If you, like me, have a stainless steel water bottle that’s lasted the test of time (honestly they’re so durable and tough!), there might come a time when you look at what to do with it once it’s reached retiring age. A stainless steel water bottle can last over 12 years, but if you’re ready to part ways with it before then, the best thing you can do is either upcycle OR recycle it! However, it’s not as simple as just throwing it in the recycling bin. Recycling stainless steel requires a special facility just for this material.
Stainless steel can be recycled & upcycled
Steel is a natural element found in the earth, and is often the more environmentally-friendly option when switching from plastic bottles to reusable ones, plus you get the added health benefits of avoiding the toxic chemicals that leach into our food and water from plastic products. Once your stainless steel water bottle reaches the end of its use, it can be recycled and turned into a new product or a similar product! Plastic products can also be recycled into new items too, however only some types of plastics are able to be recycled at this time, so it really depends on the kind of plastic used, as some are more complicated to recycle than others. Also, plastic recycling is more harmful on the environment than stainless steel recycling and production.
Why? Well, the process of melting down and recycling plastic produces VOC (volatile organic compounds) fumes that can harm plant and animal life near the industrial site. What’s more, The heat needed to melt plastic also generates carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change. Furthermore, the same VOCs we talked about that cause harm the environment can also pose as health threats to the people who come into contact with recycled plastics. Plastic resin, which comes from petroleum and is part of the manufacturing and recycling process, can leach into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.
Due to the potential health risks recycled plastics can pose, much of the plastic recycled is actually downcycled. This means that instead of the plastic becoming another new container, it becomes a different, less useful product. After downcycling, plastic is often unfit for another round of recycling, which means it can end up in landfill despite having seen another use as a less useful product. Downcycling most often delays the process, with the result that manufacturers still require the same demand for new plastics.
Whereas, recycling steel, uses up approx. 75% less energy than making steel from raw materials. All types of steel are 100% recyclable and can be recycled an infinite amount of times.
Ways to upcycle & repurpose your old stainless steel water bottle
Instead of scrapping your old stainless steel bottle, or recycling it right away, maybe you might consider giving it a new life? Here are a few ways you could use your old stainless steel water bottle for easy jobs around the house (don’t feel limited by these ideas, get creative and try out other ways too!). (Some of the ideas below I originally found from Elemental).
1. Flower vase
To make, begin by grabbing a bouquet of fresh cut flowers from your garden or local farmers market. then fill your well-loved stainless steel bottle with some water. Add the fresh flowers to the water, and there you have it! Your very own DIY repurposed vase (that’s brimming with character 😉 ). You could even paint and decorate the bottle to give it a lil’ something extra!
2. New cooking tool
Repurpose your old drink bottle as a rolling pin! It’s the perfect shape for rolling out dough. Plus, the mouth of the bottle can be used as a circular cookie cutter.
3. Mixing without a spoon
If you need to quickly mix up a drink such as a protein shake, sports drink, tea, etc. an old water bottle may be the perfect alternative to a spoon. Simply pour in your protein powder, tea leaves, or supplement powder, and shake away (you can also add in those metal shaker spheres to help break up the mix).
4. Herb garden
A way to grow fresh herbs without the garden bed! It doesn’t have to be limited to stainless steel bottles either; insulated tumblers, pints, travel coffee mugs, and food canisters work really well too because of the larger openings. (Idea originally from Klean Kanteen)
- Potting soil
- Herb seeds (cilantro, thyme, parsley, dill, coriander, oregano, calendula, chamomile, etc.)
- Stainless steel water bottle (or other container of choice)
To make: grab your stainless steel bottle, fill with potting soil, drop a couple seeds in, add a little water, let sit on a sunny windowsill, then watch the magic unfold!
Tips: if you prefer you can drill a few holes in the bottom of the bottle to allow for water drainage, plus, you can also use white chalk to label your container with the herb that is growing inside.
5. Measure liquid
Some bottles have measurements printed on them indicating ounces and millimetres. This makes them the perfect tool for measuring liquids and other ingredients with (especially when camping!).
6. Container for dry food mixes
Old steel bottles are great for carrying dry goods when camping, or trail mixes when out hiking.
7. Travel compost bin
Here is a great tool for saving those food scraps for your garden or compost at home! (Plus it’s a great way to cut down on food waste). Travel coffee mugs and food canisters also work really well when saving scraps when out and about because of their wider openings and leak-proof lids. (Idea originally from Klean Kanteen)
To make: grab some newspaper, or certified compostable bio bags and line the inside of your bottle/canister. Add in any scraps when you’re out camping, road tripping, on a picnic, or just out somewhere where there’s nowhere for you to properly compost your scraps.
Tip: make sure to transfer your scraps to your compost bin or garden straight away when you get back to avoid any odour from developing in your container.
