Sports Drink Energy Footprint
Country: United States
Date: March 2009
Is it better for the environment to buy
sports drinks in a bottle, or the powdered product?
On one hand, buying the drink mix and mixing it
yourself saves a plastic bottle and shipping of
water, but on the other hand, is the process of
making the powder more resource-intensive than the
process of making the bottled drink and shipping it?
I suppose the most environmentally-friendly option is not to buy the
sports drink in the first place, since they are really of very
But to your question: Most of the ingredients in a sports drink are
solid in the first place. These drinks contain mostly just sugar, as
well as very small amounts of several different salts, and some
colorants... all of which are solids to begin with. Therefore it seems
clear that selling the drink as powder in a foil pouch, is far more
environmentally smart choice if one must use a sports drink at all.
One way to answer your question is to look at the cost of the product to get
an idea of its environmental footprint. Pre-mixed bottled drinks cost much
more than the powders, so it is a good bet that they have a greater
'footprint'. In this case, the pre-bottle drinks cost more due to
substantially greater transportation costs. If it were highly
resource-intensive to make the powders, that would be reflected in their
pricing; mixing powders is actually a very simple and inexpensive process.
Hope this helps,
Sport drinks are typically water plus some sweeteners (often high fructose corn
syrup which is an artificially created sweetener) and perhaps some sodium, potassium,
vitamins, etc. This sweetener, which is wildly used in the US, is the subject of
some controversy about its impact on human health. Water quenches the thirst while
the sugar in the drink helps feed the muscle and delay fatigue if one is engaged in
a heavy workout. For moderate workouts, water is all that is needed, and besides, one
can add a little sugar if desired.
In as far as the environment impact is concerned, perhaps it is best to carry the
powder and mix it up with water as needed to avoid costs (fuel, pollution, bottle
production, bottling, etc.) associated with transporting what is largely packaged
water. Furthermore, disposal of plastic bottles, whether into a landfill or in a
recycled plant, has some environmental impact. Most components of the power mix
are originally in powder form, and my sense is that high fructose corn syrup liquid
can be easily dried and added to the powder mix. So, if one has access to clean
water, it seems better to carry the powder and mix as needed.
Some argue that sport drink is largely a fad and (except for people involved in long
or strenuous workout or physical exertion) clean tap water is a superior choice for
one's health and environmental impact.
Ali Khounsary, Ph.D.
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Update: June 2012