3 Strategies You Can Employ Today
I’ve used the first 2 strategies outlined here to significantly reduce my own environmental footprint and considerably improve my health. I’ve included the third strategy an another viable option.
Take what works for you… and thank you for your effort to reduce plastic waste!
Strategy 1: Switch Away from Plastic Bottles
Continue enjoying the same drinks you like, but move away from plastic… in most cases. This is the first strategy not because it has the biggest impact (see Strategies 2 & 3 for that), but because it can be implemented quickly and easily.
As detailed in our life cycle analysis of reusable vs single-use bottles, the most sustainable bottle types available for single-use are:
In all cases, when the source of the materials are recycled it will be more sustainable than when the source is from virgin resources. So a glass bottle that comes from recycled materials will be more eco friendly than an aluminum bottle made with no recycled material.
Here’s how to help make a selection that fits your desired outcome:
For The Environment
In general, this type of selection process will help you reduce your environmental impact. It’s based on the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of each material.
- Go Recycled – The incorporation of recycled material drastically cuts the GWP of a bottle. At the point of purchase you’ll have to look for labels that specifically state the container was made from recycled material. The next best alternative is to look up which brands have recycled containers.
- Select by Type – If you can’t find an option that has a high amount of recycled content, the best approach is to select in this order: aluminum, the lightest plastic possible, then glass.
If you weight other environmental factors higher than global warming, you can adjust your criteria accordingly. Here are a few examples:
Natural Resource Extraction / Habitat Damage
You may want to select glass or plastic over aluminum, which has a higher impact when attaining the resources required. Here’s a table summarizing the impacts from the resources required for each material:
|Source of Raw Materials
|Petroleum or natural gas extraction
|High; involves ore processing and smelting
|Moderate; melting processes
|Varies; generally high for production, especially for virgin plastics
|Greenhouse Gas Emissions
|High; due to energy-intensive processes
|Moderate; primarily from heating processes
|High; from fossil fuel extraction and processing
|Impact on Biodiversity
|Can be significant; deforestation, soil erosion
|Localized habitat disruption
|Oil spills, habitat disruption
In the case of marine debris, plastics are by far the worst offender. If this is your biggest area of concern, steer clear of plastics whenever you possibly can.
For Your Health
If you want to steer clear of plastics for health reasons, choose glass whenever possible. Aluminum cans contain a clear lining made of plastic which has historically contained BPA and in many ‘BPA Free’ containers still has very similar alternatives such as BPS.
If you are health-conscious, then strategy 2 might be even more valuable to you.
Strategy 2: Reduce Soft Drink Intake
In most areas of our life, the best thing we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to consume less. In the case of soft drinks, this is also true for our health.
Here’s a simple plan that can help guide you through the process of breaking the sports-drink habit with little to no discomfort:
General Guidelines To Keep In Mind
These elements of habit change have been instrumental in my ability to kick bad habits and pick up healthier ones:
- Slow and Steady – You shouldn’t feel like you’re missing anything at first, but after 3-4 weeks you’ll notice a significant difference.
- Consistency is Key – If you do feel a strong urge for more soda, then adjust your schedule. You may have gotten to aggressive. It’s better to lengthen your plan than to make it too difficult to follow and end up giving up. If you slip up a day or two, don’t worry about it. Just get back to your normal schedule.
- Tracking is Half The Battle – The tracking may seem like a small piece but is actually critical. I have tracked many of my own habits over the years to help overcome them. The simple act of measuring something makes me more aware of it which is at least half the battle.
- Celebrate The Wins – You can track the amount of sugar you’re taking out of your diet and the amount of money you’re saving… then celebrate them! I’ve found that taking a moment to congratulate myself after hitting a milestone significantly boosts my motivation to continue.
- Substitutions and Adjustments – You may also want to experiment substituting your soft drink with something healthier like flavored sparkling water.
Week 1-2: Initial Reduction
- Baseline Measurement: Determine your average daily consumption of soft drinks. A simple estimate will do just fine, but I highly recommend starting to track your intake as soon as possible. Note the time of day you typically drink soda… your body will expect its treat at similar times each day.
