Tip of the Day – Repurpose Your Old Nalgene Bottle

Posted on June 27, 2008 by Allie


Hey Allie,

I have a question for you. I decided to trade all my (poisonous) water bottles in for the aluminum Sigg bottles. But what do I do with the old water bottles? Can I recycle them? That seems kind of counter-productive to trying to help the environment. Help!


This is kind of a tricky question.  Especially since we’re all walking around feeling like our old Nalgene bottles are toxic waste (Nalgene, btw, has started making BPA free bottles).

Since the big problem of polycarbonate bottles is the leaching of BPA into the food or beverage they contain, using the bottles for non-food purposes is a good option.  According to Treehugger, polycarbonate is also used to make CDs and DVDs, but as long as you’re not sticking them in your mouth, they aren’t a concern.

I am assuming that when recycled, polycarbonate plastics would be reused for CD & DVD production and the like (especially since the demand for BPA plastics in the bottle business has got to be waning).  The issue is that polycarbonate plastic is #7 plastic and not usually recycled.  But if #7 can actually be recycled, having your old Nalgene reincarnated as the latest new release, is far better than leaving it to sit and leach in a landfill.

Some recycling centers will take it, but I remember from a class I took in college that just because they take it doesn’t mean it gets recycled.  So, if you really want to keep your Nalgene out of a landfill, repurpose it.

Back in March, Mickey mentioned in comments that he fills his old polycarbonate bottle with hot water and uses it as a bed warmer.  You could fill it with ice and cold water in the summer to do the opposite.  And, hot, cold, or empty, it might make decent lumbar support while you’re sitting if it works out in the right proportions for you.

You can use old Nalgene bottles to collect loose change, store art supplies, buttons, hardware, or other small objects.  Or, you could use them store keys, notes, pencil and paper, or other objects outside while keeping them dry.  A commented on You Grow Girl recommends using them as a way to store important paperwork on a boat, but it might also be a good way to keep things dry on a trip to the beach or the pool.

These solar powered caps convert Nalgene bottles into lanterns.

Halfway through writing this, I checked out Sustainable Thinking‘s post on repurposeing Nalgene bottles.  We had a lot of the same ideas (great minds, right?), but Sustainable Thinking also suggested making a waterproof first aid kit.

A commenter on WTA suggested filling a Nalgene bottle with sand to weight your pack for training, but you could also use sand or water to fill them and make weights to exercise with, or use them to weigh down a tarp or beach blanket.

If you’re committed to kicking your polycarbonate bottles to the curb, put a post up on craigslist or Freecycle first to see if someone else wants to use them for storage purposes (make sure to mention that they aren’t to be used for food or water anymore).  If you don’t get any takers, try putting the bottles in your recycling bin if you think your collection company takes #7 plastics.  It’s still better than throwing them directly in the trash where they have no chance of being recycled.

Thanks, NPW!


  1. Woo, awesome ideas! I love the idea of solar powered lamps. It almost makes me wish we had more than three of them, so I could line the stairs on my front porch.

    June 27th, 2008 at 2:12 pm
    Comment by nancypearlwannabe
  2. Could you use them as planters for small plants? I’m picturing a kitchen window lined with different colored bottles all growing house plants…just an idea!

    June 27th, 2008 at 4:32 pm
    Comment by Lara
  3. I love the first aid kit idea!

    A few others. Fill them with water and put them in the back of the toilet to reduce the amount per flush. Also, if you have wee ones…any water container makes a good tub or beach toy. Also good for taking small amounts of detergent to the laundromat verses lugging the big bottle or box.

    Kind of a side note…I just bought the new Nalgene BPA free Grip & Gulp bottles for the wee ones and give them a big thumbs up. They love the colors and the design. (At $20 a pop, the Siggs don’t leave Mama’s sight.)

    June 27th, 2008 at 5:58 pm
    Comment by organicneedle
  4. I use mine to water my plant at work. But I also still drink out of it…

    June 27th, 2008 at 6:04 pm
    Comment by Noelle
  5. Send them back to the company. Once they get a thousand (or so) they’ll come up with a plan on how to dispose of them. Kinda like the whole Britta filter campaign.

    June 27th, 2008 at 6:43 pm
    Comment by Howling Hill
  6. I just encountered my old Nalgene bottle while unpacking last night and I definitely thought ‘where the hell am I going to put this?’ I loooovvvvee the lantern idea, but with the stickers I adorned the bottle with, I’ll probably just stick to paint supply holder.

    June 27th, 2008 at 7:28 pm
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  7. Damn, that lantern idea actually makes me wish I had some Nalgene bottles lying around.

    June 28th, 2008 at 4:15 am
    Comment by Aaron
  8. [...] Allie’s Answers discusses several options for recycling your old Nalgene. [...]

    June 29th, 2008 at 8:45 pm
    Pingback by Always a Reason Not to Travel and Other Weekly Links | Go Green Travel Green
  9. Thanks for posting this! I’m currently running the recycling program for Rochester Institute of Technology, and I found a box of promotional Nalgene bottles with our recycling logo printed on them. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, since I don’t feel right giving them out to students.

    What I’ll likely do is use them to prepare a display about BPA, and offer them free with an adapted version of your suggestions printed out in them (if that’s alright with you).

    July 7th, 2008 at 2:58 pm
    Comment by Stephanie
  10. i have been looking for a waterproof first aid kit for trip to snorkeling Honduras, but dry-bags are getting expensive for something that may never get used. It hit me that dropping in some tape, gauze, bandages, topical creams, tweezers, etc into an old Nalgene bottle is probably a way to keep med supplies even more dry, secure and and probably bacteria free than any of the sea loc type bags they sell for $50+ at EMS

    June 9th, 2009 at 3:04 pm
    Comment by pavoldi
  11. [...] to continue using them for non-consumption purposes. Your imagination is the limit when it comes to repurposing these [...]

    January 19th, 2012 at 1:37 pm
    Pingback by Nalgene water bottle « Everyday Waste

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If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.

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