The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 26, 2009

Antimony – Another reason to avoid bottled water… and polar fleece?

Bottled water sucks. Aside from the moral issue of privatizing what should be a public trust, the plastic containers are made from oil, a non-renewable resource, and last virtually forever in the environment. We know this. We know about the waste from plastic water bottles and the fuel that it takes to ship them. We know we should be drinking tap water and filling up our reusable bottles if we want it to go.

But some of us, taking the REDUCE, REUSE mantra to heart, refill those disposable plastic water or soda bottles instead of using a non-plastic container. It’s one way to keep plastic out of the landfill, right? True, but it might not be the healthiest idea.

Last night, Martin from the Plasticless blog posted a video demonstrating how to boil water in a plastic bottle (the typical #1 PET disposable bottle) and wondered if this practice was safe. He, like most of us, had heard that heating food in plastic is a no-no, yet he had stumbled upon instructions for doing just that.

At some point in my plastic travels, I learned that antimony, the catalyst for PET (polyethylene terephthalate), had been found to leach in very small amounts from disposable water bottles. But I didn’t really worry about whether or not this leaching was harmful because to me, there were already so many other reasons to avoid bottled water, I simply didn’t need another one. Martin’s post started me wondering again, especially considering how many people have told me that they reuse disposable PET bottles.

A Google search turned up two relevant studies. A 2006 University of Heidelberg study found that antimony leaches in greater amounts from PET bottles the longer they are stored. And a 2007 Arizona State University study showed clearly that antimony leaching increases significantly as the temperature increases and that bottles stored in hot cars and garages during the summertime can leach more antimony than the 6ppb allowed by the EPA.

I haven’t found a study of PET bottles refilled and reused. I don’t know if reuse of bottles would cause more or less leaching than storing water in them for long periods of time or, um… boiling water in them! But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

In fact, I wondered aloud about this very topic last night on Twitter (well, aloud in my own head as I typed) and Jennifer Taggart, aka thesmartmama, responded: @fakeplasticfish Antimony shows up when I test fabrics such as the fleeces made from recycled PET.

Jennifer is indeed smart. In fact, she’s one of the smartest women I know. In addition to working as an attorney, she also blogs, has written a soon-to-be-released book, and tests homes and the objects in them for toxic metals like lead with her Niton XRF analyzer. And now she tells me that she’s tested clothing made from recycled PET bottles and found antimony in them.

For many years, Patagonia has manufactured polyester fleece jackets from recycled soda bottles, as well as recycled Patagonia clothing. The company has led the way in product stewardship and environmental responsibility. Other companies followed. And now, even Sears has begun selling the world’s first suit made of recycled PET bottles.

But you know, as good as it sounds, I’ve never been thrilled about the idea of clothing made from recycled bottles. Yes, something needs to be done with them. But doesn’t creating another use just encourage production of more disposable bottles in the first place? And if chemicals from the plastic can leach from the fabric onto us, is this such a great alternative?

I don’t have the answers. I’m just asking the questions. Maybe the amount of antimony leaching from recycled PET clothing is negligible compared to pesticides and flame retardants that can leach from even traditional fabrics. I’ve been writing this blog for well over a year and a half, and the more I learn, the less I know for sure! But it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

Anyway, back to Martin’s original question: if you want to do a cool experiment to see if you can boil water in a plastic bottle without melting the bottle, watch the video and try it (carefully!) Just don’t drink the water afterwards!

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14 years ago

So is this why I’m allergic to polar fleece? Seriously, it makes me so itchy that I can’t wear it under any circumstance.

14 years ago


Just wanted to tell you how much I admire what you are doing and how much I’ve learned by reading your site. I write a general “green” blog and today wrote about the plastic problem and included your blog as one of two “plastic free” blogs I follow and have added you to my “favorite” sites. Keep up the great work!

Kate J.

14 years ago

Did you know that the same team that found the antimony from PET bottles later investigated lead leaching into water from plain glass? They found that about roughly the same amount of lead leaches out of glass as antimony leaches out of PET. Since they have had that finding, they haven't made any more public statements about PET being dangerous. PET is no more dangerous than the water glasses you have in your kitchen cupboard.

Here's a link to the results of the lead study:

Lara S.
14 years ago

Hi Beth!
Just a thought about water containers… Last month, I’ve gone through my whole city trying to find a stainless steel leak-proof water bottle, so as to avoid reusing old soda bottles. They’re not available here. I could get an aluminum one, but the aluminum itself can leak dangerous stuff too, I hear, so most of the bottles have a coating of some sort (when I look inside of the bottle, it’s a different color) and I can only assume it’s a plastic layer.

