Photo: Library of Congress
Starting way back in the early 1800s, folks relied on soda fountains to get their fizzy fix -- they'd head to department stores, diners, candy shops for the carbonated stuff. They peaked in the 40s and 50s, when everything was swell. Then, with the rise of chain drug stores and bottled drinks, they began their inexorable decline. Now, the only time we use soda fountains are when we head to fast food, and those are often covered in gross bacteria.
So you'd be forgiven for thinking the salad days of the soda fountain are behind us -- but not so fast. A new home carbonation machine is on the rise, and it might help cut out the massive bottle and can waste created by the soft drink industry. Annie Lowery details the rise of SodaStream in a recent Slate piece:
... home carbonators do offer advantages to the true aficionados of seltzer and soda, such as myself and many of my fizz-addicted friends. For one, they're massively cheaper. A can of Coke costs about 40 cents, if you buy a 12-pack and bring it home. A bottle of seltzer from the grocery store costs about $1.20. Producing the same products with a home system costs half that or less, and it takes less than a minute. You can control your level of carbonation, as well. (The 10-hit fizzy water is a strange, powerful thing.) Moreover, the machines are much more environmentally friendly, as customers reuse the plastic bottles.And these things are evidently selling like hot-cakes in the US, after having been popular in Europe for ages.
The amount of resources we waste creating plastic and aluminum containers the world over is not only staggering, it's stupid. Bottled water gets the worst rap (and rightfully so; the product's pointlessness eclipses all others in the arena), but the entire bottled and canned beverage industry is insane. Single-use containers for 12 ounces of liquid? How does that make sense?
Imagine, for a second, a world where you have your own reusable container. You go from place to place filling it up with beverages of your choosing, as necessary. You stop in at the coffee shop in the morning, refill it with water at work, splurge on a soda at lunch here and there, etc. At home, you carbonate water and mix your beverages to your liking. This world, which would require sanitary regulations on soda fountains and little else, would prevent a brain-exploding amount of waste from clogging the landfills or floating out to sea to be ingested by birds.
A world which saw the return of the soda fountain as a social norm would be a much cleaner, healthier place. Whether the rising trend of these home carbonators can help usher in such a place remains to be seen ...