Plastic water bottles

Is reusing plastic bottles ok?

While plastic water and soft drink bottles are sold with the intention of single use, then recycling, they can be safely reused if cleaned and handled properly. Ensure the bottle is not damaged, has been thoroughly cleaned and dried before each use, and is rinsed with clean tap water.

The reuse of bottles has been discussed as having possible health risks. There are two main concerns. There is a potential for the presence and growth of bacteria in these bottles, but with proper cleaning and handling, this risk can be minimised. Another health concern sometimes mentioned around the reuse of plastic bottles, but which current research shows to be unfounded, is that the plastic may breakdown and release ’chemicals' into the water.

It is important to note that water or soft drink bottles shouldn't be shared during use – they should be used by one individual only to prevent the spread of germs that can lead to illnesses such as meningococcal disease.

Preventing bacterial growth in water bottles

Refilling water bottles can result in contamination of the water with bacteria and fungi that can grow in damp or partially full bottles once they have been opened. These organisms generally come from the air, your hands and mouth, or anything that comes in contact with the mouth of the bottle. With time and in warm conditions, bacteria can multiply to harmful levels, but safe handling and proper cleaning can help prevent this from happening.

Cleaning a used water bottle

Reusable water bottles should be thoroughly cleaned, rinsed and dried between uses.  Dishwashing soap and hot water are acceptable for cleaning your water bottle. The risks of bacterial and fungal growth are higher if you use the bottle with a drink that contains sugars or other foods. Immediately drain, rinse, and wash the water bottle after using it with sports drinks or juices.

Sanitising a water bottle

If there is visible bacterial slime or mould in your water bottle, you should sanitise it with a dilute bleach solution of 1 teaspoon bleach and 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 1 litre of water. Allow the solution to sit in the bottle overnight, then thoroughly rinse and dry the bottle before using it again.

Other concerns about reusing water bottles

Some reports have specifically suggested that a common plasticiser, DEHA, can leach from plastic soft drink bottles into the liquids they hold, particularly with reuse. However, the majority of plastic water and soft drink bottles are made with a substance called PET, and do not contain DEHA.

While current research indicates chemicals are not released into water by reuse, many of these bottles are manufactured to be recycled, not reused. Some plastic bottles can warp when exposed to heat in the cleaning process. It is therefore important to ensure that after the bottle has been washed in hot water and left to air dry that it is intact and has not been damaged.

What should I do if I am reusing a plastic bottle?

  • Before filling bottles, wash and dry your hands thoroughly so that you don't transfer bacteria.
  • Examine the bottle to ensure that it is not damaged.
  • After use, clean bottles and nozzles with hot, soapy water and make sure the inside of the bottle air dries completely before use. Sanitise if necessary.
  • Use good quality water from a safe source.
  • Bottles should be used by one individual only. Don't share bottles – saliva can transfer germs that can lead to illnesses such as meningococcal disease. Make sure bottles are clearly labelled with its user’s name.