Everyone is pretty familiar with that shocking commercial that shows us how many plastic water bottles Americans use, enough to stretch around the world over 100 times. As guilty as one might feel about it, it has become a dependency – and as a bad habit, it’s not easily broken. On top of the waste that is obvious (plastic bottles in the trash), there are the problems with those bottles that don’t come instantly to mind. Plastic bottle production uses huge amounts of oil, not to mention the pollution created in transporting them. While it can sometimes to be difficult to imagine the distant future and how damaging all this plastic is for our environment, what is instantly terrifying are the studies that show how plastic leaks into these water in the bottles.
An obvious fix is to have a reusable, swish bottle. But that isn’t always an opportune option. Boxed Water has come up with a solution that is convenient for the consumer. In the spirit of switching espresso for green tea, maybe switch out that plastic bottle for a paper carton. Paste caught up with Boxed Water Founder, Benjamin Gott, and VP of Marketing, Matt DeWitte to discuss the benefits of turning away from plastic.
Paste: How did you come up with the idea for Boxed Water?
Ben: I was sitting at lunch with a friend and we were talking about pop culture things. This was around the mid-2000s. It was a really interesting time – environmentally friendly thought and focus really started in the early ‘90s and it became a true topic of conversation in the mid-2000s. We were talking about bottled water and I joked that it has become the logo of bad environmental things. It tends to take all of the brunt of what is wasteful. We noticed interesting behavior around that time, and while people saw plastic bottled water as wasteful, they continued to buy it. In fact, the sales have gone up steadily since then, and we’re even seeing a bit of a spike in the past few years as people are starting to reduce soda intake. When we started this thing we felt it was the job of entrepreneurs and designers to solve the problem. We thought, “how can we rethink this packaging, how it’s delivered to the consumer, and its environmental impact?” And that was the genesis of Boxed Water.
Paste: When did you guys officially launch?
Matt: I believe the first product landed in stores in March, 2009. We did what every other beverage brand does. We pulled up to small stores in our truck, seeing if they were interested in buying this product. I knew nothing about the beverage industry, and it’s probably good, because if we knew how hard it was, we probably wouldn’t have started it. Sometimes being naïve is a fantastic place to be when you’re disrupting a pre-existing market.
Paste: Give me some details on the carton. How do you source the materials?
Ben: We thought about sustainability and renewability. The majority of our package comes from paper from a renewable forest. We look at our trees as a crop, we’re not cutting down pre-existing forests. It’s a renewable resource, it’s not petroleum based – we can keep growing it, and while it’s growing, it’s beneficial as well. Then we thought about it from a supply chain standpoint. The cartons come to our filling plant flat. On one palate we can fit 34,320 flat waters, because it’s basically just stacked up paper. The machine sucks in the paper and folds hit and fills it all in one shot. It’s actually a pretty cool thing to watch. And what we get with that, we’re shipping an immense amount of our unfilled product onto one truck, as opposed to a filled glass bottle. Our long-term goal is to have a filling plant next to every major metro area that we work with, so that we’re shipping filled water the absolute shortest distance we can.
Matt: All of our cartons are coming with a Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification, which means all of the paper we’re using is coming from forests that are managed. Every time they harvest trees, they plant trees to take their place. They’re seen as a crop. This ties back to an initiative we have launching on Earth Day, April 22nd, called “ReTree.” In 2005 we partnered with the National Forest Foundation to plant a million trees over five years. We’re asking customers, or just anyone, to get involved in this mission through talking about us in social media and using a hashtag we created, #ReTree. If anyone posts through any of the social media channels using that hashtag, we’re going to be planting two trees for every one of those posts – we’re going to be planting a lot of trees this year.
Ben: The ReTree program is on top of our well-managed forests. This falls into our philanthropy, we’re not asking you to hashtag so we can make more boxes, this is to preserve other forests.
Paste: Why the black and white on the carton?
Ben: At the time, the black and white design that I did was pretty risky, but we thought, if we’re going to be different, simple, and straight forward, let’s look the part. And also, we’re a startup, and we didn’t have a big marketing budget. When someone walks into a store and you see this tinted green and blue area of the store, that’s the bottled water section. We stand out, and it bought us consumer attention, even without a marketing budget. Now we’re more grown up and we can do more, but we stick to that. We partner with Elopak to manufacture our cartons, and they make sure we have an FDA approved package, a package that doesn’t have any BPA or anything like that.
Paste: People can be very specific about the water they drink. Where do you source yours, and what does it taste like?
Ben: I had to learn an immense amount about water, even if it’s seemingly a simple product. We didn’t want to be a luxury product like Evian or Fiji. We want to have facilities all around the country so that we’re shipping the least distance. With that, we try to have refreshing, simple, water, with a balanced PH, and to appeal to as many people’s palate as possible.
Matt: It’s a purified water. A lot of time you’ll see people touting specific springs as a source of their water. What we value is that we can set up a similar process in multiple locations around the country in order to reduce that carbon footprint. Our goal is to continue the filling stations that we have. We currently have two, one in Holland, Michigan, for the East and Mid-West supply, and a new facility in Lindon, Utah, for the West’s supply. There’s no light or air that gets into our bottles, unlike plastic. So we feel it’s a pure water in the simplest sense of things.
Paste: Why’d you decide to go with a plastic cap?
Ben: I have a very specific stance on this, because I didn’t want to have a cap when we launched, I wanted to reduce as much packaging as possible. We thought about doing a traditional, pop it open carton. But we realized that if we create something you have to finish all in one shot or you have to throw away, then we’re contributing to the problem. We want to create something you can close back up, and drink it over the course of a few hours.
Friday is Earth Day, so jump on the ReTree initiative by mentioning Boxed Water with #ReTree on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to support Boxed Water planting two new trees.