Green Beverages

January 30, 2009 Updated: January 30, 2009

When we humans consume various forms of sustenance, we often imbibe some form of beverage to wash the food down. We also consume beverages because we’re thirsty, when there’s no meal to speak of. We might like to have something to drink with that midday or midnight snack, or simply enjoy sipping our favorite drink throughout the day or when we relax after a long day’s work.

Whatever the case, we all drink liquids to a greater or lesser extent every day. If you start to do the math, the amounts are staggering. For those of us who are striving to live green, the question arises as to which beverages are the most environmentally friendly.

Of course, just like with regular food, many factors are to be taken into account. From the green perspective, specifically, we are looking at options that are healthy for the environment, not the human body. But to our advantage, the vast majority of lifestyle alternatives we adopt to live green usually end up being beneficial to our personal health as well.

For beverages, there are two main categories: alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Generally speaking, alcoholic beverages are less green because carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. This is not to say that if we compared the entire span of production of certain non-alcoholic beverages to alcoholic ones, we would find that they are always less damaging to the environment than the alcoholic ones. But, because of this generality, we will focus solely on non-alcoholic beverages.

When selecting a green beverage, important things to consider are how many resources were consumed in the beverage’s production and packaging, how many resources were consumed in the transportation of the beverage from where it was produced to you, and how much waste was generated through the consumption of this beverage.

Because there are just simply too many factors to consider when trying to determine which beverage is greener, due to having to trace the entire production sequence of every product on the market or those that are homemade, it’s very difficult to name one product as being the most green. However, there are several things you can consider every time you have a drink so that you can reduce negative effects on the environment which would otherwise be caused.

One would think that the obvious answer to question of which beverage is greenest should be simple. Isn’t water the best choice? The answer is yes and no. Theoretically speaking, water should be the greenest. It only requires purification and/or filtration, and then you drink it. However, there are some important things to bear in mind when choosing water. It may be the best choice for some reasons and one of the worst for others.

For example, if you drink mostly water all the time, the entire purpose is defeated if you buy cases of water packaged in plastic bottles. The water itself is good, but not the plastic bottles. If you recycle the plastic bottles, then it’s not so bad. But, is there a better way?

If you carry a thermos, canteen, or your own container to refill, that may be much better than using disposable containers. For example, although plastic bottles may be recycled, there were still many resources that went into the production, the filling, the packaging, and the recycling of those bottles, which could have otherwise been conserved if people used refillable containers.

Water comes right out of the tap, so by using refillable containers, you can refill any number of containers from home endlessly, as long as there is a constant water supply. (Since this is an article about living green, we will not get into the politics of water supply and demand, but rather stay focused on individual decision-making.)

The same would then apply to anything we drink. As with water, drinks that can be produced at home and placed into refillable containers are the best choices for living green because minimal resources are consumed in the production, packaging, and transportation of such beverages, and there is minimal if any waste produced. The next best option would be to select items packaged in recyclable or biodegradable packaging—ideally, items produced locally and/or organically.

Besides water, what are some drinks that can easily be made at home and placed into refillable containers? Common beverages include coffee, tea, fruit and vegetable juices, shakes, smoothies, and flavored waters.

Beverages that aren’t so common among homemade drinks—such as soda, cola, or root beer—can also be made in your kitchen, although the processes are much more involved and time consuming. If you really love your soda pop, there are many instructional guides, recipes, and kits available for making your own homemade sodas or colas. Although this form of home-brewing may not be as popular as making your own beer or wine, if you give it a try you may find that the end product is far superior in taste and quality, and of course, eco-friendliness, than anything you can buy in the store.

Maybe you like to grab a drink while you're on the go. Maybe you want to live green, but you don’t have the time to prepare drinks at home, or you just really like that drive-through coffee or soda pop. When you’re on the go, refillable containers still work. Just about every place you can think of to buy a hot or cold beverage will be happy to fill up your reusable container.

With drinking green or eating green, there are many options. Some are easier and cheaper to pull off than others. Whenever you are in doubt about the "greenliness" of your behavior, whether it's eating, drinking, or whatever, always remember the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Especially in selecting beverages, we can reduce the amount of waste and resources produced in making the products we drink by making our own beverages at home or consuming items produced as close to home as possible, using reusable and refillable containers whenever possible, and selecting beverages packaged in recyclable containers—and recycling them. By doing all these things, we can keep our thirsts quenched while keeping our green consciences relaxed.