While harder stuff flowed from an open bar, celebrities and guests at the 2008 Environmental Media Awards after-party could also quench their thirst with spring water specially packaged for the event under the name the Carton Tree. No plastic bottles at this green event -- just pure Canadian spring water served in recyclable, biodegradable paper-based cartons, the kind kids' juice box drinks and some dairy products come in, with a twist-off cap. It's the wave of the future, according to Giovanna Prestes, communications manager for Tetra Pak, maker of the eco-friendly packaging.

"It's a great alternative to bottled water," says Prestes, noting that unlike plastic containers, Tetra Pak "has protective layers and you cannot see through it -- no light can come in, so the product stays safe and fresh." In other words, no worries about harmful, possibly carcinogenic chemicals found in some plastic bottles.

Tetra Pak, founded in Sweden in 1952 by economist and scientist Ruben Rausing, has been in the U.S. market since 1984. It currently has a client roster including Minute Maid juices, Borden, Horizon Organic, Nestle and Hershey dairy products, Silk soy milk, soup and broth from Swanson, Emeril, Wolfgang Puck and Rachael Ray Stock in a Box, Tazo tea, Atkins shakes, and even wine, including the brands French Rabbit, Three Thieves Bandit, Vendange and Yellow + Blue.

Water in Tetra Paks has been less common in the States, but that's about to change: Brands such as H20 will soon launch here, selling in individual bottles, six-packs and cases of 18. The cost is slightly higher than plastic, but will be less than $2 a bottle.

Why has carton-packed water taken so long to catch on? Old habits die hard. "It's a process -- you have to change behavior," Prestes says, but she sees that happening. "Right now, more and more, the consumer and our customers are interested in being environmentally friendly. There's a demand from both sides."

One tree can make 4,600 Tetra Pak cartons, notes a graphic on the Carton Tree bottles that EMA attendees took home in their freebie bags. A message on the package's side drives the point home: "This Tetra Pak is all about the future," it reads. "Mainly made from renewable resources that grow back." We'll drink to that!    

Can the plastic, pass the paper bottle
The latest trend in liquid packaging makes eco-sense.