Boxed Water, Anyone?

boxed water cartons[social_buttons]It had to happen: boxed water is here.

Recently, commentator/comedian Bill Maher hypothesized what would happen if the only sacrifice required to curb climate change was for people everywhere to give up their TV remotes. His theory was that, after an intolerable stint of shuffling betwixt couch and television, harried viewers would finally give up and resume clicking the world toward apocalypse.

It’s an amusing premise, though one seasoned with the nagging aftertaste of truth.  For sustainability will ultimately require changing many small habits, which when weighed in the aggregate, make a big difference.

Few of these habits have received as much attention from environmental advocates as disposable water bottles. Why water? Mainly because (disposable) bottled water adds an avalanche of industry to a resource that is readily and cheaply available at the tap.

Pointing to the success of bottled water, one could make a compelling case for a bottled air industry. There could emerge rainforest and mountain flavors. Cracking open a bottle would provide a lungful of rarefied airs from exotic locales.

Alpine Air. Belgium Breeze. Wyoming Wind. In the realm of the absurd, possibilities are endless.

Yet bottled water has become a staple of Americans on the go, and plucking it from the shelf plays a part in the grocery store shopping ritual for millions of us.


Got ‘em.

Bottles containing the same stuff drawn nearly free from household tap?

Now enter boxed water. The company’s name is Boxed Water is Better, and it is marketing the product as an earth-friendlier alternative to plastic bottles.

The box is made from 90% cellulose (trees), a quality the company lists chief among its virtues. Also noted is the lesser embodied energy required to produce the cartons compared to their plastic competitors. They can also be folded flat en route to filling locations, which means far more containers can be shipped in the same amount of space.

The new containers were launched this month in Michigan, and BWIB plans to soon roll out the product and expand into other markets.

This novelty promises to be all rage among those seeking to feel better about their disposable container water usage, to have their cake and eat it too.

But in the end, such a product muddies the waters for a society that seems to be seeking a more sustainable paradigm. There may come a time when bottled water (plastics, glass, etc.) become mercifully taboo in our population bulging, resource shrinking world. Yet ideas like this only serve to slow the pace of that evolution, dazzling and distracting consumers from best practices.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the advent of boxed water conjures within the reflective mind the utility of the training diaper to the toddler – the reeking reminder of one’s incapacity (or unwillingness) to make the long haul to the receptacle to do some necessary business.

But while the protective undergarment shields society from catastrophic accidents, the marketing of boxed water smells too much like a way to soil the planet with a clear conscience, offering the delusion of a cleaner and fresher you. boxed water on table

BWIB is marketing the package as more earth friendly, owing that it is made from trees, a “renewable resource.” Yet the word renewable has been disingenuously applied to trees and forests in greenwash circles, as it is here.

To put it another way, trees are renewable the same way the vegetables in your home garden are. That is, you can pick all your tomatoes in one day, eat some, give some away, and hurl the rest at passing SUVs. But you should not expect to return the next day, the next week, or perhaps even the following season to find your tomatoes magically renewed and growing plump on the vine. Growth takes time and effort – one of many valuable lessons gleaned from gardening.

Trees require decades to mature enough for use as wood, paper products, etc. The machinery invented a century ago gave humankind the ability to fell even the most robust trees in minutes. To do the math here requires no degree in forestry, but the simplest grasp of time and the laws of supply and demand.

The bottled water industry has been facing pushback from other quarters in recent years, as community stakeholders have taken issue with the water below their feet literally being sucked dry by such companies. In Maine, a source point for Poland Spring water, a battle is ongoing to determine who exactly has the rights to aquifers deep beneath the soil.

Bottled water companies may secure drilling rights in one area, but the water drawn from that point may spread out for miles in all directions beneath the soil’s surface. A good deal for bottlers. Not so good for the community above that well water that undoubtedly will need it someday .

“Draaaaaaaaaainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I’m so sorry. Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that’s a straw, you see? You watching? And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your milkshake.

I… drink… your… milkshake!”

The exchange is among the more memorable in recent years, from the film “There Will Be Blood.”  It is the final edict of a rapacious oil baron who has literally drained many of his fellow countrymen dry of the oil beneath their feet.

It is likely that many residents sitting atop aquifers would prefer to retain the rights to their milkshakes, to resist having them drained dry beneath them.  If you live near a lake, imagine a private water company draining and bottling it for sale. Yet this is being done in many areas, though those lakes are underground and unseen.

In sum, the environmental cost in trees and water rights and landfill waste is far too high a price to be claimed as a victory with regard to our disposable container water usage.

Boxed water may be slightly better than bottled, but tap water is still king.

Written by seangreen


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  1. I can’t help but laugh, but I remember growing up and LOVING when we got bottled water. It was such a luxury, but a nice one because I just couldn’t stand to drink the water at home. We had well water and the taste was awful (and no, filters didn’t help nearly enough). Where my husband grew up, you can still see flakes of stuff in the water. At least both of our moms made plenty of good ol’ fashioned southern sweet tea! That made it MUCH more palatable.

    For a while, I did have to drink bottled water here in the city. It was part of a very restrictive diet I was trying for medical reasons.

    Of course, not everyone has such an excuse, but I still give them the benefit of the doubt. And I’d rather see people buying bottled (or boxed) water than bottled soda. Both might be eco-evil, but at least the water will have fewer negative health consequences (which also has an ecological impact).

  2. I gave up bottled water however, I believe that tap water is dangerous if only for the fact that no one knows what is in it, especially now that there is evidence that traces of prescription drugs are turning up in tap water across the nation. My solution is to buy gallon size or larger containers of distilled water and pour it into a stainless steel reusable bottle. That seems to be the best compromise that I can think of.

  3. I think it is a step in the right direction. I enjoy drinking clean water, because there is a lot of tap water that isn’t very tasty. And I know if it isn’t very tasty, it can’t be very good for you. So, having clean water in a more biodegradable package is a good move.

  4. The company donates 20 percent of its profits to word water relief and reforestation foundations. Doesn’t that seem to fall into the same category of philanthropy as Philip Morris’ smoking cessation program?

    You might find this post interesting.

  5. Yes! This is a delusion. The plastic bottles aren’t the only environmental (or social, or economic) problem with bottled water–there’s also the energy used to transport it, the extraction of the water itself, and other problems. Boxed water is a greenwash–more of a sideways step than a step forward.

    For anyone interested in more info on the problems with bottled water, check out and Food & Water Watch’s Take Back the Tap campaign.

  6. I grew up in New Orleans, drinking Eau Du Ol’ Man River and thinking nothing of it. Bottled water was for snobs and health nuts.

    Except for places where the tapwater tastes horrible because the local water authority meets the EPA minimum standard and stops there, bottled water is a classic example of the triumph of marketing over reason.

  7. You know, I never, EVER drink bottled water. My roommate goes through gallons of it, yes, but I never do. I was listening to the radio a little while ago (and if I could remember which station/program/host I’d tell you) and one thing they were talking about was dangerous it is to stop drinking tap water altogether. Theoretically, he said, if everyone were to completely stop drinking tap water, the government could save an incredible amount of money spent on the water treatment process by either reducing its effectiveness or cutting it out altogether. Granted, this isn’t entirely realistic or above-board, but in tough times like these, I wouldn’t end up surprised.

  8. why can you not just drink water from your tap? how do these get recycled? what’s the material touching the actual water? why is the package so boring?

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