Almost every beverage you could possibly buy is sold in plastic. Milk, soda, juices, bottled coffee, water, everything. Plastic is technically recyclable though, so what’s the big deal?

Only about 8 percent of plastic actually gets recycled, and of that 8 percent, very little is used to make more bottles. Typically, plastics are converted into other products that eventually end up in the landfill anyway.

Back in the good old days, most drinks were sold in glass bottles (most commonly milk). That was before plastic was discovered as a cheaper alternative in the 1960’s. Before then, plastic made up only about 1 percent of the municipal solid waste stream. Now, that number is up to 12 percent.

glass bottles

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Not only is plastic trash just ugly, it also threatens wildlife on land and in the ocean. Plastic is not easily degraded; it only breaks down into smaller chunks. Those smaller pieces are then able to travel more quickly and cause more issues, especially in the ocean. It is estimated that about 10 percent of plastic ends up in our oceans.

Once it is in the water, fish and other sea creatures are bound to consume it. Plastic can then be passed through the food chain back to us.

Although most plastic bottles no longer contain the dangerous chemical BPA, almost all drinks are bottled in PET, which may or may not leach carcinogens.

Of course, many drinks that are sold in bottles are also sold in aluminum cans (even wine now!). Are those any better?

glass bottles

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Aluminum is much more easily recycled than plastic, but it comes with a price. When aluminum is melted, several toxic chemicals such as aluminum oxides, metallic aluminum, carbides, nitrides, sulfides and phosphides are released into the air, all of which are toxic to organisms.

Plus, the machinery used to recycle aluminum uses fossil fuels that harm buildings, plants, and people.

So, we are left with glass as our best option. It takes less energy for glass to be recycled, and industry experts estimate that up to 80 percent of recycled glass ends up as new glass containers. Plus, I think we can all agree that everything just tastes better in a glass bottle.

glass bottles

Photo by Emily Hu

What should you do now? First, start with plastic water bottles. Stop using them. We already know that S’well bottles are awesome, so go out and get one, or just stick to a mason jar.

As for other beverages, start buying the old-fashioned sodas in glass bottles that are made with real sugar. You can find them almost anywhere now, and they taste a thousand times better than regular sodas.

Glass is definitely catching on with other beverages too, from cold-brew coffee to fruit sodas like Izze. Oberweis also sells its milk in glass bottles (just like the good old days), and while it can be more expensive, you can also return the bottles for a small refund in many states. Everybody wins.