Water by the Carton

I am not an advocate for single-use bottled water. But I’m also a realist. While bottled water is a discouragingly wasteful and environmentally hazardous habit, it’s also not going anywhere. In fact, with water contamination fears on the rise, bottled water consumption is following suit. But sadly, single-use bottled water consumption has less to do with water integrity than convenience. In 2014, bottle water consumption figures were at 34 gal per person per year. And the bottled water industry just continues to grow, to the tune of 19.8 billion dollars in the United States alone last year.

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“It’s a completely ridiculous product, but it’s also a wildly popular product. The reason is, and I think this is often overlooked, people aren’t buying water – they’re buying convenience. And with the branding, to some degree they’re also buying image.” – Charles Fishman, journalist & author of The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

The good news for those of us that would rather be caught dead than be caught buying water from a single-use, plastic bottle is that there is a viable alternative. Water in a carton!

Even for those with the best of intentions, there remain those undeniable situations, like being caught without your reusable bottle on a sweltering day when water is imperative, or the impracticality of carrying a reusable bottle at certain times.

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 4.26.10 PMCarton-ed water has many things going for it. First and foremost, it’s made from a recyclable material – primarily paper. You might argue that plastic is recyclable but 83% of the plastic bottles purchased are not recycled, relegating them to landfills, incinerators or the oceans. Plastic does not biodegrade, resulting in a shelf life of up to 1000 years once buried in a landfill.

“We’re an impermanent product. At the end of the day, 75 percent of it is paper, it’s not made to last forever. Whereas 100 percent of a PET water bottle is going to be in a landfill for a thousand years.”  – Jeremy Adams, VP for Marketing, Boxed Water Is Better

Cartons are recyclable in 48 states, and 12,000 U.S. communities. 80 of the most populated 100 U.S. markets/cities, currently provide carton recycling according to Heather McNamara of RecycleCartons.com. (To confirm carton recycling in your community, go to RecycleCartons.com).

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 2.47.57 PMThere are currently three carton water companies in the market: Just Water, Boxed Water Is Better and Re-Think Water.

The Re-Think Water & Just Water cartons are resealable, which also means refillable – Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 2.47.16 PMalthough I don’t advise refilling more than a few times. The packaging is akin to those muscle drinks or coconut water you might find in gyms or health/vitamin stores. Boxed Water Is Better is a straight up, gable-top, paper box carton – much like a milk carton – making transporting, once it’s been opened, like throwing an opened juice or milk carton in your bag. Tricky.

Just Water has recently introduced a plant-based, or bioplastic screw top, but unlike Re-Think and Boxed Water Is Better, Just Water uses 54% FSC paper source – as compared to 70% and 76% respectively for the two competitors. Re-Think and Boxed Water… use reverse osmosis filtered municipal water. Why is this important? Because in this day and age, even if a bottled water claims to use spring water, it doesn’t necessarily mean “clean” water, unless they are using a spring-fed, municipal source.Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 2.56.24 PM

Regardless of the source; spring, reservoir, river or lake, municipal water must pass EPA standards, and although terribly flawed, bureaucratic malfeasance (Flint, MI) are in evidence recently, municipalities are our best guarantee of clean water at this time. Mae Wu of the Natural Resources Defense Council has stated, “I recognize that there is a role for bottled water, especially in emergencies like the one occurring in Flint, but most tap water in the United States is safe.”

Reverse Osmosis (RO) filtration uses activated carbon filters and a mesh membrane to remove contaminants. On the EPA’s list of regulated contaminants, filter carbon is the recommended best treatment for the vast majority, including organic chemicals, chlorine and its by-products, pesticides, and herbicides. Active carbon is unrivaled for improving odor and taste. The mesh membrane removes 94% to 96% of Lead and 90% to 95% sodium.

Because standard RO systems flush two thirds of water filtered, some see RO as a wasteful technique. But this depends a great deal on water availability and/or the industrial filtration systems being used. Re-Think Water flushes approximately 1/3 of water being filtered due to mineral content. The rest is recycled through the system or carton-ed directly.

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 3.15.15 PMJust Water is partnering with communities, like Glen Falls, NY, in what they describe as a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship offering the city much needed revenue for their abundant spring water resource. How does this differ from the fraught Nestle water wars that we’ve seen over the last decade? Well, although some might be skeptical, this relationship appears to have the entire community’s blessing. The cooperative agreement has been described as an ethical trade revenue partnership with the city, revitalizingScreen Shot 2016-09-08 at 3.15.55 PM the local community by paying six times the municipal rate for access to less than 3% of its excess water, appreciating revenue over time to help upgrade aging water infrastructure, restore industry, provide jobs and protect the existing watershed.

In fact, according to Glens Falls City mayor, Jack Diamond, Just Water wasn’t the first packaged water company to approach the small city. But they were the first company to lead with what they planned to do for Glen Falls and not the other way around.

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 2.49.29 PMBoxed Water is Better is a member of the 1% for the Planet program, joining 1200 international companies who are dedicating at least 1% of there annual sales to sustainability initiatives. Boxed Water is Better has planted 100,000 trees thus far, approaching another 200,000 plantings in 2016. The goal is to have planted 1 million trees by 2020.

In addition to the environmentally conscious mission goals these boxed water companies share, boxed water would appear to be an evolved solution for potable-water insecure districts and communities. As a Sustainability Consultant who has focused on waste & consumption, I would much rather see water in cartons offered as an additional option to milk in school lunch programs, hospitals and other large scale cafeteria programs. I have seen (and poured out) an obscene amount of milk waste first hand. In many school systems across the country, students are required to take milk even though they have no intention of drinking it. Discouraging sugary drinks, which include fruit juice cartons, would be easier if students had a water option when refillable bottles are not practical. Re-Think Water has identified the lack of an 8oz carton option, and is currently exploring the opportunity to fill this void.

Is a solution that still creates disposable waste ideal? No. Not by a long shot. But to a large extent, we’ve created the need for single-use water bottles. We’ve removed municipal fountains throughout U.S. cities. There are simply fewer go-to options for a drink of water. We’ve neglected our infrastructure to the extent that in many cities, water delivery systems are simply not trustworthy. Pipes that are over 100 years old are prime candidates for lead contamination. Thus NY Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has recently passed landmark legislation mandating lead testing for drinking water in NY schools by October 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-09-08 at 3.12.10 PMAs Sustainable Design is increasingly incorporated in city and structural planning and renovation, built-in, reliable water solutions become part of the entire system. I believe that water in a carton is a better option as we improve on the water delivery systems for the future.

About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have.

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