Boxed water replaces plastic at Princeton Nick Donnoli, office of communications, Princeton University

Boxed water replaces plastic at Princeton

Environmentally friendlier packaging is a transitional step as the school looks for a more permanent alternative to landfill-clogging traditional plastic bottles.

Princeton University Dining is boxing out environmentally wasteful plastic water bottles with…um, boxes. That’s right, boxed water.

Similar to cardboard cartons of milk, the containers come in half-liter and one-liter sizes and are priced the same as their plastic equivalents, which were removed from all retail, catering and residential dining locations at the start of the current school year.

“Here on campus, it is our mission as educators to ask, how can we globally make a change starting with our students, who are our future leaders,” explains Cristian Vasquez, director of retail and catering for Princeton Dining Services. “So we are following the plastic reduction initiative that the [United Nations] has sent out and asked ourselves, how can we start, even if it’s only a little bit at a time, to make a difference. We decided water was the place to start because plastic-bottled water is one of our biggest purchased items here on campus.”

Hence, starting this fall semester, all plastic water bottles, bags and utensils have been removed from all campus dining locations, replaced by more sustainable alternatives. For bottled water, the alternatives include not just the boxes but also reusable containers that can be filled at multiple water stations around campus. Princeton is encouraging the purchase and use of this less wasteful alternative among students, and its Office of Sustainability is even giving away free ones to all incoming freshmen as part of their initiation to the campus.

The water boxes, sourced from a Michigan-based company called Boxed Water Is Better, are sold in all retail locations and are the packaged water alternative in catering and residential dining.

The product has generated some pushback from students who find them less convenient to carry around than the plastic bottles, while others claim a taste difference in the water, Vasquez admits. On the other hand, he adds, there are also many students who are enthusiastic about the change, seeing it as a sign of the department’s commitment to sustainability and waste reduction.

In any case, the result of the initiative has been a bit of a lag in packaged water sales in the early going of the school year, which began Sept. 14, but also a jump in the use of the water filing stations, according to Vasquez.

He also emphasizes that the boxes are a temporary solution and better alternatives are being explored.

“We’re not saying this is it and we’re not going to have anything else in the future,” he stresses. “We are determined to find a better [packaging solution], but this was the more viable option for now.”

As for future possibilities, a number of alternatives are being explored. For example, “we are trying to find a flat water similar to [branded sparkling water products] that comes in an aluminum container that’s 100 percent recyclable,” Vasquez notes.

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