Richardson: Drink outside the box

I recently checked out an upscale yoga studio here in Madison, Wisconsin and discovered a new and disturbing trend: boxed water.

Boxed water?

OK, I’ve heard of boxed wine — and maybe even drunk a little. But water?



The yoga studio in question appeals to a young, wealthy, presumably eco-conscious demographic. As the skinny, beautiful clients file into the heated room with their yoga mats, they pass a refrigerator case of boxed water and a sign proclaiming its environmental benefits.

These supposed benefits come from packaging water in a box instead of a plastic bottle. Plastic is bad for the planet, after all, and milk carton-style boxes don’t have the BPA and other estrogenic chemicals that you can ingest by drinking plastic-stored liquids.

I don’t know which genius figured that the best way to fix the problems of bottled water is to package it in boxes. But I’ve got an even better idea: drink tap water in reusable water bottles.

You could even get extravagant and filter the tap water before drinking it.

Think all the way back to, I don’t know, 1985.

Back then, the only bottled water readily available was that Perrier stuff. Nobody I knew drank it. We weren’t poor, but throwing money away on fancy French water seemed ridiculous when water came out of the tap for free.

By Jill Richardson OtherWords columnist

By Jill Richardson
OtherWords columnist

I’d have been taking an aerobics class instead of yoga, no doubt. Complete with sweatbands and leg warmers. And if anyone wanted to drink water during the class, they’d either bring a reusable water bottle from home or just drink from the drinking fountain.

Bringing your own bottle takes a little bit of extra planning, and an initial investment — I’m attached to my stainless steel Klean Kanteen — but after that it’s free.

Using the drinking fountain requires no planning and costs nothing. It might involve the extra “hassle” of lining up for a drink.

Are these drawbacks so insurmountable that the only way we can imagine ditching bottled water is by consuming it out of disposable boxes that wind up in landfills?

There’s one other problem with bottled water that has nothing at all to do with the bottle. It has to do with the water.

Do you have any idea where the water in bottled water comes from?

Some brands, like Starbucks’ Ethos, bottle up California’s dwindling water supply and sell it around the country at a profit. Arrowhead, Crystal Geyser, Dasani, and Aquafina all source water from California, too.

Drought-stricken California loses its water, and the American public pays for something it should get for free out of the tap. That’s a pretty bad deal for everyone except the bottled water companies.

It’s especially galling when you consider that nearly half of all the bottled stuff is just filtered tap water, anyway.

So, yuppies at the yoga studio — and everyone else — there is a way to reduce your bottled water environmental footprint. It’s by swapping out the water, not the container. Please drink outside the box.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

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