as something the poor or the stingy will do. Well, when I’m not poor, I’m usually stingy. Even so, I was willing to spend a few bucks on a decent container. Not $20, though. Half that.

Thing is, I just haven’t. And a lot of the containers I’ve seen, annoyingly, aren’t dishwasher-safe. They say so, right on the packaging: Don’t run this in the dishwasher; it’ll melt the plastic, or it’ll release harmful plastic byproducts into your drinking water, and you’ll wind up lactating or something. I dunno. In the past I’ve totally ignored those “Not dishwasher safe” warnings and run ’em in the dishwasher anyway, and if they melted, they melted. As a result my 64-ounce coffee cup is warping in a very interesting way. And yet the Gatorade bottles survive. Go figure.

So I don’t know if I should bother to buy a reusable container. I’m always gonna buy one sort of bottled drink or another, and wind up with bottles; I may as well get a few months’ use out of them and save money.

The scare about bacteria in your re-used water bottle? Largely it’s a ploy to get you to stop doing that and buy a more expensive reusable bottle… which, since they’re not dishwasher-safe, people don’t wash, and they wind up accumulating bacteria. Ah, irony.