Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Boxed Water Bad For You?

Also Known As: Cartoned Water



Short answer

Boxed water is not bad for you under normal conditions. It is typically contained in safe materials like polyethylene and paper, often used with food-grade inks and adhesives. While aluminum and plastic linings present minimal risk, long-term effects of chemical leaching remain under study. Maintaining proper storage conditions is essential to ensure the water remains safe over time.



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Long answer

Chemical Composition of Boxed Water Packaging Materials

When answering the question if boxed water is bad for you, it's imperative to examine the materials that come into direct contact with the water. The packaging of boxed water is usually a combination of paper, plastic, and sometimes aluminum. Each material has its distinct properties, and potential health considerations associated with them.

Paper (Cardboard): The primary material for boxed water is cardboard, derived from wood pulp. It is generally considered safe and is often sourced from sustainably managed forests. However, the cardboard in water packaging is lined with a thin layer of plastic and sometimes aluminum to prevent leakage and maintain the water's freshness.

  • Polyethylene (PE): Typically used as the plastic lining, Polyethylene is considered one of the safer plastics for food and beverage contact. It doesn’t contain known endocrine disruptors like BPA (bisphenol A) or phthalates.
  • Aluminum: Sometimes used as a barrier layer to better preserve the water and prevent contamination. Exposure to high levels of aluminum has been associated with health issues, but the levels in boxed water packaging are generally far below what's considered harmful.

Printing Inks and Adhesives: The exterior of the boxed water is often printed with inks for branding purposes. The inks and adhesives used are a consideration since they could potentially leach into the water under certain conditions. Manufacturers typically use food-grade inks and adhesives deemed safe for indirect food contact, but this does not entirely eliminate the risk of leaching.

Chemical Leaching Concerns: While the plastic used is generally considered safe, there is an ongoing investigation into the long-term effects of exposure to plastics and the potential for chemical leaching. Factors such as exposure to high temperatures and the acidity or alkalinity of the water can influence the rate at which chemicals are leached from the packaging materials into the water.

Studies indicate that minimal chemical migration occurs at room temperature, but more research is needed to fully understand the implications of long-term exposure through ingestion of these chemicals 1.

In conclusion, the chemical composition of boxed water packaging materials is designed to be safe for food contact and consumption. However, ongoing research and a better understanding of chemical leaching over time are crucial to determine if there are any long-term health effects associated with consuming water from these containers.

Material Usage Health Considerations
Polyethylene (PE) Plastic Lining Low risk of harmful chemical leaching
Aluminum Barrier Layer Minimal exposure in boxed water packaging
Inks and Adhesives Branding/Sealing Potential for leaching; generally safe for indirect food contact

Addendum: It's important to note that regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversee the safety of food packaging materials, including those used for boxed water. This oversight helps to ensure that the materials do not pose a significant risk to human health 2.

  1. Journal of Food Science and Technology. “Chemical Migration in Drinking Water Stored in Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Bottles: A Source of Controversy.” Accessed March 1, 2023.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Food Contact Substances.” Accessed March 1, 2023.

Potential Contaminants in Boxed Water

When it comes to determining the safety of boxed water, evaluating potential contaminants is a critical step. These contaminants could range from substances used in packaging materials to environmental pollutants that might infiltrate during the filling and distribution processes. While boxed water is generally marketed as a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic bottles, consumers should be aware of several factors that could compromise its purity.

Chemical Leaching from Packaging

Boxed water typically comes in cartons made from paper with a thin plastic lining, which is necessary to prevent the paper from becoming soggy. A common concern is the potential for chemicals from the packaging materials to leach into the water. For example, bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical traditionally used in some plastic linings, has been linked to various health issues, including endocrine disruption and heart problems.

Fortunately, many manufacturers have transitioned to BPA-free linings due to these health concerns. According to a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), BPA-free products are less likely to leach harmful chemicals. However, consumers should remain informed about the types of linings used in their boxed water brands and any potential substitute chemicals that might be used in BPA-free products.

Contamination During Production

The production process of boxed water involves multiple steps where contaminants could potentially enter the product. This includes anything from the quality of water source, filtration, and packaging processes. To ensure the safety of the product, it is critical for suppliers to maintain high standards of cleanliness and to regularly monitor water quality. According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), bottled water (and by extension, boxed water) should comply with the same FDA regulations as tap water, which includes testing for contaminants such as coli, mercury, and lead.

Environmental Contaminants

As with any packaged product, there's also a risk of environmental contaminants during storage and transportation. For instance, if boxes are stored in a facility with poor air quality or are exposed to harmful chemicals, there could be a risk of these substances penetrating the packaging and contaminating the water. Transparency of the product's journey from source to shelf is vital for ensuring its quality and safety.

In conclusion, while the risk of contamination in boxed water may potentially be lower than plastic-bottled alternatives, it is important to stay vigilant as a consumer. Investigating the packaging materials, understanding the production standards, and learning about the quality control measures undertaken by manufacturers can empower you to make more informed decisions regarding the safety of boxed water.

Sustainability: The Environmental Impact of Boxed vs. Plastic Water

The debate between the environmental impact of boxed water compared to that of plastic bottled water is multifaceted. Given the urgent need to address sustainability on a global scale, it is essential to evaluate the materials, production, transport, and end-of-life handling of these containers. Here we delve into the environmental footprints of boxed and plastic water packaging.

Materials: Boxed water containers are typically made from paper, which is a renewable resource. The paper used in boxed water comes from trees that can be replanted and grown again, whereas plastic bottles are produced from non-renewable petroleum-based materials. According to a life cycle assessment from the Environmental Paper Network, paper boasts a higher recycling rate compared to plastic, which can reduce the pressure on virgin resources. However, trees do require a significant amount of time to grow, and harvesting them has its own ecological implications, such as habitat disruption and reduced carbon sequestration capacity.

