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Time to throw away your Nalgene bottles

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There’s been numerous articles recently written on the problems that have surfaced regarding Nalgene bottles. Since most climbers own one of these, I decided to look into what is actually going on.

I was in the REI in Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia recently and I didn’t see a single Nalgene bottle on the shelves. A foreboding sign itself. There’s usually an entire row of shelving with the now ubiquitous bottles in all shapes and colors.

Following the move made by Canada’s MEC, REI has now pulled all Nalgene bottles from their shelves. Nalgene has announced that they will stop making bottles out of polycarbonate.

Polycarbonate contains a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) which has been linked to numerous health problems including breast and prostate cancer, brain damage, endocrine system disruptions, higher levels of testosterone in men and women, recurrent miscarriages, and chromosomal defects in fetuses.

The National Geographic Adventure blog has some a few pointers on what to do now that you know the problem exists:

Look on the bottom of the bottle for a number surrounded by three arrows. Polycarbonate bottles are categorized as number seven. Note that seven is the catchall “other” category for plastics—all polycarbonates are seven, not all sevens are polycarbonates.

REI has the new Tritan Camelbak bottles and BPA-free Nalgenes in all its stores. Elsewhere, stainless steel bottles from Guyot, Klean Kanteen, and Sigg are options, too.

Nalgene’s old-school bottles, milky colored and soft-sided, are made of high-density polyethylene and free of BPA. Thin-walled, soft plastic bottles like Evian uses are plain old polyethylene.

It appears the key to finding out if your bottle is made of polycarbonate is to look for the number 7 on the bottom of each one. For a full listing of the seven types of plastics check out this chart.

Nalgene’s website has a section with all the relevant FDA and health data as well as their own FAQ on the issue. In addition, the company has set up a new site called Nalgene Choice that will help consumers pick new bottle from their product line.

And on a final note, Trailspace gives us some ways to reuse our old polycarbonate bottles.

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  1. So is REI discontinuing all Nalgenes or just the ones with BPA? I was just at REI Seattle yesterday but didn’t stop to see if they had Nalgene’s.

  2. Michael, that’s a good question, but I highly doubt it. Unless we see some direct links to issues caused specifically by Nalgene bottles and a class action suit ensues, we’re all out of luck. I hear you though – I own five Nalgene bottles that I’ll need to replace.

  3. No, Nalgene is not going to reimburse you. There is no reason for them to do so. They are changing their bottles because of media hype.

    From Nalgene site: ” We are confident that the bottles which contain BPA are safe for their intended use. However, because of consumer requests for alternative materials, we have decided to transition our polycarbonate product line to Eastman Tritanâ?¢ copolyester. This product joins our family of bottles and containers made of various non-BPA materials such as HDPE, PP, LDPE and PET.”

    Another FAQ on their site:
    Question: Are polycarbonate bottles safe?
    Answer: Yes. Agencies and researchers worldwide have studied the safety of BPA and polycarbonate for approximately 50 years; including The Environmental Protection Agency and The Food and Drug Administration in the USA, The European Commission Scientific Committee on Food, The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Findings of studies from these agencies indicate that food and beverage containers manufactured from polycarbonate do not pose a health risk to humans. Polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of consumer products including baby bottles, water bottles, dental sealants and the lining of most metal food and beverage containers and has been for over 45 years.

  4. At our REI they still have many Nalgenes for sale. They have stickers on them saying they are BPA free but still have the Recycled #7 logo on the bottom. Confusing…

  5. That is confusing. I was assuming the new ones would have some marking that was more permanent. Once the sticker is removed, how will I know the difference from my old ones?

  6. That’s what I am wondering. I am assuming my current bottles are bad as they are around 8 years old. Beyond that however it was very confusing standing in the store.

    I did notice that the white plastic Nalgenes are Recycled #2 however there are drawbacks to those compared to the clear plastic model. I think we are just going to wait a bit and see what develops.

  7. Oooh, I could be hijacking this comment thread, so apologies if so — but have you tried the Glaceau VitaminEnergy beverages? I like the Dragonfruit. I’m not a “sweet stuff” girl but I am a caffeine addict, so on climbing mornings sans camp stove and coffee I need some kind of caffeine kick. I have, on occasion, chosen the withdrawal-headache over a Red Bull or Rock Star, but I dig the VitaminEnergy. About 1/2 a can on an empty stomach and I’m buzzing!

  8. Nalgene is discontinuing the BPA bottles to err on the side of safety, but I’m not going to throw away my bottles just yet. From my understanding, chemical leeching is predominant in old bottles and those exposed to heat. So no dishwasher and no hot beverages, and I’m not gonna sweat it for the time being. At any rate, it’s premature and a tad wasteful to just toss them. They were designed for lab use and have a ton of household and outdoor uses beyond serving as water bottles. I’m going to collect everyone’s unwanted bottles and make a raft, myself.

  9. @Sara no, I’ve never tried them, sounds good though!

    @Ben, unfortunately, I’ve thrown most of my bottles in the dishwasher at one time. So I may have the heat issue with all of them. If you build that raft, send me a picture 😉

  10. As others have said, the Recycling Symbol number 7 does not mean “contains BPA” it means “Other” plastic – as in either a combination of the plastics used in 1-6 or another plastic not listed under numbers 1-6.

    The panic about BPA has led to the unfortunate “All #7 plastics are bad” assessment, which simply isn’t accurate. Avoid BPA by all means – and do it by acquiring new bottles that are labeled as “BPA Free” by their manufacturers.

    Plastics by their very nature are… plastic – molecularly a lot more changeable than other materials. We’ll likely be figuring out all kinds of interesting leaching over the next 50 years as we understand plastics better. Don’t expect BPA to be the last problem. You should be using glass or ceramic (yep both breakable) if you want something truly stable and nonreactive.

  11. For the outdoorsy folks, check out the titan water bottle – it’s made with bpa free tritan material and is great for outdoors activities cause it has a built in carabiner and can be used with only one hand. The inventor lives in Bozeman, MT (near me) and I guess he made it for biking, hiking, climbing, and backpacking though my wife might order one for our stroller 🙂

    More info at http://www.titanwaterbottle.com

  12. I was given a 1,000ml #7 PC Nalgene bottle from my Outward Bound sponser prior to a 3-week expedition. I had it for about a week before heading off, and before the markings rubbed off the blue plastic, I remember it saying BPA-free. On my expedition, the bottle did lie in some steamy and sunny conditions while rafting(inside an opaque rubber bag, difused sunlight inside), and I did use it as a heater (that old hot water trick for warm toes) one night where we were lost in a cloud and on snowy conditions our first week on Mt Jefferson.

    I’m no plastics expert, but I wonder if the Polycarbonate molecules could exist without the atoms and molecules that create BPA when given a catalist. I would like to think that the statement that there isn’t enough BPA in everything we trace into our bodies to cause adverse health issues is true, but I know we live with more pollutants to simply blame it all on something like this. Now, I’m just wondering if the BPA-free marking on the Nalgene was true…