If you’re a frequent EcoCult reader, there’s a 99% chance you’re already using a reusable water bottle and/or coffee mug on the daily. If you’re not a regular EcoCult reader, welcome! We take all kinds here.
We wanted to put this roundup together for you for two main reasons. One, there are a lot of crappy reusable water bottles out there—just because something is reusable doesn’t mean it’s truly sustainable… or safe. Two, switching to a reusable water bottle is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit for someone who is just starting to lower their personal environmental footprint. As our society as a whole is becoming more aware of our serious plastic pollution problem, those who haven’t necessarily cared about the environment in the past are starting to wake up and take action. So we wanted to give you a guide to share with friends and family who want to know the best brands to buy from as they make the switch!
Single-Use Plastic Bottles Aren’t Just Bad for the Environment
It’s obvious by now why plastic bottles are bad for the environment, but they’re also probably bad for us. The expiration date on plastic water bottles? That’s not for the water—it’s for the bottle. Plastic bottles break down and leach stuff that shouldn’t be consumed by humans, like toxic chemicals and microplastics. In fact, there are more and bigger microplastics in bottled water than in tap water. Although giving up single-use bottles doesn’t completely solve our microplastic ingestion problem (we also get it from fish, salt, tap water, etc.), getting rid of one easy source that we actually have control over definitely doesn’t hurt.
Recycling is Not the Answer Either
Putting single-use water bottles in the recycling bin doesn’t solve the problem. If they even get recycled, it still requires a lot of energy and resources to do it, and each time it degrades the plastic down further. The entire bottled water industry and it’s recycling messaging is basically all marketing. At best, recycling single-use bottles is just a slightly-less-bad option.
What to Consider When Purchasing a Reusable Water Bottle or Tumbler:
Durability: For something you’re going to be using day in and day out, you have to prioritize durability with your water bottle. I’ve had reusable plastic water bottles break within a month of using them, and then what’s the point? That bottle is still probably just going to end up in a landfill. Not to mention, you can’t risk your water bottle cracking and leaking all over your bag.
BPA and its alternatives: These days, you’ll see a “BPA-Free!” label on most water bottles, no matter what they’re made out of. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical that used to be in pretty much every bottle, canned good, and Tupperware container. In truth, it’s actually pretty controversial and the research over the past decade has been somewhat contradictory. But, considering there is a significant amount of research indicating that BPA is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can disrupt crucial hormonal systems in the body, I would recommend to just stay away from it when you can.
Unfortunately, the chemicals they started using to replace BPA may not be much better. According to National Geographic, “Since BPA-free became trendy, manufacturers went on a plastic-developing spree, creating more variations than scientists can keep track of: BPS, BPF, BPAF, BPZ, BPP, BHPF, and the list goes on. They all have “BP” in their names because they share the same basic chemical structure of a bisphenol. Each new version has only slight differences, as if swapping a blue Lego block for a red one.” The good news, though, is that it’s super easy to find a water bottle or to-go mug that’s free of all of those types of chemicals, so why not just play it safe?
Material: When you’re buying products that are both durable, not petroleum-based, and free from chemicals or metals that may be toxic, glass is your best option. Plastic is the worst, and I’d stay away with aluminum since it usually requires a lining that’s made from many of the same chemicals that plastic is.
Many brands use 18/8 stainless steel, which means it contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel, which is food-grade and resistant to rust and corrosion. Since both chromium and nickel can be toxic when accumulated in the body (nickel more-so), we wondered whether 18/8 (a.k.a. 304) stainless steel will leach heavy metals into your water. There’s a very small amount of research indicating that stainless steel may leach into food while cooking, but since we don’t cook with water bottles, we’ll tentatively say that stainless steel is a safer option than plastic. But, if you have any chronic health issues, we recommend choosing glass when possible, just to be safe!
Your own preferences and habits: Personally, I know I should never get a glass bottle without a sleeve because I will definitely break it. Consider what you need in an item you’re doing to use every day. Do you want or need a straw or suction for gym class? Do you need a strap or handle? Will you need it to fit in your cup holder or side sleeve of your backpack? How often will you be able to refill it, and how will that determine what size you get?
One last thing to keep in mind: There are certain circumstances, like if you lived in Flint Michigan during their years-long water crisis, where you have no choice but to use single-use plastic water bottles because the water coming out of your tap isn’t safe. So as we encourage one another to make more earth-conscious choices, let’s keep accessibility in mind. If you are in a position where you have to buy a single-use bottle (we’ve all forgotten our reusable one at some point!), look for better brands like Open Water. If you’re in a place with iffy water quality and you can afford it, get a reverse osmosis filter for your home.
All that being said, here are our recommendations for the best reusable water bottles, tumblers, and to-go mugs:
Who it’s for: the fashionable traveler
If you’re looking for a high-tech water bottle for traveling with a super sleek aesthetic, LARQ is your pick. This bottle has UV technology that allows you to fill it up and press a button to kill up to 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.99% of viruses. It has a water-proof USB so you don’t have to worry about the charging port getting ruined when wet, and you can choose between different levels of power to prioritize increased sanitation or battery preservation. Not only does it clean the water inside, but it also keeps your water bottle from getting that weird smell as you use it over time. You can get an original LARQ Bottle which features double-wall vacuum insulation that keeps your water cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 hours or a LARQ Movement, which is non-insulated but made from ultra-light stainless steel.
