Photo illustration by Chelsea Beck/GMG; photo via iStock

I make it a habit not to drink designer water; I drink tap. After Tuesday’s post about stepping up my daily intake of water in 2018, I got some pushback—and rightly so—for using a stock photo of a model drinking water from a disposable plastic bottle. Personally, I try my hardest not to buy water in a plastic bottle, but if it does happen, I refill the bottle as many times as I can before I let it go, for the sake of the environment.

Drinking from plastic containers can also be toxic to our bodies. Since black women are more likely than other ethnic groups to use cosmetics that are higher in toxicity, literally every drop that we can keep clean and green counts.

But here’s the thing: When it comes to carrying around a nontoxic refillable bottle of water, it’s a pain in the ass. Going green is great, but it also has to be convenient and economical. In the last five years, I’ve probably bought and misplaced at least $100 worth of alternatives to plastic water bottles. Since I don’t want to be foolish about my health or my wealth, here’s my smart guide for purifying the water you take with you.

Bad Chemistry

The chemical bisphenol A, or BPA—commonly found in plastic food containers like baby bottles, the linings of canned foods and, yes, water bottles—is a known endocrine disruptor that can mimic the body’s natural hormones, with possible side effects that can include infertility. New studies are also indicating that the effects can contribute to insulin resistance—a condition that is a precursor of Type 2 diabetes.

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BPA destabilizes and becomes harmful with exposure to microwaves, dishwashers or boiling water. Leaving a bottle of water in a hot car during the summer or prolonged exposure to direct sunlight at any time of the year can produce enough heat to trigger BPA breaking down and leaching into food and liquids inside the container. So now that we know what not to do ...

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Good Chemistry

Here’s what we can do to avoid harmful chemicals in drinking containers: I have a glass water bottle I keep at my desk, and another by my bedside that I refill from my sink or a pitcher equipped with a filter.

But I can’t deal with keeping track of a water bottle when I’m on the go, and resent like hell lugging an empty bottle. Honestly, it’s way too tree-hugger for me. I try to be a good person, but I have my limits.

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The solution for when I’m in exercise or errand mode is a totally collapsible bottle. Do yourself a favor and get one with an attached lid—who the heck wants to keep track of a bottle cap?

Collapsible bottles are usually made from plastics and silicones, both of which are more stable than BPA and less toxic. These days, you can find bottles that collapse thin enough to fit into an evening bag. It comes in handy if you’re going from work to drinks, because it’s always good to hydrate before going out to eat or to get your drink on—it’s the cheapest way to diet and doesn’t take much discipline.

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Lipstick-sized portable and reusable activated-charcoal filters are another economical solution for ditching not only the plastic bottle, but chemicals like chlorine and heavy metals carried in our water supply.

Activated charcoal is made from curing oak, bamboo or husks of coconut shells over fire for extended periods of time. Bamboo and coconut shells are the most renewable sources of activated charcoal, since bamboo is one of the heartiest and fastest-growing plants on earth, and coconut husks are an eco-friendly food byproduct, lasting around four to five months. White oak, or binchotan activated charcoal, is the most expensive of all the purifying charcoals. It gets its name from Japan, where activated charcoal is believed to have been invented. Binchotan has to be changed out only once a year in your drinking water.

It takes between one and eight hours, optimally, to fully purify a gallon of water with a charcoal stick. Activated charcoal has an extremely porous surface and sucks in heavy metals and gases like chlorine by attracting negative ions to its surface. Another plus is that unlike filtered water—which typically removes the stuff you don’t want to ingest, plus all the stuff you do want to ingest, like minerals and fluoride—activated charcoal provides the added benefit of depositing magnesium and calcium into your drinking water.

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Conveniently, there are several popular brands of water bottles with charcoal filters built right into their spouts. My favorite has measurements on the side to help you monitor your water intake, with a filter that can handle around 300 gallons before needing to be replaced. And at the easy-on-the-pocket price of $10.99, I say, make it rain!