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Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


September 16, 2010

Review: SodaStream Gets Fizzy Water Right

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Organic & Local Food – Tom Harrison – 2:42 pm

sodastreamI continue to be stunned when I am at the market and see people buying bottled water, soda, flavored seltzers and other such products. They are heavy. They use plastic or aluminum containers. They are expensive. In short, a huge waste of resources at every level. And if you like soda (pop) it’s the same deal.

So make your own seltzer and soda at home — it’s easy, convenient, and saves money, and may also be good for the environment.

Not Your Dad’s Old Seltzer Bottle

I used to buy flavored seltzer in one liter bottles — lime, orange, and other flavors and fizzy water (no sugar). Then I recalled that when I was a kid, my dad had a seltzer bottle — one (CO2) charger would make a quart — a while back, I bought a Liss Soda Siphon and would regularly order packs of 10 chargers in the mail — I think they were about 50 cents a liter, which compares favorably to the 99 cents a liter at the store.

But the big wins: no bottles to lug, and as much water as you needed when you wanted it (as long as you keep chargers on hand). And no bottles in the landfill or to recycle. It was a reasonable solution, but after a year or so, a couple of the parts on the bottle started failing so that gas would leak out. I could usually make it work, but it was always a bit of a hassle to make a new batch. I think repair parts are available, so it’s still a pretty good option.

Enter The SodaStream

But then my friends showed me their SodaStream Fountain Jet and I was sold. I have had mine for a few months now, and highly recommend it.

It’s a very simple device: a lightweight filling stand, a replaceable carbonator, a couple special bottles — that’s it. No cords or anything. Making a new bottle takes about 30 seconds: fill with water, screw into the filling stand, press the button to add carbonation, unscrew, and done. Special caps with seals keep water fizzy for a week. When one bottle is empty, refill so you always have a cold spare. The bottles need to be replaced every couple of years — two for $15. Also note: bottles are not dishwasher-safe and should only ever be filled with water (add flavorings to the poured drink, if desired), an occasional hand-washing is all that’s needed.

But I think what’s especially cool is that the carbonator (CO2 gas canister) can be exchanged and refilled — not just trashed. The carbonator bottles are metal, probably aluminum with a well-machined screw-in mount, about 10″ tall and solid. To exchange, you can either pick one up at a store that is part of the program, or place an order, leave the empty bottle on the porch and a local rep will replace it with a refilled one. The extent of the “consumables” in this case is the gas itself, and some cost for transport if you use their exchange program.

The starter kit (including one carbonator and two bottles) is $85 — there are other pretty looking models that sell for a lot more, and this isn’t nothing, but I believe the payback is pretty reasonable. A refill on the carbonator is $24 using the exchange service, and that will make 110 liters, which is 23 cents a bottle; I have seen prices lower for in-store exchange, although they seem hard to find. You can get flavoring syrups for cola, lemon-lime, diet, unsweetened, or regular (with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup) at local stores or online; they are inexpensive, perhaps 10 cents extra per litre. I prefer just keeping limes on hand and squeezing a little in the glass. So (not including the initial outlay), a bottle costs about one third as mush as in the store.

Get Creative With Flavors

I just like my soda straight, although a little Scotch adds something :-)

SodaStream sells syrups to make most of the flavors you would think of, although as I have been reading around, people are pretty disappointed in the flavor, especially for the ones that do contain real sugar … but also contain Splenda. Yuck. There are a few other companies out there that make flavors for this purpose. And various cordials like Kirch (cherry brandy) and similar might be fun to try.

A splash of any fruit juice makes for a nice refreshing drink — lime, orange, cranberry are all nice.

We’re really not fans of sweet soda pop, just because they are pure empty calories.

How Green Is SodaStream

The company makes some eco/green claims; some are based on an assumption that each bottle of seltzer you make replaces one you would have bought at the store. In my case, this doesn’t really fly — I simply cannot bring myself to buy plastic or aluminum bottles that I just throw in the recycling bin. I may not be typical. (Yes, that was a joke). I do wonder if the fact that it’s super convenient makes it more likely that normal people drink more fizzy water than they would otherwise? Let’s say that a typical person who would actually buy this product may have bought three bottles a week, so right off, that’s 150 plastic bottles a year that never get made only to get tossed or recycled. On the other hand, perhaps you would use 5 bottles if it were convenient?

