The Other Guilty Pleasure

No doubt you’ve been reading online, and even in the mainstream press, of the impact of bottled water and the merits of city tap water. Obviously the impact is profound. From the resources used to make the bottles, to the resources needed to ship it all around the world and all this for a product that is only slightly better than the (nearly) free stuff that flows from the faucet in your own home. But while examining my beverage lifestyle I’ve discovered a far darker guilty pleasure.

What weighs more than three fully loaded 747s, is a nice chilly 35F degrees and consumes as much power in one year as nearly one million U.S. households? That chilled soda pop you just bought from a vending machine.

Based on the information I found from a few quick searches here are the statistics. There are right around three million soda vending machines in the U.S. Each holds between 400-500 cans of soda and consumes between 2,500-4,000 kWh of electricity per year. The math is pretty easy: three million times thee thousand kWh comes out to nine billion kWh or 9,000 gigawatts. This of course for the off chance that you’re thirsty for one of the 1.2 billion cans of soda being stored at 35F degrees.

Big numbers but let’s give ourselves some way to appreciate what’s going on here. If stacked on top of one another, 1.2 billion cans of soda would be over 89,000 miles high - or over a third of the way to the moon. But the real killer is the power. The average U.S. household annually uses 9,400kWh of electricity. This means in our quest for convenience, soda vending machines consume the same electricity as just over 950,000 households. Wow. Now of course if you do even a modest amount of research, you will find lots of cost and power savings products designed to lower this impact (primarily sold as cost savings by the way to the owner of the machine). But even if it were 1/2 that number it’s still astounding.

I won’t even spend the energy to document the health, “canned” water, recycling and land-fill impacts of the sugar, chemicals and cans we move all this flavored water around in.

So tonight when you’re lying in your bed ready to fall asleep, rest comfortably knowing there’s plenty of cold soft drinks out there; at the office, outside your local library, at the school down the street, outside the car wash, at the soccer field, and on and on…