One Diet Coke & the Environment: How Bad Can It Be?

Friday, March 12, 2010

by Jennifer Grayson, HUFFINGTON POST, February 10, 2010

dreamstime_11161081 When it comes to going green, image counts for a lot. You may have just outfitted your entire house with solar panels, but order up one diet soda to go with your sprout-topped double veggie burger, and all of a sudden your eco-conscious friends think you’re a junk food-loving slob. I’m hyperbolizing of course, but it does call to mind the paradoxical (yet all-too-common) image of the weight-conscious American hitting up the drive-thru: I’ll take a double cheeseburger, large fry, and a Diet Coke, please! That’s probably why my environmental consultant friend apologizes every time we lunch and she orders up a diet pop, as she calls it. She knows it looks bad, but like you, she just can’t help herself.

I’m not one to harshly judge such eco-vices; even the most dedicated environmentalists among us have at least one (mine: Pantene conditioner), and an occasional indulgence in a diet soda isn’t likely to break the global warming bank. But if you’re drinking at least one a day, you might be surprised to know that there are some interesting environmental ramifications for your beloved beverage — aside from the already well-publicized negative ones regarding your health, like increased risk of weight gain and a decline in kidney function.

While the arguments below may also apply to other beverages packaged in bottles and cans (e.g., regular soda and bottled water), let’s, for argument’s sake, give exhibit A — Diet Coke — a thorough eco-examination.

The aspartame: Likely genetically modified, since it’s made using a fermentation process involving corn and soy, two of the biggest GM crops. Switching to regular Coke won’t get you off the hook, either (at least not in the United States), since the sweetener used — high fructose corn syrup — is made from genetically altered corn. Think you’re only polluting your own body? A study last year by German researchers found that artificial sweeteners may be contaminating our drinking water, since sewage treatment plants don’t seem to be effective at removing them from waste water.

The plastic bottle: Twenty-five percent recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), 75 percent good old-fashioned fossil fuel-based plastic. The bottled water industry gets a bad rap (deservedly so) for the 17 million barrels of oil a year used to produce its plastic bottles, but let’s not forget that your 20-ouncer of DC is packaged exactly the same way. Or that Coca-Cola also owns Dasani. [Read rest of story]

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