T Nation

Safe Plastics


Having read about xenoestrogens, their effects and their prevalence, many people who are aware of this have taken certain steps to avoid xenoestrogen-containing products, such as personal care products, certain food products, and plastic.

As active individuals, we TMusclers often consume large amounts of water daily (personally, I consume at least two gallons a day). This helps digest our food, replenish our cells with water, and balance any sodium excess that may be present from higher-calorie diets.

This leads many of us to carry water bottles (especially those here in the drier, higher-elevation states). The bottle brand Sigg has become trendy, though recent research has yeilded that the coating on the inside of these aluminum containers are, as one may have guessed, potentially dangerous. In my own experience with this over-priced brand, the coating actually comes off within the first few months, and in most certainly consumed unwittingly.

While other, cheaper, metal bottles have come out (Stainless steel being the only reliably safe metal used), let's be honest, plastic is far superior in terms of both toughness, as well as affordability.

Now, companies like Nalgene are producing 'BPA FREE' bottles, and many people are returning to plastic with glee, though at a less affordable rate. (In case you did not know, BPA or Bisphenol A is a powerful xenoestrogen that also appears to be toxic).

A similar company, Camelback, now sells "BPA and phthalate free" water bottles. Phthalates are arguably more dangerous and xenoestrogenic than BPA, though less well discussed.

Curiously, Nalgene, one of the best selling of the BPA free bottles, does not speak to phthalate content.

Now, all plastic meant for recycling have symbols indicating what they are made from. These range from 1 to 7. 7 is the catchall "other" plastic, being any plastic not included in #'s 1-6, often made from a resin, including vegetable-based plastics. Unfortunately, #7 can also mean a PVC-based plastic, containing high levels of Phthalates but no BPA.

Nalgene's new bottles are suspiciously #7 plastic, meaning that there could be xenoestrogenic chemicals in the bottle. This is more suspicious due to Nalgene's complete lack of mention of phthalates on either their own bottles, their website, or in the press.

Now, one of the 'safe' plastics widely available is #2, or HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). This is called food grade plastic, and is largely believed to not leach, and does not contain either BPA or Phthalates.

Interestingly, in terms of bottles, Nalgene and others make HDPE bottles for about six buck, less than half of what they are charging for "BPA FREE" bottles.

So, from initial research, it seems that HDPE beats out any of these "designer" plastics, and may not be harmful.

Is this old-school plastic just what the weightlifting/Bodybuilding community needs for our estrogen-free hydration, or is HDPE, like so many others, another dead-end in the fantasy of safe polymers?


How safe are eating food from cans? I eat a lot of canned beans and heard that leeching from the metal into the food may occur.


I have a stainless steel bottle. Bought a 3 pack, 22 ouces from BJ's in the camping section for like 20 bucks. How is plastic more durable than stainless? Also if I ever got stranded, the stainless would be far supirior as a survival tool. I could collect suspect water, build a fire and boil it right in the bottle. After that all you need is a berkey water filter and you'd be all set on your drinking water, oh pretty much for ever.



Tin cans have an inside lining which does contain BPA. Unless your diet is composed mainly of canned foods, I don't think the amount will hurt you.

The recycling codes are meant for recycling and not really for identification. #1-6 have a high enough volume to warrant recycling and to avoid cross contamination.

When it comes to polymers, consideration for strength also needs to be taken. Those disposable plastic bottles are made of PET, which is a much stronger material than HDPE. Yet, it still feels very soft and fragile. To construct a water bottle that is strong enough for everyday use out of HDPE would mean using a thicker bottle. It is also going to be far weaker than a polycarbonate or steel or aluminium bottle.


Actually, the metal is not the primary concern when it comes to canned foods.Their is a coating to protect the food form the metal, as well as the metal flavor. However, this is a resin, an usually contains BPA. This mixed with the high temperature required for canning, and you have yourself a xenoestrogen stew. Sorry, but that is what research indicates.


