Back in October, I wrote about the Penguin soda maker from SodaStream. It seemed like a great way to have soda without all the plastic bottle waste. I won’t go into the full details again. Please read my original Penguin post here. At the time, there were two drawbacks to the machine: the price (over $200) and the disposable plastic flavor sample packs that came with it. So I put it out of my mind until a few weeks ago, when temperatures in Oakland hit the 90’s and all of us without air conditioning were melting. “Wow,” I thought. “I sure could use a cold one.” In fact, I went out and bought a bottle (glass) of Italian soda at Whole Foods, something I rarely do because I just don’t want to contribute to the environmental impacts of shipping water.
So I was thrilled and surprised a few days later to receive an email from Kristin Harp of SodaStream offering to send me one. She had read my blog post about the Penguin and had also, that very day, read a CNet News story about the Take Back The Filter campaign, and as she wrote, “The stars seem to be aligning for us today! For some reason, your name has come across my inbox twice today…. If you’re still interested, I’d be pleased to send you a Penguin (without the plastic sample pack, of course!)”
The Penguin arrived while the hot days were still sweating us out. In no time we were breaking that box open and putting the Penguin to use. I wrote to Kristin with some follow-up questions about the Penguin and its packaging. Here are my questions, her answers, and photos of what’s inside the box.
Beth: Thanks for using paper and cardboard packaging instead of plastic and Styrofoam. I’ve taken pictures of the packaging for my story. My question is whether that is the way all your products are packaged and shipped or if it was done specially for me. I’d like to be able to tell my readers that they can depend on receiving no plastic packaging if they place an order.
Kristin: We always use cardboard overpack and paper stabilizing material, so your package was no different from any other we ship out, with one exception – there is usually a plastic bag wrapped around the machine itself inside the box. It’s there to protect against scratches that can occur in the packing process. It’s a fully recyclable PE-LD bag (recycling #4) but not everyone has access to a full range of recycling options…
Even so, SodaStream is very keen on increasing our eco-friendliness as much as possible. If someone ordered a machine and wrote to support asking for special packaging consideration for the sake of the environment, we would do our best to accommodate the request.
An insider’s tip: The best thing to do would be to send a message to SodaStream with a copy of the order confirmation, with any special instructions. The support emails are answered by real and actual humans, so you’ve got a better shot this way than using the ‘special instructions’ area of the order form, which is mostly read by the computer…
Beth: I appreciated the way the Penguin is packaged inside its box too, without Styrofoam. The only plastic [packaging] was the carrying handle. I’m wondering if that handle is necessary. Maybe the boxes could be completely plastic-free?
Kristin: In other SodaStream countries, we do a lot of business in retail stores…even in the US , we do some cash-and-carry at state fairs, home shows, etc. The handle on the box keeps the cashier from having to supply additional bags for carrying the product around. In its way, the handle actually reduces packaging, since you have only the handle and not an entirely unnecessary extra bag. I wonder, though, if the handle could be made from another material (twine?), or some kind of bio-resin that would serve the same purpose. I will definitely put it in the ‘green team’ suggestion box!
Beth: I also appreciated the fact that I could receive the Penguin without the extra syrup bottles. When I originally called the company for information, I was told that the syrup bottles came with it and that they could be removed before shipping, but they’d just be thrown away. I’m wondering if this policy has changed now and if no syrup is an option that others can request.
Kristin: People can order a ‘seltzer lovers’ kit (as opposed to a ‘soda lovers’ kit) that does not include the large-size [500ml] syrups. However, the ‘portion packs’ — the trial-size syrups — automatically come with ALL of the packages that are sold on the web, including the seltzer lover’s kits. I honestly hate the packaging for these; it’s easily the least eco-friendly thing about the whole system.
You can of course place a special request with customer support after making an order…and as above, we will do our best to accommodate the request. I can assure you, in any case, we would never throw out a perfectly usable set of portion packs unless there were something visibly wrong with it (like it’s leaking, or past its best-by date or something.)
Beth: Can you tell me more about the new flavor essences? You said that they come in glass bottles rather than plastic. That’s great. Do you have information about what ingredients are in them? On the web site, it just says “natural flavors.”
Kristin: They are not sweet and they are wonderful! I love seltzer with a squeeze of lemon – but hate that the cut-up lemon gets all slimy in the fridge and has to be thrown out before I can use the whole thing. Not an issue with MyWater – they’re shelf-stable for a year. MyWater is all-natural flavor essence with no added sugar or sweeteners. I know – ‘natural flavors’ is not that helpful as an ingredient…but it’s very similar to buying an essential oil – you’re getting the essence of whatever fruit, spice or leaf, in an oil base. Same kind of thing with MyWater. It is made by an evaporation process, during which most of the acidity is taken out. This is why the flavor tastes slightly sweeter than just biting into a lemon or lime in its fruit state. There is nothing – not even juice – in MyWater besides the natural flavorings made from the fruit. It’s slightly viscous, due to the natural presence of citrus oils in the peels, which are concentrated during the flavor extraction. I’d be happy to send you some if you’re interested (but I should warn you the glass bottles have small plastic caps…)
Beth: Do you know who came up with the idea to make the machine look like a penguin?
Kristin: The designers set out to make something very design-oriented and contemporary that used a glass bottle. The more they worked on it, the more Penguin-like it became. It wasn’t until the block models were made that we actually even thought about calling it a Penguin…but how could you call it anything else??
[On second glance, it's really more of a backwards penguin, isn't it? Ahh... the power of suggestion and creative marketing!]
Beth: Where are the soda makers manufactured?
Kristin: All SodaStream products are made in Israel . We will be starting our own CO2 filling facility in the US within the next 3-6 months, which should cut down considerably on transport miles for us – yay!
Beth: Do you have statistics about the number of plastic bottles saved each year by SodaStream soda makers?
Kristin: The US is clearly the 800-pound gorilla on the world soda packaging scale, with American’s consuming some 200 liters of soda per capita each year (staggering, no?) Container-recycling.org estimates we use in the neighborhood of 675 beverage containers per capita annually in the US. Even if an average SodaStream family of 4 makes just half of their carbonated drinks with the system, it’s a savings of some 1500 packages per household each year.
Thanks so much, Kristin and SodaStream. Here’s some more info about the machine and company:
1) Yes, the body of the Penguin is made of hard plastic. But compared to the number of plastic soda bottles saved, I think it’s worth it.
2) The CO2 cartridges are metal and are returned to SodaStream or to an authorized retailer to be refilled. They come with a little plastic seal around the neck. There’s also a plastic cap which I intend to return along with the cartridge.
3) The soda maker powers itself from pressure inside the CO2 cannister. No batteries or any other source of power are needed.
4) The Penguin is pricey. SodaStream does make other, less expensive, soda makers; however these come with large plastic bottles for containing the soda rather than the Penguin’s glass carafes.
5) I’m going to try a bottle of “flavor essence” and see what I think. (It comes in a glass bottle with a plastic cap.) In the meantime, I use a little frozen juice concentrate to add some flavor without much sweetness. I’m also thinking about ice cream sodas. Mmmmmmmmm….
03/10/2012 Disclosure: SodaStream is now an advertiser on this site. If you decide to buy a soda maker, please consider purchasing via a link on this page. A portion of the proceeds will go to support the work of MyPlasticFreeLife.com.