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Is water in boxes better than water in plastic?

agua2go3bwib1plant-it

Boxed water continues to pop up. The first one I learned about is Agua2GO, which comes in a Tetra Pak box lined with polyethylene. Why is this better than a plastic bottle? Three quarters of the package is made from paper (though not recycled paper). Does you community recycle Tetra Pak (or similar) gabletop containers? Mine (New York City) does, but many don’t. In fact, according to this study (commissioned by Tetra Pak), the recycling rate for these containers in the U.S. is five percent, versus 20 percent for PET bottles (the type most frequently used for half-liter and liter-size bottled water).  PET plastic bottles are one of the most widely collected type of plastic in curbside programs nationwide (though bottled water has a lower recycling rate than other beverages in PET).

Like some other bottled-water companies, Agua2GO admits that it’s a far better thing to drink tap water in a reusable container than to buy single-use bottles, but if you’ve just got to buy a disposable, please buy ours. (Keeper Springs, which doesn’t even bother with an “eco” bottle and sends its profits to the Waterkeeper Alliance, takes this tack.)

Agua2GO ‘s website doesn’t mention where its water comes  from – it’s more about form than content. Boxed Water Is Better, which I’ll just go ahead and call BWIB, reveals that it’s purified water from a Michigan tap. It comes in a black-and-white Tetra Pak (about 90 percent paper). Plant It Water (so called because the company plants a tree for every container purchased) also comes in a Tetra Pak, this one made with “60 percent renewable resources,” aka trees. No recycled content. The water comes from a spring in Ontario. (To learn more about the environmental impact of transporting water, see the Pacific Institute’s report, “Energy Implications of Bottled Water.”) BWIB claims some eco-cred for shipping its containers flat, while those who bottle in plastic send empties around the world. In fact, Nestle Waters, the largest springwater purveyor in the U.S., forms its bottles where it fills them, and Coco-Cola, which makes Dasani, recently announced it will start doing the same.

I could spend a lot of time looking at life cycle analyses of these products.  But the point I want to make is that these packages perpetuate the idea that it’s okay to buy water in single-use disposable packaging. In my humble opinion, we don’t need to reduce our guilt for buying convenience products, we need to buy fewer of them in the first place.

10 comments

1 Neil T { 03.27.09 at 10:35 am }

Hi Elizabeth, the life cycle analysis work has been done several times around the world and cartons win every time. Wherever plastic bottles are formed doesn’t alter the fact they’re made from oil which is a declining global resource.
We’ve been marketing our carton water brand, Aquapax here in Europe since 2006 and we actually ask people to re-use and then re-cycle their cartons after the first use. In this sense I agree with your comments about reducing overall consumption.
Condemning the bottled water industry as a whole is not really very constructive, as some solutions are genuinely more ecologically sensible than others and this should be recognised. It’s also worth considering that the alternative to portable water is a portable beverage that’s either fattening, contains additives, or is alcoholic and which most definitely will have a higher carbon footprint than the portable water option it’s replacing. Once again, reducing consumption on the move is the real answer.
We pack a pristine mineral source water first time around (a dozen times more pure than the big ‘naive’ brand) Aquapax is even suitable for babies and refilling the carton with tap afterwards makes most ecological sense.
We’re looking to expand into N.America (when we find suitable distribution partners / when people regain their confidence) using a high quality water source we’ve identified over there, to reduce shipping costs (in every sense of the word).

Warm regards from a crisp UK.
Neil T
Founder of Just Drinking Water
(http://aquapax.wordpress.com) or (http://www.justdrinkingwater.com)

2 Daily Water Talk Digest | Stop Nestle Waters { 03.27.09 at 7:08 pm }

[...] boxed water better than bottled? “Bottlemania” author says no way: http://www.royte.com/blog/?p=199 7 hrs [...]

3 bernardo { 03.28.09 at 4:38 am }

Wait til Coke , Pepsi, or Starbucks buys the company, and then we’ll get a Hollywood Oscar’s show or a Major League Baseball celebration — “greened” by NRDC — with an advertisement for “Boxed Water is Better” during the show or a collaboration with “Boxed Water is Better” to recycle all the drink containers generated at the event, respectively, as NRDC has done in recent years. Thank you NRDC. Yes, “the earth’s best defense”

4 Randy Ludacer { 04.16.09 at 2:41 pm }

It’s sort of hard to take commenter, Neil T.’s statement–(“Condemning the bottled water industry as a whole is not really very constructive…”)–as anything but self-serving. Not to be a zealous underminer of other people’s livelihood, but “condemning the bottled water industry as a whole” seems like a perfectly reasonable stance to me. To bottle and sell a natural resource that by rights should be everyone’s birthright — and then turn around and try and give it a touchy-feely ecological spin, seems like a pretty hollow PR move. Reminiscent of tobacco companies offering information about how to quit, or alcoholic beverage companies reminding us to “drink responsibly.”

5 momsagainstplasticbottles.com { 07.05.09 at 11:50 pm }

100% recyclable, by far the best tasting most superior boxed water on the market is icebox water. Arctic Spring Water from Norway. Delicious and sustainable. http://www.iceboxwater.com
This is a company that is inspiring change; change without compromise

6 eroyte { 07.07.09 at 12:38 pm }

Momsagainst: legitimating the long-distance importation (from Norway!) of drinking water to people who, for the most part, already have decent drinking water isn’t the sort of change I–and the many millions who’ve given up or cut down on drinking bottled water– like to see. And I think you _are_ compromising — you’re selling a product that’s environmentally harmful but trying to be slightly less bad with this “biodegradable” packaging. (Who’s going to compost it? And how many recycling programs accepts those plastic caps?)

7 LP { 07.26.09 at 12:58 am }

Neil T. wrote:
“It’s also worth considering that the alternative to portable water is a portable beverage that’s either fattening, contains additives, or is alcoholic..”
2 non-fat alternatives:
1. Canteens, flasks, bota bags
2. Offering people drinking water

It might boggle our collective minds, but “modern” society has remained somewhat hydrated for a while now without the option of purchasing packaged water.

8 Duane { 01.22.10 at 11:05 am }

Import (boxed) water from Norway… because it’s delicious? Are you people nuts?

9 Robin { 03.11.12 at 6:49 am }

Where can I buy Boxed Spring Water?

10 eroyte { 03.11.12 at 1:39 pm }

Not sure Aqua2GO still exists — it was in Whole Foods for a while. Check out any upscale supermarket — may be other brands.

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