Reducing Beverage Containers

It is often forgotten that the first suggestion of the recycling triad is reduce, the second is reuse, and the third is recycle. Often folks just jump right to the end and recycle. Sometimes we back up a little and instead reuse, but we do not focus nearly enough on reducing. So, let's focus on reducing in relation to beverages and containers. By thinking ahead and using some of the following tips, you will be able to reduce the number of beverage containers you use.

The big ones are coffee, soda, juice/smoothies, water, and milk (including non-dairy milk). Think about the number of beverage containers you use in a given day, week, month, or year. Some of us use hundreds of beverage containers each year. Some of us use very few, but all of us can do better.

Consider that the only beverage necessary to maintain health is water. The rest are not necessities, just pleasant, tasty beverages. These beverage containers come in many forms, but mostly paper, plastic, Styrofoam™, glass, and metal. Metal and glass are the two easiest to recycle and can be recycled over and over again. Most paper beverage containers don't get recycled but are relatively easy to recycle. Plastic is difficult to recycle and uses almost two-thirds of the energy in the process as it would to make a new one. Approximately two-and-a-half million plastic bottles are used by folks in the U.S. every hour.1 Styrofoam™ cups, which folks use in the U.S. use at a rate of twenty-five billion each year, are just scary. 

Efforts are being made to make more compostable and recyclable beverage containers. Even if many of these containers are recyclable or compostable, and some of them actually get recycled or composted, we could avoid using many of them to begin with. So, let's do something to reduce our waste stream.  Every little bit helps.


Most of the folks I know have several coffee to-go mugs, yet end up with gas station and coffee shop cups on a regular basis. Most coffee shops and gas stations allow you to bring and fill your own mug. Some even give you a discount for doing so, as the Styrofoam™, paper cups, and plastic lids are a large cost to businesses.

Ways to reduce:

  • · consume less coffee
  • · bring your own mug to gas stations and coffee shops


Most of us can agree that soda is one of the least healthy beverage choices, yet so many folks in the U.S. purchase soda everyday.

Ways to reduce:

  • consume less soda
  • make your own soda
  • purchase soda at restaurants where it comes from a soda fountain
  • bring your own cup to gas stations and coffee shops for soda
  • choose cans over plastic bot

Juice and smoothies

The highly debated healthfulness of juice and smoothies does not equate to the overwhelming consumption of plastic they cause. Don't get me wrong—this is my weakest area, as I love fruit in all forms. But we can do better.

Ways to reduce:

  • consume less juice and smoothies
  • purchase juice concentrate instead of bottles
  • make your own juice and smoothies from fresh fruits and vegetables


As stated before, water is the only necessary beverage, but there is so much we can do to improve the way we consume it. Most people I know have several reusable water containers and still end up purchasing more or using single-serve water bottles.

Ways to reduce:

  • member to fill water bottles and put them in the refrigerator before you need to use them
  • have and mark one reusable water bottle for each person in your house
  • grab a water bottle before leaving the house every day

Milk (dairy and otherwise)

Packaging varies, depending on which type of milk you purchase. Although most of that packaging is recyclable, there are other options.

Ways to reduce:

  • purchase milk in reusable glass containers, like those available at the co-op
  • make your own almond milk
  • get milk from a whole coconut and use the rest of it as well
  • go paper over plastic for containers

So, reduce first, reuse when you are able, and always recycle what you can. Being conscious of our choices and actions will allow us to have smaller negative impacts on our environment.

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