Thirst. Quench it with an ice cold beverage, then . . . ? In almost any case that now drained container can be reused or recycled. We have all heard “drink responsibly.” Good advice for sure when alcohol is concerned, however there is also a responsibility to drink with the health of the environment in mind.
Reusable bottles for everything from coffee to water make the most sense. I am particularly fond of an orange poptop my wife acquired for me several years ago that is my go to insulated water bottle. Refilling can save hundreds to thousands of disposable containers when used over years. However, taking your own bottle in for a fountain beverage has become more difficult during the pandemic restrictions this year.
Pouring coffee into that scuffed old Thermos every morning before work is a green way to go, but what about everything else you drink each week? Think about what ended up in the grocery cart, on the table at a restaurant or in the car cupholder. First, it can be determined whether the containers are recyclable. Next, consider whether there are more environmentally friendly options for certain drinks.
Not too long ago, I drank pop every day. My favorite caffeinated beverage found its way onto my desk in cans, then bottles with a few fountain drinks thrown in. This habit has become more of an occasional indulgence now. Importantly, soda is a drink that can be bought almost anywhere with the empty vessel able to be recycled. At the Keep Alliance Beautiful Recycling Center our bales and bins testify to the commitment of pop drinkers to close the loop. There are glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and fountain cups in paperboard, plastic and styrofoam varieties. The fountain drinks’ plastic tops and straws are also recyclable as are the paperboard boxes for cans.
As far as the greenest options for pop drinkers, it is worth considering two of the main ways the product is sold: plastic bottles vs. aluminum cans. Say you drink cola from both types of containers and always put them in the respective doors at the KAB trailers. Food grade plastic degrades every time it is recycled while aluminum can be turned into new cans endlessly. Plastic, however, is cheaper to form from virgin oil than to recycle. Mining bauxite ore for aluminum is hard on the environment and not as energy efficient -- it requires almost twice as much energy to produce the same amount of aluminum as plastic when comparing pop cans and bottles.
A recent article at theverge.com by Justine Calma examines whether “aluminum is recycling’s new best friend.” The story cites the Aluminum Association in saying 75 percent of all the aluminum ever produced to date is still in use today. It also says a study published in the journal “Science Advances” in 2017 found only nine percent of all plastics ever made have been recycled.
Perhaps the best solution is to recycle aluminum more and keep it in the system. If a greater market share of pop containers were made from aluminum than plastic the former could conceivably keep returning to shelves.
There has to be a greater consumer demand for recycled aluminum products. If people knew how green it is to keep re-using the metal then the beverage industry may have more luck marketing larger cans to compete with 20-ounce plastic bottles. I hope plans announced by Pepsi and Coke to sell water in aluminum to cut down on plastic waste is based on recycled aluminum.
Can, bottle, carton or jug -- I like to see that whatever held our drinks has an opportunity to become something new.