[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.
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.
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.