10 Ways to Replace Disposable Beverage Containers

Photo by Kevin Stevens/KMS WoodworksSupermarkets, gas stations, restaurants and coffee shops are full of disposable beverage containers, making them a convenient option. In fact, they often seem to be the only option for everything from water and coffee to wine and beer. However, with a little forethought, you can replace all those disposable cups and bottles with reusable alternatives.

1. Refillable water bottles: Disposable water bottles are responsible for 1.5 million tons of trash per year. Instead, buy a reusable metal, glass or plastic water bottle for each family member. Choose plastic bottles free of Bisphenol A (BPA), which has been linked to breast cancer and birth defects. Don’t refill disposable plastic water bottles, as they are difficult to clean and often harbor contaminants.

2. Your own filtered water: If it’s the filtered water you want, rather than the convenience of a disposable bottle, hire a plumber to install a water filter in your home. Whole-house filters, under-sink models, faucet filters and bottle filters all work well to filter and purify the water for different needs and to different degrees.

3. Your own bottled water: If you insist on pure spring water, distilled water or other bottled water, take refillable bottles to Whole Foods markets or other local water bottlers, or look for home delivery services that use refillable bottles.

4. Reusable coffee cups: Paper coffee cups may not seem as environmentally destructive as plastic water bottles, but are still needlessly wasteful. Many coffee shops have ceramic and glass cups, yet use disposables by default. When you'll be drinking your hot beverage on site, request a non-disposable cup. If you're taking it to go, have the coffee poured into your reusable insulated mug. Some establishments offer a discount for refill mugs.

5. French press cups: Of course, you can also prepare your own coffee, and you don’t even need an expensive coffeemaker. Brew and filter coffee and loose-leaf tea in a French press mug, which can then also keep it warm. I have discovered another (unadvertised) use for French press mugs — washing and draining uncooked rice.

6. Reusable plastic soda cups: Many convenience stores and restaurants also offer discounts for soda and other beverages in refilled containers. Insulated reusable cups are available, even with their own reusable straws. Again, look for BPA-free options.

7. Soda makers: You might skip the convenience store and produce your own soft drinks with a soda machine. You can whip up virtually any flavor, and make it exactly as sweet as you want. If you’re like me, you find most commercial soda brands overly sweet, so soda machines are a nice alternative.

8. Refillable plastic milk bottles: Now you might be thinking that you filter your own water and make your own coffee and soda, but you can’t keep a cow in your backyard and make your own milk. Probably true, but there are good alternatives. Look at natural grocers or co-ops for milk from local dairies that use refillable bottles. These bottles are typically more expensive, mainly because of the required refundable deposit.

9. Glass milk bottles: Milk delivery services are making a comeback in many areas of the country, and typically use refillable glass bottles for milk, cream and similar dairy products.

10. Refillable wine and beer bottles: Finally, you may be able to skip the cans and disposable bottles and go straight to the source for your wine and beer. While refilling bottles with hard liquor is against federal law, the legal perspective on filling growlers and similar large containers with beer or wine is not so clear. Check with your local winery or craft brewer about the regulations in your area. 

Updated October 4, 2018.

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