(So assuming 150 bottles not bought at the store for $1/bottle = $150/yr, and perhaps $0.30/bottle with flavoring and 5 bottles a week = $75, the payback is less than a year. Your mileage will vary.)

There’s also some environmental cost of obtaining/filtering water, bottling, transporting, displaying, maybe in-store refrigerating, and carrying home. Offsetting this is the embedded energy and costs in making the device. These costs should be quite modest — the thing is mostly plastic and fairly lightweight without the carbonator; the main bits are the screw connector for the carbonator, and screw connector for the bottles, plus a simple push valve — mostly made of nylon (which should make them pretty durable). The whole environmental proposition would probably be shot if the carbonator bottles were not exchanged, as they are fairly heavy duty aluminum with a brass thread at the valve — however it’s pretty hard to miss that this option is available and considerably cheaper than buying a new bottle. It’s probably reasonable to assume they’ll get reused 50 times (and probably could be reused 100 times), and highly likely that they get recycled when their life is done. I can’t do a true lifecycle analysis, but it looks good, mostly on the reduced plastic bottle waste.

Is Seltzer Good For You?

I live in the Boston area, and we have great tap water. If your water is not as good, presumably you use a Brita or Pur filter and don’t get those jugs of water at the store … right? If you do, get over it and double-check if good ol’ tap water isn’t just fine, and if not, some sort of filter will remove nasty chemicals or bad taste.

Health is an important consideration. Obviously if this encourages consumption of more sweetened drinks in your household, it’s a bad bet. On the other hand, if you can substitute for flavored, or even just sweetened with real sugar, it’s a probable win. Many health studies have suggested drinking lots of water is good, but there have been some articles discussing harmful effects of carbonated beverages. I looked around and found the main concerns were 1) soda/pop displacing milk or water, 2) some additives that messed with body chemistry. Some stuff on blogs suggest that the carbonic acid created in the process is harmful. Several articles from more authoritative sources confirmed that you would need to drink a lot of (pure CO2) carbonated water to mess with your body chemistry — stomach acid is far, far more acidic. I’m no expert, but choose to believe that I drink more water, and that’s a good thing.

And of course an irony of this is that carbonation uses CO2, so we’re releasing a greenhouse gas! But I challenge anyone to come up with real numbers on this compared to the greenhouse gasses created as your computer has been running in order to read this post (also a minuscule amount compared to just about anything else).

I Recommend SodaStream, But Check For Alternatives

I am perfectly happy with my purchase. I think it’s a good addition to our house, and a better product in a number of ways than the seltzer bottle it replaced. If you drink a lot of soda pop, flavored seltzer, or just plain fizzy water, SodaStream will save you money, and certainly reduce the number of plastic bottles in the trash bin.

There are probably many good alternatives — it’s pretty clear that SodaStream is doing a pretty good job of marketing. Here’s a link to Consumer Reports’ comparison of seltzer makers, focusing on price.

13 Comments

  1. Nice article Tom, I think if more people knew about these types of machines we would use a lot less plastic bottles.

    I’m not a soda drinker but know of many people who are that would make this machine economically feasible.

    The Amazon.com reviews look pretty favorable as well. Maybe I will have to give it a try myself.

    Thanks for another great article, I’m a fellow RSS reader.

    Comment by Dean — September 16, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

  2. Hi Tom –
    Kristin from SodaStream here… Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful review! Glad to hear you are enjoying your seltzer maker.

    Some quick food (or drink?) for thought re. your comment about greenhouse gases. I like to think of SodaStream as being ‘carbon neutral’ in the literal sense: if you are consuming carbonated drinks anyway, SodaStream uses the same amount of CO2 as any other beverage carbonation process. You are simply trading an old behavior for a new, greener one.

    What’s more, most commercial-grade CO2 is collected as a co-process with other manufacturing. Greenhouse gases that otherwise would have been emitted directly into the atmosphere are trapped, filtered and contained for beverage, medical and other uses (e.g. paintball, fire extinguishers, compressor tools, etc.) We repurpose what would have been simply wasted.

