Two years ago, as part of Global Exchange’s Economic Activism for Palestine project, I began to research settlement-free home carbonation devices to suggest to retailers and potential buyers as alternatives to the devices SodaStream manufactures in an illegal settlement on stolen Palestinian land. Originally the pickings were slim, but eventually I was able to assemble a page of suggestions. Since then, as products have come and gone, I have updated it several times, and last week I finished the major rewrite below, which takes account of the recent entry into the market of the most promising challenger yet – Cuisinart – and several other intriguing option.
If you’re involved in the growing grassroots campaign to boycott SodaStream, this document may be a useful resource; even if you’re not involved in organized boycott work, please keep a copy to share with anyone you know who may be tempted by SodaStream’s ever-expanding marketing. And send suggestions, corrections, and other feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The simplest alternative to buying a SodaStream machine is to drink plain water or other non-carbonated beverages – no one actually needs to drink bubbly water. And even if you like to do so on occasion, remember that you’ll have to consume quite a bit before you’ll realize any economic or environmental benefits from owning your own machine, compared to simply buying bottles at the grocery store. (Yes, plastic bottles are wasteful, but plenty of plastic, plus metal and other resources used for manufacturing and shipping, goes into each home machine, too.)
If, after making all those mental calculations, you’re convinced that buying your own machine makes sense, you still don’t have to go with SodaStream. Sure, for now it’s the best known and most widely distributed brand in its category, but there are several alternatives that offer similar convenience and potential savings – but aren’t manufactured in an illegal settlement on stolen land!
Four compelling alternatives, each with its own advantages, have reached the U.S. market in recent months:
• Cuisinart: The most exciting new development is the release of the Cuisinart Sparkling Beverage Maker. While other companies have previously offered solid alternatives to SodaStream, Cuisinart is the first with a well known and respected brand name and wide retail distribution. Priced at $99.95, the machine is in stock now at Bed Bath & Beyond retail outlets as well as Amazon, Cuisinart’s own online store, and other online outlets. It’s available in black, silver, or “metallic red” and comes with one 1-liter, BPA-free plastic bottle and a 4-oz. CO2 cartridge (enough to make up to 16 liters of soda, according to the company). You can exchange the cartridge for a full one ($10 at Bed Bath & Beyond) or buy extras at for $19.99; in the near future, Cuisinart also plans to offer exchangeable 16-oz. CO2 canisters that are compatible with the machine.
At this writing Cuisinart isn’t selling its own syrups or powder to flavor your soda, but its customer service department says a full line will be available soon. In the meantime, both Cuisinart customer service and at least some Bed Bath & Beyond retail staffers are recommending SodaStream’s flavorings, but you don’t have to you follow their advice – you can just add fruit juice, brew your own flavorings (start with these recipes), or try the flavor packs offered by two other recent entrants in the make-your-own-soda market , SodaSparkle and Pat’s Backcountry Beverages (see below).
• SodaSparkle: The new SodaSparkle is a different style of device compared to Cuisinart and SodaStream devices: it’s not a countertop appliance, but a smaller contraption, containing a single-use CO2 cartridge, that you screw into the bottle that comes with it to carbonate its contents. The company offers two starter kits on Amazon and on its own website: the standard one, priced at $50, includes the charger, a 1.3-liter BPA-free reusable plastic bottle, five single-use CO2 cartridges (each one good for one bottle of soda water), and 15 single-glass flavor packs; a $60 “deluxe” kit is identical except that it also includes a 1-liter bottle.
SodaSparkle’s CO2 cartridges are made of metal and therefore recyclable, but they are not reusable. A package of 50 additional cartridges costs $24.95 from the company’s own web store or $26.99 from Amazon. Third-party CO2 cartridges are cheaper, but SodaSparkle says you shouldn’t use them.
(The SodaSparkle device somewhat resembles an earlier product made by iSi called the Twist’n’Sparkle, which was recalled and discontinued when it was found that its bottle sometimes exploded during carbonation. SodaSparkle says its plastic bottles contain two pressure-release valves that ensure their safety.)
SodaSparkle markets its own line of “fresh, natural, sugar-free, and preservative-free” flavorings; instead of sugar, they are sweetened with sucralose, a non-caloric derivative of sucrose (the basic ingredient of the artificial sweetener Splenda). Current flavors are lemon, pineapple, apple, cola-lemon, tonic, and lychee; more are in the pipeline, according to the company. A package of 60 single-serve packets (for one glass of water) in assorted flavors is $22 from Amazon or $20 from the SodaSparkle site; boxes of 10 “flavor sticks” (each sufficient to flavor one bottle) in the flavor of your choice are around $20 from Amazon and $15 from SodaSparkle.
• Pat’s Backcountry Beverages: Based in Talkeetna, Alaska, Pat’s Backcountry Beverages has developed a carbonation system suited for (but not limited to) hikers who want bubbly water in the wild. Instead of CO2 cartridges, Pat’s eco2SYSTEM relies on a combination of food-grade potassium bicarbonate and citric acid powders to produce CO2: to make carbonated water, you fill a special .6-liter (20 oz.) plastic bottle with water, empty a packet of eco2ACTIVATOR (the powders) into the specially designed top, and shake.
