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Water by the numbers

(article, Caroline Cummins)

p(blue). Editor's note: Read [/articles/features/foodstorage "a more recent article" newpage=true] about food- and beverage-storage containers on Culinate.

Bottled water, as we've noted before, is bothersome for reasons both environmental and health-related. But what about the bottles themselves? Which kind of bottle is best?

In a recent New York Times_ article, reporter Alina Tugend hunkered down with a collection of water bottles and got the facts on bottles, both disposable and not. Here's her verdict.

# The best reusable bottles on the market, both for your health and the planet's, are made from steel or aluminum (such as Kleen Kanteen or SIGG) or glass (such as Aquasana). But glass can break, and steel (especially if you're prone to losing your water bottles at the soccer field or on the bus) can be pricey.
# Next best, part 1: hard bottles (such as Nalgene) made from polycarbonate plastic, usually labeled with the number 7. Like steel and plastic, these bottles are durable and easily washable. But they can leach small amounts of bisphenol A.
# Next best, part 2: softer bottles (such as Soma Crystal) made from polyethylene (recycling number 2) or polypropylene (recycling number 5). This is the type of plastic used in yogurt tubs. For obvious reasons (its softness), a bottle made from these types of plastic doesn't last as long as a Nalgene. But it doesn't leach bisphenol A.
# The least best option is buying a disposable bottle of water — the kind sold in vending machines and in multipacks at grocery stores. These bottles are cheap, but that's about their only virtue; they're hard to wash and crumple easily, making them both bacteria-prone and short-lived. (Not to mention the fact that you bought bottled water in them in the first place.) Disposable water bottles are generally made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and are labeled with the recycling number 1. They can leach a trace metal called antimony, but despite the "phthalate" in their name, they don't actually leach many phthalates.

OK, weekend warriors. Which bottle will it be? As Umbra Fisk pointed out on Grist two years ago, Nalgene actually makes bottles from different types of plastics, so you can ride that environmental scale back and forth trying to decide. But if looks are what really matter, get Slate's tips on which bottles actually look cool.