The affordable stainless steel bottles (<$20) are not as durable as one might assume, at least in my experience. You might look at the bottom of your bottle on the inside and out. If you have had experience in welding, soldering, etc., you might notice that with most SS bottles, the bottom is welded on the the body, making it a weak spot. If dropped repeatedly, and especially when full, this will eventually crack and begin to leak. With HDPE, however, this is extremely difficult to accomplish.

Here in CO, we have tons of 14ers, and a friend of mine not too long ago tested his Nalgene, dropping it full of water off two of them. No leaks, just scrapes. I'm not saying plastic is better (I do love my SS bottle and have had three before this), but simply exploring the alternative (besides aluminum, of course).

I understand what you mean here, though it is worth noting that one can boil water in a ziploc baggy (if you don't believe me, do I have one hell of a bar bet for you), and also in a plastic water bottle. I would rather have stainless in a survival situation (usually) but it's worth mentioning.

One suspicion I have about HDPE bottles is there is still noticeable off-gassing. With the research available on the effects of noxious off-gassing on health, I wonder, is HDPE off-gassing (which is only present when brand new) noxious, and, if so, is HDPE therefor toxic as well?


I use pyrex...basically a tempered glass that allows me to store my food similar to tupperware but are microwave safe.


You are correct here, though some types of polycarbonate (being range of plastics) are weaker than most. However, HDPE is a very strong plastic for being polyethylene based. One increasingly more common use for HDPE is faux wood used in construction. Having worked with (and demolished) buildings using HDPE boards, I can testify to it's strength. Also, as stated above, polycarbonates have xenoestrogens.

I agree with you that there are better polymers out there, but, for my own part, I would use HDPE over any other when it comes to water or food containment.


Not a cheaper option but I've got a couple of these.
The Standard has the same specs as your basic Nalgene. Make with surgical grade stainless. Pretty hefty too, you could bludgeon someone to death with it in a pinch. It would probably pass the "dropped off a 14er" test too. Of course it all depends on whether we're talking about dumping it off the east face of Longs or rolling it down the "gentler" slopes of Quandary.


It'll never be as strong as faux wood. They'll need to add plasticizers to the resin to blow mould it. That softens the plastic.


Best and safest bet is glass. Otherwise, a quality SS vessel is better than any plastic. If you go the plastic route, stick w/ either #2 HDPE or #7 BPA-free.


Yea, I have seen Bear Grylls boil water in a plastic bottle, but it was a tenuous situation, it is a very fine line and not that practical. I know the boiling point of water and the melting point of most container plastics are pretty close together, I pickled some eggs once and tried to dump the boiled eggs and pickling mixture into one of those big claussen plastic pickle jars and it deformed badly due to the heat of the boiled liquid.

At approx 6-10 bucks per bottle, a SS vessel is valuable and durable enough for everyday use and is a good long term investment in many areas. Environmentally, Health wise, Financially.

Speaking of financially, I mentioned the berkey water filter above and no one really commented on it. It is an amazing device, you could literally pour swamp water or raw sewage in the top and nothing but clean water is coming out the other side. It can even remove food coloring particles which I guess really no other filtering systems can achieve. Anyways, the filters can process OVER 20,000 gallons of water. The system is in the $200 price range and extra filters are 80 bucks or so. To put this into perspective, a brita filter can process 40 gallons of water and cost 7.99 or therabouts per filter. So the cost of processing 20,000 gallons of water with a brita filter is approx $3,995 bucks. And it doesn't do nearly as good of a job as the berkey systems. Basically if you drink a galloon of water per day, the berkey will suit you with no replacement filters for 55 years. If you buy replacement filters, you will have over 100 years worth of filtered water from any source you choose. Take it camping and dump lake or stream water in it, if there is a boil water emergency, you don't have to worry, and you can have it all for $200 or so bucks. Oh and it obviously requires no electricity.



I use Tupperware boxes all the way. They are made with good plastic, can go in the microwave wothout losing their properties, like the cheap Ziploc box where you may be eating more toxic plastic than good food...