Boxed In

Aug. 28, 2018

Passing through an airport a few weeks ago, and having just had a water bottle confiscated at the security checkpoint (yes, I’m sorry to say I was one of those people who forgot all about the bottle in my carry-on and got pulled out of line), I stopped at a little coffee kiosk along the concourse to buy a replacement. “I can’t sell you a bottle, but I can sell you a box,” the woman behind the counter said, and proceeded to hand me a pint-sized white milk carton with the slogan “Boxed Water Is Better.”

This, combined with the increasing bans on single-use plastic items, got me thinking. Is a box better than a bottle? This article about the brand—“Boxed Water Is Better” is actually the brand name—provides some information.  

Worldwide, people spend a staggering $144 billion a year on bottled water. In places where there is no safe source of drinking water, the bottled stuff might be essential, but for many of us, it’s become a convenience or a trend.

This particular brand, the article reports, touts its paper container as completely recyclable (including the plastic cap on the side) and says that 76% of the paper used in the carton comes from sustainably managed forests. The company sends the cartons to the filling plant empty and flat; at the plant, the cartons are un-flattened and filled with water that has been purified using reverse osmosis and ultraviolet filtration. The 35,000 boxes that arrived flat on a single truck depart on 26 trucks when filled, but now they have less distance to travel—and they pack more efficiently than do round plastic bottles.

True, the paper is coated with wax, as one of my fellow travelers at the airport pointed out, curiously examining the box, and so it will take a little longer to decompose in a landfill. (The article, published in 2015, notes that the product was just starting to be sold at Costco, Whole Foods, Kroger’s, and other outlets in 22 states, but neither of us had run across it before.) Still, the paper carton won’t last as long as plastic, which is virtually forever.

We’ve talked many times before about the amount of plastic in the oceans and other waterways, and about the bans on plastic bags and other single-use plastic items like straws and utensils that are gaining momentum around the world. In the great scheme of things, do you think that Boxed Water and similar ecofriendly products will make a difference? What other changes would you suggest?

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.