Is water in boxes better than water in plastic?
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.