In 2020, Nalgene launched a new collection of water bottles called Nalgene Sustain. Nalgene says that all of their Sustain products are made with 50% recycled materials, which is the equivalent of using 8 single-use plastic water bottles in one Nalgene reusable water bottle. At first glance this sounded like a great option but I also wondered why Nalgene hadn’t made this transition to all of their water bottles, not just their Sustain line, or why the Sustain line is made of 50% recycled materials and not 100%. As someone who owns two of these Nalgene Sustain wide mouth water bottles and loves them dearly, I wanted to research their environmental impact and what Nalgene can be doing to reduce it. The 32 oz. wide mouth Sustain water bottle sells for $14.99.
After researching the Sustain line and the plastic that the water bottles are made of, I concluded that the sustainability of the materials used was not truly verified. Although their recycled material sounds alluring it’s simply greenwashing with no actual certification of the recycled plastic in their products. The company itself is somewhat sustainable, domestically producing all of its products, and they have a few sustainability initiatives, but they are misleading customers by branding their Sustain line as an eco-friendly option.
The 32 oz. wide mouth Sustain water bottles are made of Tritan Renew plastic, which is a recycled plastic engineered by Eastman, a materials company. Eastman also produces the Tritan plastic that standard Nalgene water bottles are made of. Eastman uses “polyester renewal” technology to break down waste polyester and then transform it into durable and shiny plastic. Tritan Renew is made of 50% recycled plastic and supposedly meets the International Sustainability and Carbon Circulation’s mass balance requirements to be 50% recycled material. After researching the legitimacy of the ISCC certificate, I discovered in a 2018 report on false sustainability certifications that the ISCC has previously lowered their sustainability standards for palm oil in order to help companies make certified palm oil products. Based on their track record of lenient sustainability standards and their voluntary certification system, I didn’t feel like the ISCC certification was proof enough that the plastic was recycled, rather it was just greenwashing. I was unable to find data on the composition of Tritan Renew and therefore I am skeptical whether Tritan Renew is truly a 50% recycled plastic. In theory it sounds like a great idea, but there is a lack of transparency around its composition and production.
Nalgene boasts that their products are American made and their water bottles are manufactured at their Rochester, New York factory. Plastic pellets and colorants are melted down and sent into an injection molding machine, where they inflate the plastic with air to give Nalgene bottles their characteristic shape. Then, plastic is melted into molds to create the lids, buttons, and straps. The water bottles are labeled at a separate printing facility and then shipped to various distributors. They claim that the plastic they use in their water bottles is shipped in from Eastman’s facility in Tennessee, so the materials in their water bottles are domestically sourced. I am unsure where the plastic and colorants are sourced from, but the water bottles are manufactured and assembled completely in the US, so they do not acquire the individual components from manufacturers in other countries.
Thermo Fisher Scientific is the manufacturer of all Nalgene products, which also include labware and leakproof chemical containers. The original Nalgene products were developed for lab use, but Nalgene’s durable plastics proved to be perfect for water bottles and outdoor accessories. Nalgene prides itself on making the bottles locally, reducing total emissions and creating local jobs, and has a commitment to “Refill Not Landfill”, encouraging the use of their reusable plastic water bottles in order to keep single-use plastics out of landfills. Nalgene does not have a sustainability report or a specific plan to make their company more sustainable. However, Thermo Fisher Scientific has an annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report that details their diversity and inclusion initiatives, their STEM outreach accomplishments, green product innovation and a plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.