So here’s a frequent conundrum I’ve encountered while on long road trips.  You stop for gas and hit the restrooms inside while you’re filling up the tank.  It’s that weird time at the middle-of-the-day when it’s too late for lunch and too early for dinner, but browsing the colorful, deliciously artificial snacks, you can’t help but grab a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, maybe something deep-fried and greasy.  And with your snacks, you’ll need something to drink, too.

We’ve already touched before  on how harmful for the environment plastic bottles are.  For those who don’t want to click through, a typical soda bottle requires two gallons of water to produce.  The natural solution is to carry a reusable bottle with you so you don’t have to buy the disposable ones, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s say you’re not prepared but deeply thirsty, and you’re going to buy something.  What should you get?

When I need to buy a drink in a disposable container, I tend to go for aluminum cans.  I’m partial to canned tea, but soda and beer (not for drivers, though) also typically come in cans.  A kilo of aluminum needs 88 liters to produce  and your typical aluminum can contains just under 15 grams of aluminum.  That breaks down to 1.31 liters of water per can, or a third of a gallon.

While they’re not widespread, water is being sold in cardboard cartons now.    41 liters of water are needed per kilogram of cardboard  and while I couldn’t find the weight of water cartons, a milk carton (which is very similar) weighs one ounce  That means 1.1 liters, or .3 gallons of water per carton.

Ultimately, we still have to come down on the side of reusing your bottles, since their footprint will always be zero.  However, when that’s not an option, cardboard cartons or aluminum cans are a fairly healthy alternative.  Just make sure to recycle the packaging once you’re done!