On the homepage of the Container Recycling Institute is a counter clocking how many beverage containers have been landfilled, littered and incinerated in the United States. This year alone the counter has tallied over 125 billion bottles and cans. Amazingly, the average American drinks around 60 gallons of soda each year, sadly, only 33-45 percent of those bottles and can get recycled. The environmental toll from the production, packaging and shipping of each soda can and bottle is incredible – the energy wasted in 2001 to produce 50.7 billion soda cans was the equivalent to 16 million barrels of oil! Our towns and cities are being buried in water and soda bottles and cans.
With the economy in the dumps– no pun intended– the problems arising from these drink containers is getting even more severe. Plainly said, at this moment in time, there is no market for recyclables. Paper, plastic, aluminum, cardboard, all those products we are so proud to put in our recycling bins and put on the curb for pick up are piling up at municipal recycling facilities. A once lucrative business, recyclers cannot find anyone to buy there “junk”.
According to a December 7th story in the New York Times entitled Back at Junk Value, Recyclables are Piling Up, in some areas mixed paper is selling for $20-25 a ton, down from $105 in October and tin is now $5 a ton, down from $327 earlier this year. Some towns and cities across country that used to get paid for their recyclables are either not getting their monthly checks or are now being charged to take the junk away.
I recently spoke with public works representative in my town who told me that our township was getting paid for all our recyclables but the checks had stopped coming. However, they told me that our town is lucky because we are in a contract with a hauler, so our recyclables were still getting picked up. In many towns without rock-solid contracts, recyclable haulers are refusing to pick up their loads.
So now what? Clearly we should not abandon our recycling programs. I know I’ve painted a bleak picture, but it is really important to continue to recycle. However, now more than ever, the first two of the 3 “R’s”s are increasingly more important. We need to REDUCE and REUSE.
Between 1960-79 the average person purchased 200-250 packaged drinks per year. In 2006 that number has soared to 686 drinks (Source: Container Recycling Institute). We need to turn this around and reach for zero new waste. We need to make consumer choices to buy products that are not only recycled and recyclable, but to buy goods that do not generate more recyclable garbage. Sounds hard right? Well in some instances its not as difficult as you might think.
In my house we’ve taken an interesting step in this direction. We drink a lot of soda water (seltzer). At least a 1/2 gallon a day. Now my husband and I used to drink Pellegrino by the case. Doing so would put at least 6-8 glass bottles back into the garbage/recycling stream on a weekly basis. In addition, our sparkling water traveled thousands of miles to reach us. A gallon of Peligrino costs over $7.50 per gallon, much more than gasoline.
Recently, we got the opportunity to try out Sodastream Soda-Club, a home seltzer and soda-making machine. The machine is already helping eco-conscious consumers elsewhere – 30% of German and 24% of Swiss households have soda machines and have reduced their waste. With a Soda-Club machine, we drink freshly made, great tasting seltzer and we are drastically reducing waste from store-bought cans and bottles. The machine uses no batteries or electricity, just a 14.5 oz CO2 canister that can make up to 60 liters of seltzer or soda. Empty carbonators are returned to Soda-Club to be cleaned, inspected and refilled with CO2 drawn naturally from the air. Carbonators are reusable as long as they remain in good condition.
We tried a machine that is called the Penguin. This little marvel comes with 2 glass carafes. Other versions come with clear plastic (PET), BPA-free reusable bottles will about 3 years. Each bottle also comes with a special cap with a hermetic seal that keeps your soda carbonated long after you first open it and it really works.
The machine’s also come with regular, diet and caffeine-free flavors to make cola, root bear, cherry soda and many more. In addition they have fruit essence to make flavored-seltzer. If you are purist like me these syrups may not pass the test. But for those of you who still need your soda fix, it beats drinking high-fructose Coca-Cola. Regular flavors have 2/3 less carbs, calories and sugar than store-bought sodas, and contain much less sodium. Both regular and diet flavors do contain Splenda®.
For our household we are sold. We always have fresh bubbly seltzer in the house. Finish a bottle during a meal, just fill the bottle with water, stick it in the machine press the lever and we have seltzer in seconds. According to Carbonrally, we save about 6 lbs of carbon emissions per week (production, bottling, transport) by making our own soft drinks. According to Soda Club, worldwide, they estimate over 10 million units have been sold. That is huge savings worldwide in carbon emissions, bottles and cans.
So if you are like me and want to still recycle but REDUCE your waste dramaticly, I suggest giving a Soda-Club machine a try. The machines range from about $100 to $230 dollars depending if you order just a machine or a machine with flavors. All machines come with CO2 carbonators. It may sound a little steep but the savings on your waste, environmental impact and future costs (pay back depends on how much you drink), it is well worth it. AND Soda-Club is giving Eco-Chick readers a discount. Use the discount code MELISSA at check out you will get an additional $5 off after their current holiday discount, a total savings of $25 per machine.