Shoppers today are more environmentally aware than ever. They are forcing big beverage companies to explore earth-friendly solutions to reduce plastic pollution.
But when it comes to hydration, is canned water a win for the environment? Hardly. Here are five things you need to know.
1) Canned water won’t lower your carbon footprint.
From start to finish, the production of aluminum cans is downright traumatic for our planet, destroying agricultural lands and forests throughout the process. It requires strip-mining and smelting bauxite, a sedimentary rock found in places like West Africa, Australia, and South America. Mining for this bauxite creates a toxic red mud that causes respiratory and cardiovascular problems. It’s already devastated countries, like Hungary and others around the world, by polluting drinking water, destroying forests and even flooding homes.
The harm doesn’t end there.
During the molding process, aluminum sheets are created and sculpted through an energy-intensive process that produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that are released into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Regardless of whether an aluminum can is recycled, choosing canned water over carton water actually doubles your carbon footprint.
2) Recycling rates for aluminum cans are decreasing.
“Can’t you make a new aluminum can out of an old one?”
Not if it’s sitting in a landfill.
Don’t be fooled when you hear that, “aluminum is infinitely recyclable.”
The truth is that production of aluminum is vastly outpacing recycling efforts. Not even half of all canned beverage containers produced get recycled, and the rate of recycling has continued to drop. California alone saw recycling rates for cans drop 20% from 2016 to 2021.
The Aluminum Association even admits that the amount of canned beverages that get sent to landfills each year is troublesome — an average of 144 cans per every American. That’s nearly 48 billion new aluminum cans entering U.S. landfills and oceans every single year, polluting our planet for centuries to come because aluminum cans don’t ever biodegrade.
Most aluminum cans aren’t resealable or refillable, so beverages are usually consumed in less than 15 minutes, but our planet pays the price for centuries to come when we erroneously believe wishcycling can make up for the environmental disaster taking place during aluminum production.
3) Using recycled aluminum to make new cans is still harmful to the environment.
That energy-intensive process we mentioned earlier? It happens all over again every single time a can is re-molded and given a new life.
The production of aluminum cans has continued to increase but most cans don’t get recycled. And each one that isn’t recycled means one more that will need to be produced from strip-mining forests and smelting that will further damage our planet.
There’s no reason single-use canned water needs to be a contributor to the mounting aluminum waste that’s piling up in our landfills and sinking to our ocean’s floors.
4) Many cans still contain BPA.
BPA, or bisphenol A, is a chemical that is often used to maintain durability in food and beverage packaging. Exposure to BPA is especially concerning because of the chemical’s ability to mimic hormones in the body and disrupt its normal functionality, causing a wide range of health problems, including cancer, diabetes, obesity, and reproductive problems. Unfortunately, BPA easily permeates into the food and beverages it’s packaging helps secure.
In 2017, the Center for Environmental Health released a report showing that nearly 40 percent of cans were using BPA-containing linings. That number has significantly decreased following extensive media coverage and mounting pressure from consumers, but many canned water companies have gone “BPA-Free”, swapping for alternatives, like acrylic resins, polyester resins, and polyvinyl chloride-based resins (PVC), that are equally concerning to human health.
Most cans don’t specify which BPA-free liner they have moved to and there is far too little information readily available about the substitutes being used for canned drinking water.
5) Taste Is Still Important
Consumers today are much more likely to support businesses that have social missions aligned with their values. But let’s not forget how important personal taste preference is when grabbing water on the go.
If water comes into contact with aluminum, small amounts of metal can dissolve into the water, creating an unfavorable metallic taste. Most canned beverages contain a thin liner to prevent this direct contact. But in recent years, companies have had to turn to non-BPA alternatives, and it’s unclear whether or not these new linings are breaking down quicker over time and impacting the taste of water in cans.
Reusable bottles are the clear winner for our planet, but there are situations where their use is not possible or practical. So which packaged water is better for the environment?
Beyond the clear benefits of our renewable, plant-based materials, a third-party research organization found that Boxed Water™ cartons have a lower total environmental impact than plastic bottled water and aluminum cans. Boxed Water cartons are composed of 92% plant-based materials. The other eight percent is made of thin plastic and aluminum liners that serve as a barrier to light and oxygen.
Read the full lifecycle study to learn more about what makes Boxed Water more sustainable than plastic bottles and aluminum cans.