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05 February 2010

Is every stainless steel bottle created equal? The story of two bowls.

There are two stainless steel mixing bowls in my kitchen cupboard.  One feels more solid and has aged gracefully with use, the scratches seem to absorb into the worn smooth metal surface, which remains a dignified matt grayish colour.  The second, bought at a discount store (albeit under the brand name of a TV personality), has taken a distinct yellow tinge and is showing tarnish, its surface still artificially glossy.

We often talk to customers about choosing high quality stainless steel, but here I can actually see the difference.  Clearly, the quality affects how it wears and potentially the toxins that it may impart to food or liquids stored inside a water bottle.

There are important features to look for when choosing a reusable stainless steel bottle. Stainless steel is always made using chromium, because it is what makes steel "stainless".  Other elements used include nickel, nitrogen and molybdenum.   These elements can leach into liquids, so it is important that the bottle is made from high quality, 18/8 food-grade stainless steel – but, it is also important that you trust the manufacturer is telling the truth when they say what the bottle is made from.

Some will aim to make the bottle from the thinnest and cheapest stainless steel they can in order to reduce manufacturing costs and hence increase profits.

Other features are also important:
Are the lids made from a BPA-free plastic and are the leak proof?
Can you see sharp corners or joins where dirt and bacteria can build up?
Can you buy a replacement lid without buying a whole new bottle?
Does the manufacturer provide a guarantee?

Consider who the manufacturer is.  Do they have a long history of quality, who are the real people behind the company and what is their story?  In 2004, Klean Kanteen was the first company to make a water bottle from stainless steel.  They have continued to lead the way constantly innovating with the range they offer.  Nathan is a top sports hydration company making high quality stainless steel bottles with a clever straw drinking mechanism.  Perhaps the grandparent of all stainless steel is Thermos, whose name has become synonymous with insulated bottles for hot water.  Many of us grew up taking “the thermos” on a picnic.

From an environmental point of view, is a stainless steel bottle more eco friendly than a plastic bottle?

A Life Cycle assessment study published in the New York Times in 2009, considered the environmental and health impact of stainless steel water bottle from the extraction and processing of its ingredients, to its manufacture, distribution, use and final disposal.  It found that if your stainless steel water bottle takes the place of 50 plastic bottles, the climate is better off.    So when you buy a bottle, make sure it is one that will last hundreds of uses.  ‘Buy quality less often’ we always suggest at Biome.

From a human point of view, who made the bottle and was that person treated fairly and compensated for their time?  This is the hardest criteria to judge because few of us can actually visit the factories in China where most of the bottles are made.  We can at least always go to the manufacturer’s website and ensure they have published a statement about their factory and worker conditions.  If the bottle has a unique shape, such as Klean Kanteen or Nathan, it is more likely to be made at factory that the company directly oversees.

I treasure my well-aged stainless steel bowl.  We use it every day for washing fruit and vegetables, mixing recipes, whipping cream, bathing injuries.  So much so, that I thought a second bowl would be a handy addition.  Sadly, I did not repeat the luck with the quality of our first bowl and the newer, yellow tinged compatriot sits idle in the cupboard.

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


Anonymous said...

I have a stainless steel mug that went rusty - I thought that was odd!

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