The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 16, 2008

My happy penguin soda maker!

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!)”

Yippee hurray!

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?) 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….

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5 years ago

I received my chrystal sodastream yesterday (also with glass bottles), I was a bit dissapointed to find that a company that advertises for a ‘plastic free world’ included so much plastic wrapping. Part of it was biodegradable, but surely cardboard would have been better. It also contained a lot of plasticy flyers, which IMO could have just as easily been provided via some sort of online resource.

Mr. Fizz
13 years ago

Well, I’m still working on my savings toward a $250 Penguin unit. In the meanwhile, I use a $30 Fizz Giz. The small hand held portable Fizz Giz soda maker and their special Fizz Giz caps lets consumers make their own delicious carbonated drinks in the same bottles you buy soft drinks in now – so the bottles are free. Amanda (above) has a point regarding counter space.

You can buy name brand soda syrups of your choosing just by dropping in at beverage distribution warehouses. Yep, Sunkist Orange, Coca Cola Classic, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, A&W Root Beer, Mtn Dew – all of them are available. You can even buy them at places like Sam’s Club. Your 12oz home made name brand drinks will cost you about 19-cents each. That’s not much more than a buck-a-six-pak. Compare that to $3.50 in grocery stores. If you like that, it means you’re in to saving money. So why spend $250 on a carbonator when you can get one for $30 that does the same thing and doesn’t take up counter space?

13 years ago

I am wondering which soda machine to buy. I see there are different types and designs, does it matter what I buy because eventually all make soda no?
Which one do you recommend? I plan to buy them from this site because they offer 10% discount on all soda makers and producs, it’s also money.

13 years ago

I want one so bad!! My family and I are vegitarians and very rairley use plastic products……we are getting alot better. We use glass jars left over from everything and go to antique markets and get antique tuperware. I love this site!!!

13 years ago

The penguin home soda maker is awesome. I love this machine. I havent bought soda at the store since I bought this machine. Love it!!!

14 years ago

Hi Beth,

Thank you for answering my questions.

I have since found out that Khols sells the kits. It is a way of making sure to get a complete kit from the start (by going into the store and personally picking up a box). It appears that the company (sodastreamusa) is sending out incomplete kits (without the carbonators. ) And it could be a month or more before receiving the carbonator(s).

I also found a store near my home where I can buy exchanges.

sodastreamusa has a list of distributors on their website.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi, Mary. Since this is an old post, you might not get answers from readers here. Why don’t you ask your question in the Discussion Forum:

and see if anyone responds. I have not had problems with this company, but then I haven’t tried to send back a cartridge yet. I don’t drink soda that often.

14 years ago

I’ve been doing research on this product and company and have visited several websites where people complain that the company provides unreliable service. I have read that it is impossible to get the carbonators even with the first order. I found a review as recent as September 2009 with this complaint.

Anyone know why this company is so unreliable? Can we expect that our appliance will eventually have to stay on our counter tops collecting dust or end up in the landfill because we can’t get replacement carburators?

I also visted William-Sonoma’s website and they are no longer carrying replacement carburators. I can’t help wonder that they also have a difficult time getting replacements.

Please, if anyone has any current information about this issue, get back to me. I was planning on placing an order firt thing tomorrow.
I don’t want to waste $200 on a product that will be useless in a few months.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi all. I still use the soda maker, and I still love it. I have not yet used up the first CO2 canister because I actually don't drink soda that often. But it's awesome for when I do, and when I have guests over who want some bubbles in their water.

James, the Penguin is the most expensive but I prefer it because it comes with glass carafes rather than plastic bottles.

14 years ago

Beth, how is the soda maker still serving you? how long does it last I love the concept of making your own soda. I saw them on, which model is the best one?

Cheap Like Me
15 years ago

Beth, do you still like this/think it’s environmentally preferable after a few months of use? I’m starting to develop my husband’s Christmas list … Thanks!!

Village Green
15 years ago

Awww — your new penguin is so cute, as are the kitties!

I love my soda club maker. My favorite summer time drink is to mix in grapefruit juice — I like the tang with the carbonation feel in the mouth and have never been a fan of sweet soda drinks. I generally charge up a bottle per day and have yet to run through the first tank. It’s been about three months that I’ve had it. Best of all, my recycle trash reduction is huge! Thanks, Beth for being such a dedicated advocate for improved ways of living with the least impact.

15 years ago

i love this machine! Personally i’m not a soda drinker, but my best friend loves seltzer so we got her the soda club for her birthday – she LOVES it and it makes us both happy that she doesn’t purchase seltzer in bottles or cans anymore (saving lots of packaging materials)…i would have definitely preferred to buy her the penguin with the glass carafes instead of the machine that comes with plastic bottles, but it was just too expensive. The exciting this was that another one of our friends also loves seltzer so when his birthday came around, a few of us chipped in and got him a soda club too – now he’s no longer purchasing plastic seltzer bottles either! These machines are a bit pricey, but if you get 2 or 3 people to chip in, they make a GREAT gift for soda/seltzer lovers! And I should add that the seltzer this machine makes is very tasty …like I said, I’m not much of a soda fan, but have to admit that even I really like how the plain seltzer tastes.

15 years ago

Soda bottles, and cups are my #1 consumption of plastic. I’ve often mused about buying a soda fountain for my kitchen, but they are too expensive. Maybe this is the answer…

15 years ago

I would like one of these, but I doubt anyone is going to be sending me one for free anytime soon. ::sigh::

I hope you keep us updated on any “recipes” you try and how much you use this contraption. I’d like to see if it would be worth having.

I do the same thing you do and buy the occasional glass bottled Whole Foods Italian Seltzer. The pear flavor is my favorite.

15 years ago

Oh man, my consumer lust is SO kicking in. Although there’s literally no counter-space left in my little kitchen. Thanks for the run-down!

15 years ago

A new kitchen thingy?!? *DROOL* I want one! Is arya confused by the penguin?

Not up to my ears in credit card debt.
15 years ago

My husband works at a fruit juice manufacturing facility on a piece of equipment called a distiller. Basically, it is his job to make fruit essence. They take all of the seeds, pulp, skin, etc. that is left after pressing the juice and runs steam through it which they then collect for the fruit essence. I don’t know all of the technical stuff, but we think that when flavored waters say they have real fruit but the ingredients just list natural flavors this is what they are talking about. Anyways, just thought I’d send that on. Enjoy your soda!