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SodaStream attacks plastic, but is it fair?

By: Don Loepp

January 3, 2013

Around the holidays, I noticed TV ads for SodaStream International Ltd. -- the company that makes machines that allow consumers to make carbonated soft drinks at home.

The ads, in part, play up SodaStream's supposed environmental benefits, namely that they reduce the use of PET bottles.

But is that criticism fair -- or is this a case of greenwashing?

A former colleague sent me a note recently that prompted me to take a closer look at the issue.

He pointed out that the "environmental report" on SodaStream's website focuses only on a reduction in the number of PET bottles used -- it does not compare the total environmental impact of SodaStream vs. supermarket-purchased soft drinks.

The company assumes that reducing PET consumption -- and the cost of shipping the bottles full of soda -- outweighs the environmental impact of its machine, including the 90 gas canisters it will use over its lifetime.

However, the company hasn't done any research -- like a lifecycle analysis -- to prove the advantage.

In the United Kingdom, SodaStream has been banned from running the "Set the bubbles free" TV ads. (see "SodaStream turns to print ads to criticize plastic waste")

That's not the case in the United States, however. In fact, SodaStream is planning an ad on this year's Super Bowl broadcast slated to run in the fourth quarter, "when people are most likely to notice the growing piles of bottles and cans strewn about the room and filling up their trash."

Will this have any real impact on public attitudes about plastics? I'm tempted to say no -- America's love affair with carbonated soft drinks is pretty entrenched.

But remember that in 2012, we saw a town ban PET water bottles ("Concord bottle ban OK'd"). Environmentalists and politicians in places like San Francisco are already talking about taking similar action.

With companies like SodaStream urging on the critics, consumers may need to be reminded of PET's strong recycling record.