- Initial Cutback: Reduce your daily intake by 10-25%. You can ramp this up slowly every few days.
- High Intake – If you typically drink ~4 bottles a day, cut back by drinking 75% of each can instead of 100%. Instead of trying to cut out 1 can, which will leave you empty-handed at one part of you day, just cut back on volume. Rather than trying to resist finishing the last 25%, pour out the first 25%. These small adjustments will reduce the amount of self-discipline needed to keep you on schedule.
- Low Intake – If you’re drinking 1 can or less per day, you can try pouring the first 25% out or switch to the newer, small cans / bottles if available.
Week 3-4: Further Reduction
- Halfway Point: Aim to reduce your consumption to half of the original amount by the end of week 4. If this is too aggressive, adjust your schedule. Remind yourself that getting to the end goal slower is much better than never getting there.
- Mindful Drinking: Be conscious of when and why you’re drinking a soft drink. Reviewing your tracking log will likely be very revealing by this point. Are you drinking soft drinks purely out of habit, for energy, or with meals?
Week 5-6: Substantial Cutback
- Major Reduction: Cut down to 25% of your original intake. You may even be able to reduce the times per day you reach for that soft drink.
- Consider Alternatives: You may find it helpful to do a substitution at this point. Flavored water is great starting point and almost all brands come in aluminum cans.
Week 7-8: Minimal Intake
- Occasional Treat: After going through this process myself with soda, fast food, and coffee… I still consume them but much less frequently. Instead of a mindless habit or an essential part of my day, they have become an occasional treat. I’ve noticed a significant difference in how I feel and I’ve drastically reduced my environmental footprint.
- Reflect on Progress: Observe any positive changes in your health or energy levels, which can be motivating. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins!
The Economics of Divesting
You might find it amazing how much money you’ll save by reducing the number of bottled beverages you buy (check out my video here which covers the environmental and economic savings in this regard). You’ll also stop supporting companies that create single-use packaging.
Strategy 3: Use A Home Soda Machine
A machine that enables you to make your own soft drinks at home can be a more environmentally friendly option over time, depending on how many bottles you displace.
To evaluate the environmental impact of a home carbonation system versus single-use bottles, we need to consider several factors within the three main phases of their life cycle: production, usage, and disposal.
Home Carbonation System
- Production: Manufacturing a home carbonation system involves the production of the machine, reusable bottles, and carbon dioxide canisters. This process requires energy and resources but is a one-time environmental cost for the lifespan of the product.
- Usage: The primary environmental benefit comes from the reuse of bottles and the reduction in the need for single-use plastic bottles. The carbon dioxide canisters used in these systems are often refillable or recyclable.
- Disposal: At the end of its life, the carbonation machine and its components need to be disposed of. If not recycled properly, they can contribute to electronic and plastic waste.
- Production: The production of single-use plastic bottles is resource-intensive, involving the extraction and processing of petroleum products, significant water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. As detailed above, aluminum and glass have their own environmental impacts to consider.
- Usage: Single-use bottles, once used, contribute to waste and often end up in landfills or as litter, where they take hundreds of years to decompose.
- Recycling: While these bottles are recyclable, the recycling rate is relatively low. Recycling also requires energy and resources, and recycled materials often have downgraded quality.
- Resource Efficiency: The home carbonation system, over its lifespan, typically uses fewer resources per liter of carbonated water produced compared to single-use bottles.
- Waste Reduction: Home systems significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste generated.
- Carbon Footprint: The initial carbon footprint of manufacturing a carbonation system is higher, but over time, it becomes more environmentally friendly compared to the continuous production of single-use bottles.
While the upfront environmental cost of a home carbonation system is higher, in the long term, it is more environmentally friendly than the continual use of single-use bottles. This is due to reduced plastic waste, lower resource usage per use, and the potential for recycling components of the system. For individuals who consume carbonated beverages regularly, a home carbonation system could be a more sustainable choice.
For me, an important aspect of employing these strategies is that it sends a signal to friends, family, and companies. It shows each of them that we can live with less plastic and hopefully speeds up our transition to a more sustainable world.
If you have further tips on reducing plastic use, let us know by commenting or reaching out to us on one of our social media channels.