Production: The production of boxed water is touted to have a lower carbon footprint than that of plastic bottles. The resources required to produce cardboard cartons are less energy-intensive compared to the manufacturing of plastics. A study from the Journal of Cleaner Production highlights that even when accounting for the thin layer of plastic liner and aluminum cap used in boxed water containers, the overall energy consumption during production is typically lower than that for PET plastic bottles.

Transport: When it comes to transportation, boxed water containers often have an advantage over round plastic bottles due to their shape. The square form factor of boxed water enables more efficient packing and shipping, which can lead to reduced carbon emissions. Reducing the space taken up by packaging allows for more products to be transported simultaneously, as pointed out in research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

End-of-Life: The recyclability and disposal of the packaging is a critical component of its environmental impact. Boxed water can be recycled where facilities exist that can separate the paper from the plastic liner. However, not all recycling centers have the capabilities to process these composite materials, which can limit the environmental benefits. On the other hand, PET plastic bottles are widely recycled, yet they often end up in landfills or the environment due to inadequate waste management systems, as reported by the United Nations Environment Programme. It is also worth noting that plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose, whereas paper decomposes much faster and poses less of a long-term pollutant.

In summary, boxed water presents certain environmental advantages over plastic bottled water, particularly in terms of resource renewability, production energy requirements, transportation efficiency, and potential decomposition rates. Nonetheless, the entire lifecycle of the product must be considered, acknowledging the challenges in recycling composite materials and the ecological impact of paper production. It behooves consumers and industry leaders to weigh these factors carefully when making decisions about sustainable packaging.

Shelf Life and Storage Conditions of Boxed Water

Understanding the shelf life and proper storage conditions for boxed water is critical to ensure its safety and quality over time. Boxed water, commonly packaged in cartons made from paperboard, is known for its eco-friendliness compared to plastic bottles. However, it is essential to consider how these materials can affect the longevity and purity of the water contained within.

Shelf Life Factors:

  • Material Composition: The composition of boxed water cartons, typically a combination of paper, aluminum, and plastic, is designed to protect the water from light and air, which can help extend its shelf life compared to water in clear, plastic bottles.
  • Preservation Methods: During the packaging process, water is often pasteurized or undergoes ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatment to eliminate pathogens. This sterilization is crucial for extending shelf life and keeping the water safe for consumption.
  • Seal Integrity: The quality of the seal on the carton is paramount in preventing contamination and oxygen infiltration, both of which can markedly reduce the shelf life of the water.

Typical Shelf Life: Unopened boxed water typically has a shelf life ranging from 6 to 24 months. The variance largely depends on the brand and the specific treatment methods used during packaging.1 It is always recommended to check the best-by date provided by the manufacturer.

Impact of Storage Conditions: While boxed water may have a considerable shelf life, improper storage can shorten this significantly and potentially impact the safety of the water:

  • Temperature: Boxed water should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Excessive heat can promote leaching of materials from the carton and encourage bacterial growth, especially after the best-by date.
  • Humidity: High humidity environments can compromise the structural integrity of the carton, leading to leaks and possible contamination.
  • Light Exposure: Although boxed water cartons are less permeable to light, prolonged exposure can still affect water quality by promoting the growth of algae or other microorganisms if there is any nutrient presence.2

It is vital to note that once opened, boxed water should be consumed within a few days, as air exposure introduces bacteria that can multiply quickly even in sealed, refrigerated conditions. The Keeping Quality and Stability (KQS) system can be referenced for guidelines on post-opening shelf life of aseptic products like boxed water.3

In conclusion, while boxed water boasts a design that can extend shelf life and preserve water quality, its longevity is heavily dependent on appropriate storage conditions. By adhering to these considerations, consumers can enjoy the benefits of boxed water while minimizing health risks.

1 "Shelf Life of Carton Packaging," Institute of Food Technologists.

2 "Effects of Light on Water Quality", Journal of American Water Works Association.

3 "Aseptic Processing and Packaging for the Food Industry," U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Frequently asked questions

Boxed water containers can be recycled in facilities that have the capacity to separate the paper from the plastic liner. However, not all recycling centers can process these composite materials, so it's important to check with local waste management services for recyclability.

Boxed water has certain environmental advantages over plastic bottles, such as higher renewability of materials, lower production energy requirements, more efficient transportation, and faster decomposition rates. Nevertheless, challenges exist with the recycling of composite materials and the ecological impact of harvesting paper materials.

Yes, many manufacturers of boxed water have transitioned to BPA-free linings due to health concerns associated with bisphenol-A (BPA). Consumers should check with individual brands to confirm that their specific products are BPA-free.

Boxed water should be stored in a cool, dry environment away from direct sunlight and high heat to prevent leaching and bacterial growth. It should also be kept in conditions with low humidity to maintain carton integrity, and avoid prolonged light exposure to prevent the potential growth of microorganisms.

Ask a question about Boxed Water and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible long-term side effects

  • uncertain effects of long-term chemical leaching
  • potential endocrine disruption
  • heart problems from bpa
  • bacterial growth from improper storage

Ingredients to be aware of

  • polyethylene (pe)
  • aluminum
  • bpa and bpa substitutes
  • inks and adhesives


  • eco-friendly alternative to plastic
  • efficient packing and shipping
  • higher recyclability
  • potentially lower carbon footprint during production

Healthier alternatives

  • glass bottles
  • stainless steel containers
  • bpa-free and food-grade packaging

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

JUST Water

  • Naturally alkaline
  • Sustainable packaging
  • BPA free
  • 100% Spring water
  • Eco-friendly choice
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-02-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-02-2024

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