If you are lucky to have access to clean water (as I believe many people in Europe and North America do), tap water should be the drink of choice. It is cheap and healthy both for humans (admittedly depending on water source and household plumbing system) and environment – despite propaganda campaigns proclaiming otherwise.

I’m happy we switched back to tap water (after the issue taste difference was solved by gradually diluting), I really do. But I have to confess, since water tastes only of water (the tap water in Germany is not chlorinated like in the U.S.), I don’t drink enough of it and we use other beverages, too (especially me and my husband).

More and more schools in our area install bottleless water dispensers lately. Sometimes they provide only a little water “for emergencies”, sometimes enough flat and carbonated water for all kids to use freely (by using donations for maintenance). I’m glad that my children don’t have to haul all their beverages to school anymore. My husband also drinks sparkling water at work (last summer more than 4 liters a day due to insane room temperatures), but sadly from a bottle (at least a reusable PET bottle from a no-name local firm) and not from such a water dispenser (he don’t dare to suggest such a device at work). They have got a coffee maker (not really helpful in the summer), that’s it.

We drink tea for breakfast and dinner (and in between, too). Lately, we use nearly 70 percent organic tea and buy only organic milk and organic (100% fruit) juice (one of my sons likes his unsweetened fruit tea only  mixed with apple juice). I think that it tastes better, too, additional to avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

But if I want to do the right thing, both for the environment and the health of me and my family, I have to look at the bigger picture (like done here for ketchup) and try to consider all influences on the environment:

  • transportation (regarding production, but especially trading),
  • farming and storage efforts (like greenhouse or storage in a cool, carbon dioxide environment) and
  • packaging.

Did you know that, in the off-season, local apples are not better than apples from overseas – for the environment? The storage in cool, carbon dioxide environment is more damaging than the transportation per ship. The same applies if you have to use a heated greenhouse to cultivate fruits or vegetables in the off-season (or non-native species like bananas, if you don’t live in Iceland and use geothermal energy for heating). Peaches, however, have to be transported by plane, which is worse. Regarding organic milk, you have to consider the feed for the cow, too – it makes a big difference if the cow is pasture feed or gets (organic) soy or grain (even worse from far away). But if you go by car to a special farmer to buy your own apples (or milk), all deliberations to reduce your product carbon footprint were for naught (A summary of all these issues and more is here to be found – sadly only in German).

For all organic teabags I found, every single teabag is additionally covered in paper. I think it is to protect the content from contamination, but it is a lot of waste. I at least re-use this slips of paper for notes and shopping lists. Maybe I switch to loose tea, but then I have to use more water for cleaning or additional filter paper.

In Germany, milk and juices are traded in glass or PET bottles or cartons (milch bags aren’t available anymore). What to choose?

Glass bottles are easy to clean (with heat and without much chemicals) and are universally reusable (but sometimes the bottle is specifically formed and has to go back to a certain supplier). They would last one million years in the ocean, but collected separately they are invaluable to make new glass (true re-cycling). But they are heavy, thus making transportation (both empty and full) not really eco-friendly. I read that in Great Britain they are collecting too much green glass bottles to re-cycle them. To protect milk from UV light, the milk glass bottle has to be thicker or opaque. There are reusable or single-use glass bottles.

PET bottles can be cleaned (with intense chemicals since they don’t tolerate much heat) and refilled, but not as often as glass bottles. They need chemicals (DMDC) to be filled aseptic (instead of heat), too. When collected (and not increasing the ocean waste), they are shredded to PET flakes oder burnt. These flakes can be used as additives for new PET bottles (only a small amount), or they are sold to China to make into fibers for polyester sheets, fleece clothing or carpets. In 2009, 48,4 % of all European PET bottles were collected and re-cycled. Thereof, 40 % became fibers, 27 % plastic sheets, 22 % new bottles and 7 % plastic belts for parcels (Source). PET bottles aren’t gas tight. Most juice and milk PET bottles I found were only single-use. Reusable PET-bottles for both flat and carbonated water, however, are available.

Cartons are composite packaging, containing paper (only not recycled paper fibers are used), plastic and often aluminium (to protect the content from light and oxygen). There are technologies to recycle the cardboard-part, but the plastic and aluminium parts can only by down-cycled to Zement or burnt. Cartons are easy to storage and transport (especially empty), due to their shape and weight. There is no possible way to clean and refill a juice or milk box.

Our decision:

We are fortunate to live in an area with many apple orchards, vineyards and dairy farms. Some of them are organic, and around our village there are many Streuobstwiesen – that is an extensive meadow orchard with scattered fruit trees (normally tall-growing, traditional varieties of apples). In the next village there is even a small firm using these apples to make filtered and unfiltered (but pasteurized) organic apple juice (and other juices, partially made from concentrates from further away).

Therefore I walk to our local shop and buy those organic apple (and sometimes orange and grape) juices in reusable glass bottles. We like the unfiltered variety more. Sometimes my husband drives by car on his way home from work directly to that firm and buys an entire crate or takes the empty bottles back. But since I don’t know how far the milk in our shop had to travel, I decided to buy organic fresh milk in cartons instead of glass bottles. I read that cartons for short shelf life dairy products didn’t contain aluminium, thus my compromise. But if I could find organic milk from a nearby dairy farm (ideally only from pasture feed cows), I would buy their milk in glass bottles in our shop – not drive by car to buy them directly at the farm.