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September 16, 2010

Review: SodaStream Gets Fizzy Water Right

Category: Organic & Local Food,Household,Green Reviews – 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. 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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