    Thanks again for your review! I love to read the words of someone who really ‘gets it.’

    Happy fizzing! – Kristin

    Comment by Kristin Harp — September 17, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  3. Hi Dean, and thanks Kristin!

    Kristin — my comment about greenhouse gasses was intended to be more of a laugh than an actual real suggestion that the CO2 is meaningful relative to anything else.

    So while I’ve got you, feedback from a customer (me): it would be great if your site did a “find by zipcode” listing of local companies who would do carbonator exchanges.

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — September 17, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  4. Maybe you could use Stevia for sweetening drinks. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it sounds interesting, given that it’s natural and zero-calorie.

    Comment by Jennifer Grucza — September 17, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  5. Hi Tom –
    I totally get your humor! Accepting your challenge :)

    Re. locator: Your wish is our command! http://www.sodastreamusa.com/where_to_buy.aspx

    Check the text of the listing to make sure they carry exchanges – because some stores don’t… FWIW – Bed Bath & Beyond has exchanges (in stores starting today! Very exciting…) Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table stores all have them, and a ton of independent retailers, as well. Bring your empty into the store with you to get the exchange price (should be around $15).

    Comment by Kristin Harp — September 17, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  6. Very cool! Thanks Kristin.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — September 17, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

  7. Hi Jennifer —

    Thanks for the lead on Stevia — I had never heard of it. So I checked the WikiPedia article on Stevia and it seems pretty interesting. I am the main consumer of carbonated drinks in the house, and don’t care for sweet stuff, except perhaps the tonic, in a gin and tonic :-)

    Two thing (unrelated) are interesting about Stevia and I might do a little more research.

    First, the WikiPedia article states “In 1991, after receiving an anonymous industry complaint … [the FDA] labeled stevia as an ‘unsafe food additive’ and restricted its import.” and has several citations that seem to back up this claim. After reading Merchants of Doubt, it sounds like some other company found a way to manipulate the FDA, even though it used in most other countries (with some studies suggesting other health benefits).

    My second thought is different, and also. Theresa has been reading a lot about food and said that some studies have suggested that calories consumed in drinks (e.g. from high fructose corn syrup, or sugar) are not registered by the brain as being food, which may explain why it’s possible to consume many calories without feeling satisfied.

    Stevia sounds like a good thing. But for my food, less is more.

    Good to hear from you!

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — September 18, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  8. […] Review: SodaStream Gets Fizzy Water Right (fivepercent.us) […]

    Pingback by SodaStream versus Primo Water — IPO Candy — October 28, 2010 @ 6:17 am

  9. I have had the SodaStream for years. Bought it when it was SodaClub. I rely on it. BUT, a friend just sent me info that this company’s manufacturing is heavily located in the West Bank.* The company acknowledges it is a dicey situation, but they are getting breaks from the Israeli government. I won’t replace my SS canisters and I’m searching for a good alternative maker.

    *http://www.whoprofits.org/articlefiles/WhoProfits-ProductioninSettlements-SodaStream.pdf

    Comment by LJ Schneider — December 31, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  10. Very interesting reading — thanks for the link.

    If there’s a message I have tried to impart in the stuff I have written here is that almost none of what we can do to deal with energy, efficiency, and related topics comes for free. Sometimes costs are borne more directly, as in paying more for a more efficient product. Sometimes the costs are indirect, or completely external, as in the case asserted in the paper you linked. Other cases of external costs include the low cost of electricity, even though it is produced (in the US) largely by burning coal, which arguably could also have a negative impact on humans if it turns out this whole global warming thing is real (in case you haven’t read the rest of my blog: yeah, it is :-).

    We have to make our own choices and recognize there are hidden costs of almost everything we consume. As my dad used to say, “Choose your poison!”.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — December 31, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  11. About a year ago my wife purchased a Sodastream dispenser and we like it a lot. About the only rub is the money you fork over to exchange an empty carbonator tank for a full one, plus the hassle of running out of CO2 when you need it most is aggravating. Of course the Sodastream solution is to have you purchase an additional carbonator to have on hand, but I’m not ready to pay almost $60 bucks for a few ounces of a green house gas. I should note that my Sodastream unit works with the larger 130L / 33 ounce carbonators.

