Ask Pablo: Are Soda Makers Really Greener?

Jessica Merz/CC BY-NC 2.0

Dear Pablo: I have been seeing a lot of advertisements claiming that soda makers are better for the environment. Are these claims really true?

Overview

While available for years in Europe and elsewhere, home soda makers are making their way into American homes. While other vendors such as OnmiFrio, Sodamistic, and U-Fizz exist, the market is dominated by SodaStream, which is headquartered in Israel and whose products are available at 50,000 retail locations in 42 countries.

A soda maker eliminates the need for the environmentally-damaging supply chain that carbonates tap water, fills it into single-use plastic containers, and transports it hundreds of miles to a retail location that you probably have to drive to. A soda maker simply requires a local water source (tap water), a soda making machine, soda flavor additives (optional), and a CO2 cartridge.

But with the production and transportation of these CO2 cartridges and soda additives, is there a chance that soda makers are actually no better environmentally-speaking?

What's Bad About Bottled Water and Soda?

Steven Depolo/CC BY-NC 2.0

Over the years I have written about the environmental impact of bottled water, both from exotic locations such as Fiji and New Zealand, as well as regular bottled tap water sold under brands such as Dasani and Arrowhead.

While bottled water has its place in emergency preparedness kits, humanitarian relief operations, and a few other situations, it is generally a wasteful and costly convenience that allows for the portability of tap water in disposable containers. In 2008, 206 billion liters of bottled water were consumed around the world. In the US alone, our bottled water habit requires the use of more than 17 million barrels of oil just the make the bottles.

The transportation of bottled water uses a great deal of energy as well. At 1 kg per liter, a single bottle transported over 1 km causes the emission of 0.21 grams. If we assume that the average bottle travels at least 100 km, then the global transportation emissions from bottled water is at least 44,200 metric tonnes of CO2 per year. Almost none of these emissions are necessary, as they are just for the sake of convenience.

These numbers only take into consideration still water, yet the market for carbonated beverages is even larger. Carbonated beverages, such as soft drinks, are essentially tap water with artificial flavors and sugar added. Due to the carbonation, the manufacturers are not able to use thin-walled bottles to reduce plastic use, like the bottled water industry has begun to do. While bottled still water has a natural alternative available right in the home (tap water), carbonated beverages had to be purchased, until now.

What Are The Benefits of Soda Makers?

Soda makers allow consumers to carbonate tap water instantly and available additives can be used to make numerous different carbonated beverage flavors, ranging from cola to tonic water to energy drinks, which are also available in diet and now natural varieties. Soda makers do away with the wasteful disposal of plastic bottles, using either glass bottles or reusable plastic bottles instead. Soda makers do require a CO2 cartridge, which holds enough CO2 to carbonate 60-110 liters and costs $10-20, or about $0.25 per liter.

Neil Graver/CC BY-NC 2.0. Flavor concentrate options from SodaStream

Adding flavor concentrates to this increases the cost, but the overall cost is still less than buying the equivalent product in the store, and the environmental impact is far less because the water comes from your tap and isn't transported by truck.

The soda maker's CO2 cartridge remains the property of the manufacturer and you simply trade it in for a refilled cartridge at a store near you, similar to propane tanks. Returned cartridges are returned to the factory, cleaned and inspected, refilled, and returned to the stores.

The Bottom Line

Ken Worker/CC BY-NC 2.0

For households that enjoy a lot of sparkling water and/or soft drinks, a soda maker can be an environmentally superior alternative to store-bought beverages. Soda makers have the benefit of always being able to make enough to suit demand (assuming you have enough CO2), cutting out the trip to the store, and reducing the amount of recyclables that you need to wheel to the curb each week.

Soda makers are available online and in a growing number of retail locations. A starter kit (machine, bottles, CO2 cartridges, and flavors) will cost you between $80 and $200.

Pablo Päster has been writing Ask Pablo since 2006 and is Principal Environmental Consultant at Hara. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com and connect to his RSS feed.

Tags: Bottled Water | Carbon Dioxide

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