8. Refill your pet’s water bowls
Set aside your old water bottle to use as a tool to fill up as your pet’s water dishes.
9. Water plants
An old water bottle can make the perfect watering can for your plants. Simply use as is, or drill tiny holes in the bottom to gently spray water over your plants.
10. A container to hold spare change in
Any loose change? Pop it in your old bottle! You could use it as a travel fund where you collect any spare change and keep it inside your bottle. At the end of each month/year, pull it together and use to go on a trip away!
How to recycle your metal water bottle
If you’re looking to recycle rather than upcycle your bottle, there are a few things to note. Unfortunately, most kerbside recycling programs will not recycle metal water bottles. The main reason for this is that these recycling facilities crush and bale material for easy transport. Stainless steel is most often uncrushable, which makes the metal bottle recycling process more complicated.
However, before you go about recycling your drink bottle, you need to determine what metal it’s made of. There are two categories for metal: ferrous and nonferrous. This may sound complicated but it’s actually really simple to determine which metal you have.
All you need is a magnet. If your bottle is attracted to the magnet, it’s ferrous metal; if it’s not, then it’s nonferrous metal.
If you do end up with a stockpile of old metal water bottles (or just a lot of metal in general) and want to know the value you can get from it, then this is when you might want to know exactly what type of metal you have, as each metal holds different value.
Here are a few guidelines (courtesy of Elemental) for each metal:
Steel comes under this category, as does iron, as they’re both magnetic.
- Copper, when good condition, has a reddish tint (something to look out for) and can be found in computer cables, power cords, old extension cords, and may be found in old plumbing pipes, cooking pans, and electromagnets.
- Aluminium can look similar to steel, but can be easily identified with the magnet test as it won’t stick to magnets. It can be found in window frames, car hoods, bicycles, motorbikes, and old soft drink cans.
- Unlike steel, stainless steel is a nonferrous metal even though it’s made of 70% iron. It can be found in appliances, kitchenware (like bottles and containers), and some automotive equipment (like cars, trucks, etc.).
- Brass, often found in keys, valves, doorknobs, and faucets, has a yellowish colour with a hint of red. However, it can take on a greenish colour if left outside for too long.
- Bronze is a metal which looks similar to brass or copper, but it’s water and corrosion-resistant.
- Lead, which is often used for industrial purposes.
To recycle your stainless steel water bottle (or other types of metal materials), you’ll need to find a scrap metal yard near you, as they have the equipment to properly process and recycle these materials.
Where to find a scrap metal yard
I simply looked up the “nearest scrap metal yard near me” online, OR, if you live in Sydney, you can visit the website Sydney Metal Traders to see if they accept the types of metal you wish to recycle.
How metals are recycled
According to Conserve Energy Future, there is an 8-step process to recycling metals: .
- Collection – involves collecting all materials that are made of metals.
- Sorting – involves separating what can be recycled from what is non-recyclable.
- Processing – all the recycled materials are squeezed and squashed using machines to reduce surface area so they don’t take up so much space on the conveyor belts.
- Shredding – the metals are broken down into tiny pieces or sheets to allow for further processing.
- Melting and purification – each metal is placed in a furnace that’s specifically designed to melt that particular type of metal based on its properties.
- Purification – metal purification is done to ensure that the final product is free of impurities and is of high quality.
- Melting and solidifying of the metal – the molten metal is carried to a cooling chamber where it’s cooled and solidified (to be made into a solid metal that can be used again).
- Transportation of the metal bars – the metal is then packed depending on size and shape, ready for transportation to those who require it (i.e. factories, etc.)
For full detail on each of the steps, visit the Conserve Energy Future website.
Recycling + upcycling stainless steel water bottle tutorial
Have you recycled or upcycled your stainless steel water bottle or container before? Share your experience below! We’d love hear!
Lots of love,
The Benefits of Stainless Steel Water Bottles. (May 29, 2020). EcoBud. Retrieved from https://www.ecobud.com.au/our-story/news-blog/environment/the-benefits-of-stainless-steel-water-bottles
What to do with Old Stainless Steel Water Bottles. (October 1, 2018). Elemental. Retrieved from https://www.elementalbottles.com/blogs/news/what-to-do-with-old-stainless-steel-water-bottles
Hartman, Dennis. (Updated: April 24, 2017). The Disadvantages of Recycled Plastics. Sciencing. Retrieved from https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html
Iron & Steel. Business Recycling. Retrieved from https://businessrecycling.com.au/recycle/iron-steel
Klean. Tips on How to Repurpose Your Stainless Steel Bottle. (June 2019). Klean Kanteen. Retrieved from https://www.kleankanteen.com/blogs/blog/tips-on-how-to-repurpose-your-stainless-steel-bottle
Rinkesh. Metal Recycling. Conserve Energy Future. Retrieved from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/recyclingmetal.php