Price range: $78 – $95 USD
Who it’s for: Anyone!
Instead of plastic, ello uses materials like wood, bamboo, cork, and silicone. They have a variety of different water bottles, tumblers, and travel mugs in different styles, colors, and designs, so you can find one that works with your preferences. Everything is chemical-free, dishwasher safe, and comes with a lifetime warranty.
Price range: $10 – $20
Who it’s for: The anti-plastic warrior
With each purchased product, United by Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways. After a 2019 audit of their operations and supply chain, they committed to eliminating single-use plastic in their company over the next year. To accomplish this, they designated an eight-person #QuitSingleUse team. United by Blue is also impressively vocal about their ethical manufacturing. Their drinkware factory has been in Hangzhou, China since 2000. All the material used 100% food safe grade and are in compliance with European and US food safe standards. United by Blue also proudly holds a B Corp status certification.
Price range: $15 – 60
Who it’s for: OOTD types
As of 2019, S’well is one of the fastest-growing woman-owned companies in the US. They probably have the widest range of products, with tons of beautiful and practical styles—they even have a quiz to help you decide which one is best for you. You can personalize your bottle too if you want. Their products are triple-walled, vacuum-insulated (meaning they will keep your drink hot or cold), and made of 18/8 stainless steel. They also carry barware and food containers, too. S’well partners with UNICEF to aid in providing water to the world’s most vulnerable communities. S’well bottles are hand-wash only, so don’t put them in the dishwasher!
Price range: $25 – $60
Who it’s for: The adventurer
In addition to water bottles and to-go mugs in a variety of styles and sizes, Hydro Flask carries beer growlers, wine tumblers, and food flasks. Their products are made of professional-grade stainless steel and insulated to keep your drink hot or cold. They are customizable, dishwasher safe, and come with a lifetime warranty. Hydro Flask also supports non-profit organizations focused on building, maintaining, restoring, and providing better access to parks.
Price range: $20 – $65
Who it’s for: The hardcore adventurer
YETI is known for its hardcore durability. The YETI Rambler® collection (their drinkware), is no exception. Made with 18/8 stainless steel construction with double-wall insulation and a No Sweat™ Design, these bottles and tumblers are super tough and will keep your drinks as cold (or hot) as science allows. Certain products are customizable and everything comes with a 5-year warranty.
Price range: $20 – $50
Who it’s for: The proud hippie
Klean Kanteen is a family-owned company and a certified B Corporation. Their manufacturing operations meet high standards of quality (ISO 9001 & ISO/TS 16949), safe and fair labor, ethical business, and environmental responsibility (ISO 14001). They are perhaps the most transparent of the companies listed here when it comes to their sustainability and manufacturing details. They carry a wide variety of sizes and styles of bottles and mugs made from insulated, temperature-controlled, 18/8 food-grade stainless steel. We like how Klean Kanteen carries different types of lids that you can mix and match with your bottle. Klean Kanteen is also a 1% For The Planet member, meaning 1% of its sales go to conservation non-profits.
Price range: $20 – $60
Who it’s for: Your whole office
If you’re looking for the brand with the widest variety of fun colors and patterns, MIRA might be your answer. They’re made of 18/8, food-grade stainless steel, and with a copper coating in between two stainless steel layers, these bottles are very durable and resilient to rust. Cold drinks remain cold for 24 hours and warm drinks remain warm for 12 hours thanks to their double-walled, vacuum insulated MiraGuard technology. They also give back to the Community Water Center, an organization that supplies access to safe and inexpensive drinking water to Californians. If you’re looking to customize a bulk order of water bottles for corporate gifting or an event, you should definitely look into MIRA!
Price range: $10 – $35
Who it’s for: Your whole family
Life Factory creates glass water bottles that are great for anyone in your family. Their modern styles and mix-and-match lid designs are dishwasher safe. In addition to their water bottles, they also have a lot of products for babies and kids, along with food storage and wine tumblers.
Price range: $18 – $40
Who it’s for: Minimalists
byta’s products are gorgeous and customizable. Their water bottles, tumblers, and food storage containers are double-walled and vacuum-sealed to prevent sweating and maintain the temperature of your beverage for longer, hot or cold. They also give back a portion of their sales to Ocean Conservancy.
Price range: $39 – $34
Who it’s for: Latte-lovers
KeepCup has become the favorite reusable-latte-mug of choice in the #zerowaste community. And for good reason: they are super cute, durable, and barista-approved. Choose between stainless steel or glass with a cork or silicone sleeve in a variety of neutral or playful colors. Or, if you don’t find the color combo you like, you can design your own. A Certified B Corp and member of 1% For the Planet, the KeepCup team does what they can to decrease environmental impact throughout their supply chain, from local manufacturing to recycled packaging. They’re the only company on this list (as far as we can tell) that’s actually done a Life Cycle Assessment.
Price range: $19 – $36