Whiching is greener: Plastic bottle, cup or boxYou already know why drinking from a one-time-use plastic bottle is the bane of Mother Nature’s existence, but here is a quick refresher course just in case your memory is a little fuzzy:
  • It takes an enormous amount of energy to convert petroleum into its final water bottle incarnation. Plus, it’s typically shipped far and wide, torching through even more refined oil in the process.
  • Just how much of the black stuff does it take to create the 251 bottles that each person uses per year (all told, a whopping 50 billion water bottles for all American consumers annually)? Seventeen million barrels or one-quarter water bottle of petroleum per single fully manufactured container, which is the amount required to keep 1 million vehicles on the road for 365 consecutive days in a row.
  • Despite being recyclable, just 22% of one-time-use water bottles actually make it back to a recycling facility.
  • The remainder of those bottles live out their days in landfills as well as in ocean ecosystems, leaching bisphenol A and a whole host of other estrogen-mimicking chemicals into our shared environment, adversely affecting wildlife and, as it turns out, humans.
  • Plastic bottles also take forever to fully decompose, or to be more precise, roughly 700 years, depending on environmental factors and microorganisms present.
  • All that, and they generate 120 grams of carbon — the stuff that kicks the greenhouse effect into high gear — per solitary plastic bottle thanks to myriad factors, including industrial water contamination.

Well beyond the fact that things are getting pretty darned crowded in our landfills, here’s why you should care about the means by which you chug your liquid refreshment. Even if you’re not personally invested in the green scene, you hydrate yourself multiple times a day, 365 days a year, which means that making a minor eco-tweak to this one habit will really add up over time, ultimately impacting future generations in a markedly positive manner.

“But I don’t have kids.” Yeah, but your siblings probably do. Perhaps your best friend, significant other or bestest buddy have a few wee ones running around their homes. The point is that whether you have an affinity toward children or not, you play an integral role in passing this planet of ours over in (preferably) decent shape. You kind of care about that, right? So, now that we’re all on the same page regarding the fact that plastic bottles are bad news, let’s address the rest of the original question. Reusable cup or box: Which is the wisest choice for our planet? Well, washable drinkware seems like the safest bet (it’s certainly been around long enough) and unless you’re prone to endlessly chipping or dropping your ceramic or glass vessels, they typically hold up to a great deal of wear and tear before finally reaching the end of their usable life. Of course, cups and glasses also have to be washed. That effort alone requires utilizing the precious commodities of water and energy, the latter of which is especially necessary if you want to successfully remove visible goo and other germs from the scene of the crime. Still, isn’t washing better than throwing away? That’s a rhetorical question, but here’s another stumper. Is it any better — ecologically speaking — to rely on one-time-use beverage boxes? Take a look at the following informational round-up in order to make your own educated decision:
  • Glacia Icebox: Made from recyclable cardboard derived from sustainably managed forests and nonleaching and fully recyclable polyethylene spout/handle/bib. The carbon footprint is purportedly smaller than that of conventional PET plastic bottles due to lighter weight, streamlined packaging (a 5-liter Glacia Icebox saves 472 gallons of oil, 389 kilowatt hours of energy and 1,396 pounds of plastic). There’s just one problem: Most people throw away packaging like this because they’re not aware that it can be recycled.
  • Aqua2Go: These individual-serving-size water boxes are made of Tetra Brik Aseptic packaging, which boasts 75% renewable paper content “sandwiched between alternating wafers of plastic-based resin and polyethylene (20%) as well as a 6-micrometer-thin panel of aluminum foil (5%).” Despite being quite challenging and labor intensive to recycle, limited Tetra reclamation facilities do exist in the U.S., but raise your hand if your municipality sticks with just the basics. Yup.
  • AquaPax: Unlike their competitors, this company wraps mineral water in very attractive 500-mL cartons that it encourages consumers to reuse, but the company is less forthcoming about the specific materials used to construct its packaging. It is mentioned that the containers are made with either recycled wood or pulp from well-managed forests, but the actual percentage is a mystery. Still, the company claims that its manufacturing process yields a minimal carbon footprint, plus it pursues multiple sustainability efforts every step of the way.
  • Boxed Water Is Better: This Grand Rapids, MI-based company actually flat-ships its 76% renewable wood pulp cartons directly to carbon-filtered municipal water-filling facilities in each of the markets it serves in order to reduce its overall carbon footprint. Despite its grand eco-intentions (and the donation of 10% of its profits to reforestation charities), paper-based cartons are still as tricky to recycle as Tetra Brik Aseptic packaging due to the 20% polyethylene-bonded paperboard.