A kit containing one bottle, six packets of eco2ACTIVATOR. and five samples of Pat’s flavor concentrates costs $40 plus shipping direct from Pat’s online store, through Amazon, or from several other online and brick-and-mortar suppliers of outdoor gear. Extra bottles are $27-$30, while 12-packs of eco2ACTIVATOR powder are $6, plus shipping.
Pat’s offers five preservative-free flavor concentrates – Ginger Trail, Lemon Clime [sic], PomaGranite, Terra Cola, and BearFooot [sic] RootBeer – made from natural cane juice. They come in packets designed to flavor 16 ounces of water. 12-packs of each are $34 plus shipping from Pat’s website.
• My Pop Old Fashioned Soda Shoppe: If you’re willing to put in a little bit of extra effort in order to go green and save money on carbonated drinks, consider a product called My Pop Old Fashioned Soda Shoppe from My Pop Soda of West Hills, CA. Priced at $75 and apparently available only by mail order from the company’s online store, it consists of seven plastic bottles, six of which are connected by a maze of tubes, clamps, and valves, all packed into a bright green shopping satchel.
The beauty of the Soda Shoppe is that you never need to worry about buying, filling, exchanging, or disposing of CO2 canisters – you make your own CO2! All you do is fill one or more of the six connected bottles with a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of baker’s yeast, and cold water, shake each one up, and wait as the yeast digests the sugar and produces CO2. Within a two or three days (depending on the number of bottles you filled and the ambient temperature), a gauge attached to the tubing will show that there’s enough pressure to begin carbonating your beverages. At that point you attach another bottle (the seventh one provided, or any standard screw-top glass or plastic beverage bottle) to the system, open a couple of clamps, and listen to the CO2 whoosh in. A single bottle of yeast, sugar, and water will generate enough CO2 to make 10 liters of soda a week, according to the product’s developer; if you need more, you can use up to four bottles to make CO2.
You do have to shake the bottle you’re filling for a minute or two to achieve good carbonation, and every month or so you have to take the system apart, rinse out the bottles and tubes, and start the process all over. That’s more work than the other products require. But in return you will save quite of money – the cost of the sugar and yeast comes out to only pennies per liter of liquid you carbonate; with the other products, you can spend 10 or 20 times as much for CO2. And from an environmental point of view, you’re making a one-time investment in plastic bottles, tubing, etc., but thereafter you won’t be using anything except sugar, yeast, and water.
• Mr. Butler’s Italia: Precious Products LLC of Garland, Texas markets a $90 countertop soda-making appliance called the Italia, made by Mr. Butler’s in Kerala, India. Unfortunately however, Precious Products markets flavorings from SodaClub, the parent company of SodaStream, for use with the Italia.
• Soda siphons: Several companies, including iSi, Liss, Mosa, Mr. Fizz, and Whip-It, make “soda siphons,” the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned seltzer bottle. The siphons are bottles or pitchers made of stainless steel, aluminum, or reinforced glass with a small CO2 charger attached. They are available, generally at prices between $40 and $80, on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as at Sur La Table and other kitchen stores. One disadvantage is that the small CO2 cartridges are single-use – you need a new one each time you refill the siphon, and they are not refillable. (Online, packages of 100 standard chargers start at about $35.)
• Fizz-Giz: If you want a lower-cost, U.S.-made alternative, consider the Fizz-Giz, a kit developed by a North Carolina tinkerer named Mike Harvell (a.k.a. Mr. Fizz). It consists of a banana-shaped charger “wand” and two special bottle caps, plus one single-use CO2 charger. You fill your own bottle (you can reuse a standard store-bought soda bottle), screw on one of the Fizz-Giz caps, put a CO2 cartridge into the wand, then insert the wand through the bottle cap and carbonate your beverage. The product sells for $28.75 on the Fizz-Giz site or $59.95 on Amazon (plus shipping in both cases).
• DIY: If you are so inclined, you can build your own carbonation system. Fizz-Giz’s Harvell has posted links to several sites that offer detailed instructions – go here and scroll down to “DIY References and Sources.”
• Home delivery: In a few places you can still get locally-made seltzer water delivered directly to your doorstep. In New York the Gomberg Seltzer Works of Canarsie, Brooklyn, supplies several home-delivery men. In California the Seltzer Sisters of Redwood City deliver throughout the Bay Area. And there are similar services in Toronto, Vienna, and Argentina.
Updates on older products:
• Primo Flavorstation: Primo Water Corp.’s Flavorstation 100 ($70) and Flavorstation 120 ($80), which were previously recommended here, are still available at the company’s online store, on Amazon, and possibly at some retail outlets, but Primo has announced that Cuisinart will take over sales and marketing of the devices, and Primo will supply CO2 cylinders for the Cuisinart appliances.
• iSi Twist’n’Sparkle. Earlier versions of this page recommended a product from iSi called the Twist’n’Sparkle system. Unfortunately, the product has been recalled and owners are instructed to stop using it immediately because, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “The plastic bottles can explode under pressure, expelling plastic parts, resulting in an injury hazard to anyone nearby.” For more information or return instructions, call 800-645-3595.