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Reusable Water Bottles & The Coronavirus Outbreak

Reusable Water Bottles & The Coronavirus Outbreak

The number of coronavirus cases is increasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now advising businesses and employers to stay away from one another, and from the public, to lessen exposure to COVID-19.

Companies are now encouraging their employees to disinfect their desks, work from home, limit business travel, and now, some are restricting the use of reusable personal items, like cups, in their workplaces. 

For employees who are still working in a shared workspace, you may be wondering if it’s ok to use your own reusable water bottle and coffee cups in the workplace during the outbreak?

Given the rapid, worldwide spread of COVID-19, all manner of reuse habits that just a few months ago was considered environmentally moral now summon a germaphobic fear response.

Shopping with reusable bags to avoid single-use plastics is what we have spoken about in previous articles. A lot of the plastic we consume ends up in our water, damaging our lakes and seas. But now, local news stations are warning viewers to wash or disinfect their bags between each use as the virus can be transmitted from reusable bags to other parts of a grocery store via shoppers’ hands.

So this begs us to ask the question, can a circular economy continue to grow during what some epidemiologists are calling a pandemic? We did some digging of our own and here’s what we found:

Reusable Items

The use of reusable or secondhand items is unlikely to spread the coronavirus, given that you are washing or disinfecting in between using these items. 

According to Tom Szaky, the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, disposable packaging has different microbial limits set by independent standard-setting organizations — and unless a product is explicitly marked sterile, none of those limits are zero. That means a certain level of bacterial contamination is considered acceptable and inevitable. [1]

For Béa Johnson, the author of Zero-Waste Home, one of the founding texts of the zero-waste movement, the hygienic uncertainty in the supply chain is one reason she prefers a reusable water canteen to disposable water bottles. “With disposables, you have no idea who has touched it. With your own reusables, you do! Being afraid of reusables is as ridiculous as being afraid of Corona beer.” [1]

So why do we tend to think of plastic packaging as being sanitary when it’s not? Szaky traces that idea to the 1950s when the oil industry first introduced disposable plastic packaging and goods. Disposability brought about unparalleled affordability and convenience. Moving from a plate you had to wash — probably by hand because there weren’t even dishwashers then — to a disposable plate, you could throw away was massively liberating and also very cheap. And I think what ended up happening is people got this misperception that wrapping something in plastic also made it more sanitary. [1]

Vineet Menachery, who is an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, states that coronaviruses can survive on hard surfaces (like steel or plastic) for two to nine days.

“Relatively minor cleaning will actually dissolve or destroy the virus, and so if you use anything with between 60 and 70 percent ethanol, the virus will be destroyed in less than 60 seconds.” [1]

As for reusable shopping bags, Menachery said he’d used one himself at the grocery store recently. “I’d be less worried about my shopping and more worried about maybe the touch screen when you’re punching in your codes for the ATM.” [1]

The bottom line, Menachery said, is that the best way to avoid getting COVID-19 from an inanimate object — whether it’s new or used —is not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth after you touch it. “The inanimate object could be coated,” he said. “And as long as you don’t bring it to the mucosal surface, it’s hard to get infected that way.” [1]

Regardless of how long the coronavirus epidemic lasts, the problems of environmental degradation, climate change, and plastic pollution will still be with us when it ends. So Szaky says, don’t take coronavirus as a sign you need to give up shopping at a package-free store. “That’s really important for the environment to do, and we shouldn’t suddenly forsake that because of all the fear around this particular issue,” said Szaky. [1]

Glass water bottles are an excellent way to be sure you keep hydrated and while being kind to the planet. Check out our reviews of the best glass water bottles here. You can also try using insulated containers to hold drinks and make your own filtered water at home.

COVID-19 spreads through coughs and sneezes, not your water bottle.

corona virus safety tips

According to the CDC.The COVID-19 virus is believed to mainly spread through respiratory droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Because this is the primary way of transmission, Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said that minimizing exposure should focus on washing hands, not eliminating the use of a reusable water bottle at work. [2]

“I don’t think that people’s office water bottles are going to be the way that this pandemic unfolds. It’s coughs and sneezes,” Adalja said. “But there are people that are worried about the most esoteric means of transmission, and I think that kind of detracts from the main message here, that this is a respiratory virus: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cover your coughs.” [2]

You shouldn’t be touching the communal spigot, regardless of a COVID-19 outbreak.

If you have a hands-free electronic drinks dispenser at work, you should have no problem with continuing to stick your water bottle underneath, and if you have a communal spigot for getting water or coffee, be conscientious about not touching it. Adalja said. [2]

“You should not touch water jugs or coffee spouts with your used bottles or cups in any event,” said Erin Sorrell, an assistant research professor at Georgetown University’s department of microbiology and immunology. [2]

“During this outbreak, it’s smart to rinse and wash your reusable cups after each use. Cleaning your reusable water bottle should already be a regular habit. If you want to maintain the hygiene of your reusable bottles, coffee mugs and bowls for eating and drinking at work, keep washing them daily with dish soap and warm water, regardless of an outbreak, Sorrell said. She noted that if you use a sponge at work, “Make sure the sponge is cleaned daily with hot water and allowed to dry before the next use.” [2]

If you want to be extra cautious, fill up your reusable water bottle at home, said Robyn Gershon, an epidemiology professor at the NYU School of Global Public Health. “During this fast-moving pandemic and out of an abundance of caution, maybe it’s better to fill from the tap or bring from home.” [2]

How to Clean Your Reusable Water Bottle

How to Clean Your Reusable Water Bottle

Corona or not, if you want to keep your water bottle and your health at its best, you need to wash your reusable water bottles every day.

Robert Glatter, an assistant professor at Northwell Health and a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in the U.S., explained: “Since it’s a moist environment, bacteria can set up shop and thrive, potentially leading to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.” He continued by saying that “bacteria such as E. coli that lead to gastroenteritis and food poisoning and even molds could colonize” in the cap of the bottle. [3]

So here is how to clean your reusable water bottle:

Hot Soapy Water

Hot water with dishwasher soap it an easy and effective way to wash out your reusable bottle. Chilly’s, one of the leaders of stainless steel water bottles, also recommends regularly washing your bottle “with hot soapy water” and “rinsing the bottle after each use.” [3]

Bicarbonate Of Soda

Bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda) is a “gentle abrasive cleaner and natural deodoriser. It’s a form of salt that causes dirt and grease to dissolve in water. [3]

“For a very thoroughly clean,” Chilly’s writes on their website, “please use water with a teaspoon of bicarbonate soda.”


Vinegar is another natural disinfectant and great for cleaning.

Vinegar helps to kill most bacteria, while also serving as a drying agent. Fill half of the bottle with white vinegar, the other half with water. Then you swish around the liquid and leave it to soak overnight. Rinse it out in the morning.

Scrubbing Brush

Long, thin brushes are perfect for getting into the corners of your bottles and into all those areas where you are more likely to experience dirt and build up.

Final Note

Whether you are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 or not, you should still keep safe by making sure you wash your hands regularly and thoroughly and avoid touching your face. The world may not have much control over the virus yet, but simple behavioral changes could go a long way to helping curb the spread.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources.


Can the zero-waste movement survive the coronavirus? | Grist. [1]

Is It OK To Use A Reusable Water Bottle During The ….  [2]

How To Clean A Reusable Water Bottle Properly, Because It …. [3]

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