    So last spring I began to search for a more cost effective supply of CO2. What I initially found were solutions that involved a special hose that would allow you hook an external tank to your Sodastream dispenser. These tanks are typically filled and purchased (or rented) from an industrial gas or welding supply house. The tanks range in size from a large coffee can to a bathtub. I really didn’t want to lose counter space, nor did I have an easy way to drill a hole in my kitchen cabinets to run the hose to a remote location like the garage. And when you live in the burbs as I do, industrial gas / welding supply outfits are as rare as purple unicorns.

    Then I discovered a gadget called SodaMod. It’s a very well made brass adapter that allows you to use small CO2 tanks you can purchase and get refilled at most sporting goods stores that sell gear for paintball enthusiasts. The paintball tanks and the SodaMod adapter easily fit inside your Sodastream dispenser. No hoses. No external tanks.

    A 12 ounce paintball tank and the SodaMod adapter will fit inside just about any Sodastream dispenser that uses the 60L /1 4.5 ounce carbontaors. If you have a Sodastream dispenser that works with the bigger 130L / 33 ounce carbonators, you can step up to a 20 ounces or 24 ounce paintball tank.

    SodaMod is the brainchild of Mr. Jon-Paul Fortunati who owns a retail store specializing in paintball gear called Critical Paintball.
    Here’s a link to his web site: http://www.criticalpaintball.com/SodaMod-p/sodastream-sodamod.htm

    I purchased my SodaMod and three (3) 20 ounce paintball tanks back in June from Jon-Paul and it has payed for itself already.

    A nearby gourmet cooking shop (which has the best selection and prices on Sodastream products in my community) charges $29.00 to exchange a 130L / 33 ounce genuine Sodastream cabonator tank. That works out to $0.2231 per liter of soda water or $0.8788 per ounce of CO2 gas.

    Just 100 yards down the road from the cooking shop is a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. They will refill a 20 ounce paintball tank for $3.99 each. When you go their for your first fill-up(s) the clerk hands you a small card that records how many refills you’ve accumulated. Once you’ve purchased four (4) refills, the fifth refill is on the house. So that means after five(5) refills, you’re paying less than $0.16 per ounce of CO2, which works to $0.719 per ounce. That’s some pretty significant savings if you make 3 or more liters of soda water a day like we do.

    I should also mention that the Sports Authority stores sell paintball refills too and the price is almost identical. They charge $3.50 for a 20 ounce refill, but you don’t get the free refill until you purchase nine(9). This works out eventually to equal $0.1575 per ounce.

    There is one caveat that impacts the savings, but it’s a small one if you use your Sodastream dispenser frequently. The federal government requires that pressurized tanks, including paintball tanks, need to undergo a pressurization safety test every 5 years from the tanks date of manufacture (which is stamped into the tank). It’s my understanding that getting your old tank tested is typically more expensive than replacing it with a new one. We can take some comfort that the tanks are made of highly recyclable aluminum. To but a number on all of this, I estimate this tank replacement requirement decreases the pure CO2 saving by about $0.0224 per CO2 ounce on each 20 ounce paintball tank you own when you make 1000 liters of soda water per year.

    A few last thing.s: 1) I have no relationship with Jon-Paul or his company other than being a very satisfied customer. 2) When you visit the web link I listed above, be sure and scroll down the page and check out the short video clip to see a product demo. It helps a lot to see how it works. 3) If you have any questions, give Critical Paintball a call or shoot them an email. Their contact info can be found here: http://www.criticalpaintball.com/aboutus.asp

    Comment by Steve — January 5, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  12. Wow — brilliant and excellent comment, thanks!!

    I have exactly the same quibble with my SodaStream (though even at the inflated prices for compressed gas by SodaStream, it’s still a major bargain compared to buying seltzer off the shelf). I also don’t feel too bad paying them since I know this is their main source of revenues. Still, it can be a pain, especially when you don’t have a refill place near.

    I appreciate the time and detail you provided. Thanks!

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 5, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  13. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for kind words.

    A minor clarification. In paragraph number 8 of my long winded post I said: ” …….which works to $0.719 per ounce.”

    That should read: “which works to $0.719 of savings per ounce”.

    Best regards,

    Steve

    Comment by Steve — January 5, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

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