So I decided I’d use my small stainless steel thermos, although it is VERY heavy and uncomfortable because of its large size and large screw top. Then I though: why am I worrying so much about my water container, when the whole city’s water pipes are made of plastic? The water tanks are made of plastic, too. So I suppose the water must be full of unhealthy substances.

Do you think the choice I make about water containers makes a difference in my health? Perhaps my steel thermos holds less bacteria because of its shape. But the screw top is uncomfortable so I hardly ever use it, hence making my water more exposed to bacteria.
Pleeeeaaase help me….. this dilemma is craking my brains!

Lara S.

PS. I’m really clumsy so I guess a glass bottle wouldn’t last for long… :(

14 years ago

before I found my awesome aluminum water container I would use water bottles and just reuse them for several months at a time (and I’ve been doing it for at least 5 years, if not longer) but my mom has always told me not to do it because of the toxins that leach from the water bottles into the water. She’s seen several tv shows on the dangers of reusing water bottles. I’m not sure what shows they were. One might have been Operah. But then again, who knows if it wasn’t made up by the water bottle companies to try to get people to only drink from their new bottles (to boost sales) I don’t know but its something to think about…If its possible for toxic chemicals to leach into the water, it might make sense for everyone to invest in a reusable aluminum container :)

14 years ago

That video is horrifying. I was on pins and needles at the end, wondering if someone would take a sip of the tea. *shudder*

Cheap Like Me
14 years ago

Ah, at last a reason to be RELIEVED I can’t afford anything from Patagonia! :)

Pam W.
14 years ago

Again Beth, you are exploring an area I have wondered about but know little. I will research agrimony and visit the suggested sites. Thank you! Also: WE do not suck on our recycled fleece but our pets do- they also shred and chew on them– in the case of catnip toys a cat may suck on such a toy for hours. There are many pet toys made of plastic based fleece. I have often wondered about these fabrics– it may be great to recycle bottles and it may also be helpful to think about how this plays out when we use the fiber in our daily lives.

14 years ago

I don’t know- It gives me conflicted views. On one hand I am glad they are finding uses for the discarded water bottles and I know they use discarded shopping bags for fleece and other products as well. ON the other hand- I think that the fact they have to find uses for discarded items that don’t break down naturally is bogus. That being said- I do live the Reuseable shopping bags I bought at trader Joe’s made from water bottles. I do think it would be easier and cheaper to just refill a kleen canteen. But baby steps.One day I was watching them make bottled water at the costco- All that bother for filtered tap water!

14 years ago

I just found this link through another blog I read about some schmuck who has started bottling NYC tap water and selling it.
Moronic if you ask me.

Christy B.
14 years ago

Undersharing – I totally understand where you are coming from.

While you might not be sucking on your outerwear there are baby blankets made of recycled plastic bottles and babies do suck and lick on clothes of people holding them.

In addition, what leaches into the water supply during the recycling process?

What about in the washing machine when these items are cleaned?

What about touching the products and then putting your hands into your mouth, etc…

Does it leach into your skin when it gets hot and you sweat?

I also think that people find absolution in consuming virgin plastic when there is a market for the recycled products.

Things to ponder…

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

A good post. As part of reduce/reuse I am reusing a PET wash-up bottle from a 5l Ecover container. This leachate factor is therefore more relevant. A glass bottle/plastic cap system may be an improvement. The matter needs further attention but can plastic bottles ever be 100% safe?

14 years ago

This is honestly one of the issues I’m not very concerned over. I’m not sucking on my outerwear, and we do have to encourage plastic recycling prices to go up by making a market for the recycled and downcycled stuff. Yes, we do want to reduce first, but this is also important.

I’m a knitter and it’s blasphemy to admit this, but I would rather wear polar fleece than a knit sweater. Even before I was allergic to wool (to the point that my fingers swell like grapes if I knit with it) I still preferred the lightness, washability, and quick-to-dry aspects of the plastic fleece. I have no plans to stop wearing synthetic clothing any time soon because it allows me to exercise and commute by foot or bike in all weather without it being a miserable experience for me.

Christy B.
14 years ago

I’ve always been apprehensive about recycled products that are toxic in their virgin – just recently found out about BPA in recycled paper, geez will it even end?!

After reading your post, I immediately thought of
Glass Dharma
. I purchased several straws with the cozys. LOVE the straw, hesitant about the cozy but don’t want it to break.

I e-mailed David and he told me that they will soon be releasing a cozy made of hemp and a hard bamboo case.

What do you think about Green Toys?

sharon h
14 years ago

Wow, I just bought a new pair of bicycle tights made from recycled polyester. I don’t ride fast enough to generate the amount of heat to boil water, so maybe I’ll be alright if I don’t suck on them.