Soylent's Environmental Impact


Rob has been pretty adamant about the environmental benefits of Soylent and how it’s adoption can limit environmental impact.

From this interview:

Also, agriculture has a huge impact on the environment, and this diet vastly reduces one’s use of it.

From this interview:

Soylent can be produced at a very low cost with minimal environmental impact.


Soylent is part of the technology that will make us healthier and ease food’s burden on humanity, and the environment.

From this AMA, when asked about what we can expect from Soylent:

Better taste, better texture, better nutrition, lower environmental impact

…etc… (there are several more instances, but you get the picture)


So, my question is, does the introduction of plastic bottles as a means of transporting Soylent run counter to this? Will the environment be impacted negatively due to this?

(It is very possible that the answer to both of these is “no”, but I would just like to hear a reasoned argument why.)

Soylent 2.0 vs. Ensure Plus

Maybe (and I’d love for someone with actual knowledge, unlike me, to chime in), but it might be difficult to compare the impact of (for example) Soylent 2.0’s use of algae instead of rice to the impact of it coming in plastic bottles.

The former presumably mostly affects land and water use, whilst the other I guess is more about energy use in transport and recycling, and maybe whatever environmental harm is caused by plastics production.


That is true, and it might be a hard comparison to make since there are likely different parts of the environment affected by the different processes.

I am glad to see that the plastic bottles are recyclable. I suspect that a lot of them will end up in landfills, nonetheless. Also, I am not sure how bad the manufacture of plastic is, the conversion of plastic from pre-recycle state to post-recycle state, or what an environmental difference between the powder bags and the liquid bottles (if there is one) would be.


It would be nice if RL bought back the Soylent bottles the way some small milk producers do. That would mean selling at an increased price to begin with, but it would keep some of the bottles out of the landfill. Or at the very least use refundable bottles. 5 cents is often enough incentive to get people to recycle bottles(or at least hold on to them until a bottle drive comes by to collect them) rather than throwing them in the trash. No refund = very little recycling activity.


As far as introducing plastic bottles and its environmental impact, I think you have to make apples to apples comparisons. The comparison of the plastic bottles isn’t to using the powder instead but rather to what people would be eating if they weren’t drinking Soylent out of plastic bottles. For some people (RL probably hopes for many people) the plastic bottles will make it convenient enough to begin using Soylent so the comparison is to what they’d be eating instead.

Some people that are already using Soylent will switch to the bottles so maybe that’s more impact on the environment but OTOH they’ll be switching because the bottles are more convenient for them. Everything is a trade off to some extent. If you make one factor better you may make another one worse. The trick is to maximize gains and minimize losses and keep the big picture looking good.


If they were serious about reducing the impact of the plastic bottles they would offer the option of larger bottles. More food, less plastic.

Plastic is really difficult to recycle. And, at least in Alberta, it is important that the plastic bottles not have food in them (for hygiene purposes). Are the little bottles the Soylent wants to use easy to clean thoroughly?


Assuming you keep the cap when you first open it I would assume that an effective way to get it clean enough it would be to put some water in it, put the cap back on and shake it a bit.

Where I live pretty much everything is recyclable so I guess I take that for granted and maybe that doesn’t work so well for some others.

My guess is that they thought long and hard about what size bottle to make it and that not making it too big, since people will carry it, was a consideration. Then again you have to make it be enough calories to be worth it. I’m curious as to how many fluid ounces it is. It would be interesting to see the bottle side by side with a 20 ounce Coke bottle or something else that most people are familiar with.


Nutrition panel says 414 milliliters. So 14 fluid ounces.


Also paper bags and cardboard that is usually made from paper are not exactly benign to the enviroment. Trees have to be cut down for paper to be produced. So any comparision between plastic and paper bags’ environmental impact, need to be done with this kept in mind too.


Well maybe. I believe here in the UK recycling rates have been going up over the last decade without any refunds.


Doesn’t plastic production rely on oil being drilled and refined?


I think questions like these have to be considered in light of what kind of people the product targets and what those people’s alternatives are.

If the only people to consume the bottled Soylent switch to it from the powder, then the answer might be that the impact is negative (though presumably, value has increased, and in a rigorous calculation that would have to be considered). On the other hand, if the bottled Soylent attracts many new customers from wasteful alternatives, then the impact may be positive.


Yes. So it comes down to which is more environmentally destructive…drilling for oil or cutting down forests?


Realistically the oil used in transporting the soylent, regardless of container, far overshadows the impact of making the container.


Realistically the oil saved by people avoiding having to buy groceries/eating out and the resulting reduction in shipping of those products, should be substracted from the amount of oil used in transporting soylent.


Maybe, but then you have to include the environmental impact of Farmers getting pissed off that their crops aren’t selling. :smile:


I’d bet on oil drilling. I mean paper you can produce fairly sustainably, right? (Managed forests and such.) And I’d guess paper takes less energy to recycle than plastic.


I’m also wondering about the powder pouches. Those are mylar/plastic (?) and not recyclable, at least not as far as I know. So potentially another plus for recyclable bottles.


Isnt that paper very expensive and is hardly used for packaging? correct me if i am wrong. Also how is oil drilling that enviro-harmful? Canadian tar sands drilling i agree but thats falling, but not all oil drilling. Most of it is done in deserts as thats where most of the oil is found.

  1. Deserts are part of the environment too.
  2. I believe there’s also undersea drilling, and increasing interest in Arctic sea drilling, in addition to Canada’s tar sands.
  3. Oil gets spilled.
  4. Does refining oil have environmental impacts?
  5. Burning oil puts CO2 into the atmosphere, which we think is leading to the biggest, and most harmful to humans, man-made environmental change ever.