Warning: Contents in can may be more dangerous than they appear. We know soft drinks are bad for us nutritionally. The statistics show links between soda and obesity and nutritional deficiency; it’s just not good for our bodies. Between the artificial sweeteners, colors, additives and virtually no nutritional value, it falls far short of being something people should incorporate into their daily diets. Those statistics are out there, but is soda bad for the planet’s health too?
Americans just love soda. Since the 1970s, daily soft drink consumption has tripled. Americans now drink over 13 billion gallons of carbonated drinks each year. According to the National Soft Drink Association (NSDA), it averages out to around two 12-oz soft drinks each day for every man, woman and child in the US. With numbers that high, soft drinks have got to be doing something serious to our waist – and waste – lines.
Let’s start with some facts about soft drink containers. About 45 percent of Aluminum cans are recycled each year (down from 68 percent in 1992), 31 percent of PET plastic bottles, and 25 percent of glass bottles. And this is at the same time that consumption is increasing. To put it another way, 55 percent of soda cans are made from virgin aluminum, 69 percent from non-recycled (but recyclable) plastic, and 75 percent of bottles are made with new glass. We’ve got a lot of waste going on here, and not a lot of recovery. At the same time, these manufacturing processes are using immense amounts of energy and fresh water just to create the soda container.
And don’t forget the wrappers on the outside of bottles, the plastic 6-pack rings, the cardboard cases, the energy used to transport the products, etc. Then you’ve got your garbage from soda fountains (plastic straws, lids, unrecyclable cups). The list goes on.
Now, we’ll get to the good stuff, the reason we continue to drink soft drinks, the delicious, dangerous, and possibly addicting liquid inside. The first ingredient in soda is plain ‘ole water. In fact, it takes about 2.5 liters of water to make 1 liter of soda. In 2006 Coca-Cola alone used up 80 billion gallons of water for use in its manufacturing of soda (including the water used for the soda itself, the manufacturing process, and the growing of ingredients). I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m fairly sure developing nations would rather have that fresh water than the imported soft drinks.
And that’s not all. For each $500 spent on products related to soft drinks and ice manufacturing, 0.439 metric tons of CO2 equivalent are released into the air. Considering the US beverage manufacturing and bottling industry rakes in about $70 billion each year, and without doing any hard calculations, I think it’s safe to say the industry produces quite a bit of carbon emissions.
Interestingly, with the help of Carbon Trust, PepsiCo has created a carbon footprint labeling system for its Tropicana orange juice, and has plans to release the carbon footprint of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Gatorade.
Soft drinks are a processed beverage, and anything that has undergone processing releases toxins, uses energy, and creates waste. If you must drink soda, choose the lesser evil – bottles that offer multiple servings can help minimally reduce some small amount of waste. And always recycle. Check http://www.nrc-recycle.org/ for more information about recycling.
In America, between 10 and 20 percent of the food we purchase ends up in our landfills. And no, landfills don’t work as giant compost piles. Without light and air, the food in landfills just becomes putrid and releases methane gas. We live in a society where it’s acceptable for people to throw away and waste food while others down the road go hungry.
Wasting the food we buy is also a huge drain on our wallets. Estimates say the average family throws away around $600 worth of fruit, vegetables, meat and other perishables, and around 14 percent of their food purchases.
It’s not only our money that is being wasted. When we throw away fruits, meats, and vegetables we are also wasting the resources it took to produce the food; grains, soy and corn to feed the animals, fertilizer for the plants and trees, and water. We are also wasting the energy and pollution it cost to produce and then transport those foods, and the nutrition that could have gone to someone who needed it.
There are many ways we can reduce this highly wasteful behavior that accounts for 18 percent of our landfills and more than 30 million tons of solid food waste.
Here are a few simple tips:
Go out to eat less. Since you have no control over portion size at a restaurant, a lot of food gets wasted with every order. You could try ordering smaller portion sizes – like half orders or split something with whoever you’re dining with. And if you can’t finish your meal, you can always take it home. Even if you won’t eat it, maybe someone else in your household will. That’s why they call them doggie bags!
Shop smart. Make a list before you go, and plan your purchases ahead. If you usually do a big shopping once a week, plan out your meals for the week and only buy things you know you will use. If you aren’t good at planning ahead, go shopping more frequently and buy less. That way, you’ll only buy things you know you need and are going to use.
Check your cupboards before making your list. Often you may have some of the ingredients in the cupboard or freezer that you could use. It’s also a good way to come up with some inspiration for new recipes and use up what you have rather than buying more.
Check the expiration dates when you're at the store on the items you buy and be sure that you choose foods with a farther away expiration date if you know you aren’t going to use it right away.
When you get home from the store, always practice “first in, first out.” Put the new food in the back and bring the older foods to the front to ensure that you bring out and eat the foods that went in first. Plus, no one likes to deal with that rotten ,unidentifiable thing someone forgot in the back of the fridge.
Use your food creatively: You can turn your leftovers into an entirely new meal if you think ahead. Rather than dousing all those vegetables with sauce, have the condiments on the table, so you can use the unflavored vegetables in a different recipe. Serve smaller portions on each plate to reduce the amount of food taken and then not eaten, since you don’t want to save plate scraps as leftovers. Even if it’s just a small amount, you can probably use or eat it later.
Try cookstr.com or your favorite recipe site to search recipes by ingredients. Have leftover tofu and brussel sprouts? Input the ingredients and you’ll get new recipes and new ways to use the food you have.
Have a weekly ‘leftover dinner’: This is good for families who had several different meals during the week. Designate one night as leftover night, put everything out and everyone can eat what they want. Live alone? Invite your friends to a leftover potluck!
Sharing IS caring: One of the smartest ways we can stop from wasting food is to share with others. If you are making a big meal, bring some to your neighbors. If you have cans and non-perishables in the back of your pantry that you aren’t going to use, donate them to your local food bank.
Don’t just let it sit there: If you buy something and only use a small portion of it right away, freeze the rest before it goes bad. Buying wholesale can save families money, but only if they get full use out of what they buy. If you live alone, use these same practices on foods that come prepackaged in larger amounts, like bread, for example. Freeze your bread right away and when you want it, take out a few slices and let them defrost when you know you’ll eat it. This will prevent mold, and save you money from buying a loaf of bread each week only to eat five pieces.
And for one more reason to stay diligent, think about this: food that’s left out not only goes bad and gets wasted, but it can also attract bugs!
In the summer when there is an abundance of fresh produce, don’t buy it just to let it go bad. You can still cook vegetables that are wilting in stir-frys, soups or casseroles. Or you can learn how to can or preserve fruits and vegetables to have them all year.
Always think of another way: Stale bread or crackers? Leave it out on your lawn for the birds or go feed it to local ducks. Get creative and make the most use of what you buy.
Angella M. Trout CNC, RA
As a Nutritional Consultant and Lifestyle Coach I am passionate about teaching others about total balance in health and spirit. As a real life person with real life struggles.