Kombucha: Final Chapter

Sorry for the long silence! It's certainly not been for lack of topics - only lack of free time! I have much catching up to do. First order of business - a brief commentary on the reply I received from GT's Kombucha about what happens to their used glass beverage bottles after consumers return them to Whole Foods.

I had been hoping that they wash and re-use their bottles, but it turns out they truck them to a recycling center - which customers could have done in the first place.

Now, I don't want to give off the impression that I've been all worked up for months over the practices of a relatively small and local company that is only a drop in the bucket that is the modern consumption and waste cycle.

The company stated that they "are not able to reuse the bottles because of the amount of processing that is involved to sterilize the bottles again." It's not clear to me what makes the "amount of processing" prohibitive. It could be because they lack the equipment or facilities to do it themselves. Perhaps they use a third party bottling facility who isn't willing to sterilize used bottles for only one of their customers. Perhaps they are concerned about wasting water and energy, and somehow making and sterilizing new bottles isn't as resource-intensive as washing used ones (this logic is a stretch). Who knows...

In any case, I don't mean to single out GT's Kombucha as the epitome of evil, wasteful practices by any means. I just think the situation is just symptomatic of a larger problem in our culture. Think of all the everyday things that come in glass jars or bottles - wine, beer, iced tea, mayonnaise, pickles, apple sauce, salad dressings... etc. Glass containers are so commonplace, most people are probably oblivious to the type of packaging an item comes in. We're quite used to a way of life where glass containers are emptied, then recycled or thrown away.

In the 20th century, and in the modern day in many places outside of the US, glass is re-used, not just recycled (or trashed). Think about the drinking glasses you use at home. Can you imagine recycling or throwing away your drinking glasses after just a handful of uses? They are the same material and shape as glass food and beverage containers - just marketed differently.

A big part of the problem is that we don't have much of an incentive to re-use food and beverage containers. At best, we get a few cents back for taking them to a recycling center. We no longer see the value of the glass material itself, because we don't pay much for it upfront. Until consumers are presented with more of a financial incentive (or penalty), it will be difficult to get people's attention and encourage an attitude shift toward the life-cycle of glass containers.

In the meantime, there are changes we can make in our individual habits that aren't too difficult. As I've mentioned before, recycling is only one of the "three Rs", and it's the last resort after reducing and reusing. Focusing on reducing not only lessens packaging waste, but also helps save money, and possibly your waistline as well! I try to buy bottled drinks such as Kombucha or ice tea only sparingly. I also cook from scratch as much as possible and make things such as pesto at home instead of buying it from the store.

I haven't been able to avoid buying food in glass jars altogether, but when I do, I wash and save the containers. Glass is so versatile and durable. It is dishwasher-safe, and unlike with plastic, there is no concern about BPA or other chemicals leaching into food or drinks. And unlike metal containers, you can easily see what's inside without opening them!

Along with a few "fancy" glass food canisters that I've purchased, my pantry contains a collection of re-used glass containers that house bulk herbs and spices that originally came in thin plastic bags. My spice jars may not look uniform, but they do the job quite well!

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