Lawrence, Kan., hospital switching from bottled to boxed water

Monday, April 13, 2009 | 4:14 p.m. CDT; updated 5:03 p.m. CDT, Monday, April 13, 2009

LAWRENCE, Kan. — A Lawrence hospital is swapping the plastic bottles it now uses for drinking water to a more environmentally sensitive alternative.

Beginning Wednesday, Lawrence Memorial Hospital will begin selling water in paper cartons and says it will be the first hospital in the nation to do so.

"It is something that could help the planet, plus help us," said Debbie Miers, director of Food and Nutrition and a member of a task force charged with helping make the hospital's operations more eco-friendly.

The ECO-Choice Natural Spring Water containers, made by Overland Park-based CRB Group Springwater, is made from 74 percent paper. In addition, the manufacturer says it uses electricity from wind turbines to make the cartons and plants two trees for every tree it uses.

Michael Trautschold, CRB's chief operating officer, said the cartons' square shape allows the company to transport more of them at a time, cutting down on the energy needed to distribute and store them.

"This is a very efficient production process," Trautschold said. "We can control how it is made, how it is transported. So, we think we are going everything we can."

The paper cartons also are expected to break down faster than plastic water bottles, which has become a key concern as only 18 percent of the estimated 60 million plastic water bottles used in the U.S. each year are being recycled. Lawrence Memorial uses 720 24-ounce bottles per week, or more than 37,000 annually.

"If this goes into the landfill it is breaking down," Miers said, holding a carton. "It is not sitting there like your plastic bottles and your plastic bags; you are breaking this down into the ground."

CRB gets the water from a natural spring in Ohio, which the company routinely tests.

Jennifer Juarez, vice president of Parkville, Mo.-based distributor Snacks on Racks, said the water's taste "lines up with the best of them."

Trautschold said CRB developed the carton using consumer research in Europe, which found that users favored the bigger twist cap, saying it was easier to use, and liked that the cartons were less likely to roll or tip over.

"It functions well from a drinking point of view, resealing point of view and storage point of view," he said.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital will be the carton's first market. CRB eventually will sell them to the public for a price Trautschold said would be comparable to bottled water. He said CRB expects to then begin rolling them out nationally and have them in stores by June 1.

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