Water boxed in cartons touted by U.S. firm as eco-friendly

Eco-conscious Calgarians can now buy drinking water in 500 millilitre cartons — an option that’s better for the environment than plastic bottles, according to the U.S. manufacturer.

'Gable top' boxes are less recyclable than plastic bottles, says Calgary recycling expert

The U.S. makers of Boxed Water is Better tout the product as a more environmentally sensitive alternative to bottled water. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

Eco-conscious Calgarians can now buy drinking water in 500 millilitre cartons — an option that’s better for the environment than plastic bottles, according to the U.S. manufacturer.

The makers of Boxed Water is Better are touting their product as a greener alternative to other drinking waters on the market.

"Plastic bottles are entirely composed of a non-renewable resource — petroleum," said company founder Benjamin Gott.

He launched the company 2009 in Grand Rapids, Mich., which is also where the water in the box is sourced.

Boxed Water is Better is tap water run through a process of reverse osmosis and a carbon filter to stabilize the flavour. 

"Our cartons are from sustainable resources, and that being trees, and in our instance, forests which are certified to be well managed and well harvested,” Gott said.

Boxed Water Is Better is also donating 10 per cent of its annual sales to reforestation and clean water projects through 1% for the Planet.

However, the company's cartons are not entirely biodegradable.

While 76 per cent is made from paperboard, the cap is made of plastic and the inner layer of the carton is lined with polyethylene and aluminum to stop the water from leaking out.

'We need to find safer solutions'

"I think that it's trying to sell the idea that this is less bad," said Leor Rotchild, who led the ban against bottled water at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.

Rotchild is the founder of DIG, which sets up compost and recycling stations at events to divert waste from landfills. 

"It just increases the idea that somehow tap water is not safe and we need to find safer solutions and create disposable products that just add more waste in our world. The long-term solution is to fill up your own bottle and really question why we have to create waste just to rehydrate ourselves,” he said.

Boxed Water is Better has been for sale in Calgary since April and is only available so far at Co-op grocery stores.

Elite International Foods, which distributes the product in Western Canada, says it's already being re-ordered. 

Calgarian Kneev Sharma likes it.

"It's quite modern. I think everything about it is beautiful," he said.

The Boxed Water is Better carton is technically called a "gable top" container and is often used to package milk and juice.

It can be recycled through the city’s blue cart program and can be returned at bottle depots for a 10-cent deposit.

Eco-superiority of cartons questioned

But according to Jeff Linton, who is with the Alberta Bottle Depot Association, gable top containers are less recyclable than PET plastic water bottles. 

"When that container is recycled, 100 per cent of that PET material is captured. When the paperboard or the gable-top material is recycled, only the paper is recovered and the other layers of material are not recoverable, and so are lost to the recycling process. Their goal in recycling gable tops is to achieve a 75 per cent recovery of material," said Linton.

He also said Albertans recycle plastic water bottles 15 to 20 per cent more than gable top cartons.

But Rotchild said Boxed Water is Better is getting people thinking about packaging. In the end though, he suspects it's just marketing.

"What you're seeing in places like California and Colorado, they've made movements to ban plastic water bottles. So I wouldn't be surprised if these very gifted marketing people at Boxed Water is Better are using that as a way to say, 'This isn't a plastic water bottle — this is boxed.'"


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.