Water that Kills

I’ve broken a promise, and for that I’m sorry.

You see, almost a year ago I made a pledge. Earth Hour was approaching, and I made what is called an “I Will if You Will” video and challenge, promising to never, ever in my life order bottled water in a restaurant if 50 people would accept my challenge and pledge to take public transport to work.

As it turned out, I didn’t reach the goal of 50 folks but I decided to keep my promise anyway. Which led to some absurd scenes at restaurants when they simply didn’t want to give me tap water, generally claiming that it wasn’t any good. In Budapest I’d just tell them that I lived there, drank the water all the time, and found it delicious. But my favorite incident happened at our local Budapest Italian joint when I asked for water from the tap.

Dasani - Coca-Cola's tap water in a bottle.

Dasani – Coca-Cola’s tap water in a bottle.

“So a bottle of water, then,” the waiter says.(And a bottle of water at this place came in the 250 ml size, just enough to get you about half way through your appetizer.)

“No, you can just give me water from the tap,” I reiterate.

He hesitates, then tells me with a straight face, “We don’t have any.”

“You don’t have any.”

“That’s right,” he says, but he’s beginning to squirm a bit under my incredulous gaze.

“So when you turn on the taps,” I ask slowly, “what comes out?”

He’s starting to wish I hadn’t sat in his section. Then I give him my most earnest, heartfelt look, and say,”Come on. Let’s save the planet.”

I get a carafe of cool tap water, and he gets an extra-large tip.

Then we moved to Spain, and the water in our beach community, while perfectly safe to drink and fine to cook with, really doesn’t taste good. Not good at all. Bad, in fact. So despite my pledge, my conscience, and the sea of plastic in which the planet swims, I start ordering bottled water in restaurants again. Even worse, we began to buy it for home consumption. And the 5-liter plastic bottles begin to pile up. We try a Brita filter. Still yuck. We fire up the huge water filter outside the house, which somehow manages to make the water even more unpalatable.

A reverse osmosis filter pays for itself pretty quickly

A reverse osmosis filter pays for itself pretty quickly

I could now build a small home with the plastic bottles waiting to be taken to the recycling bin, so we go to the local DIY store and get a reverse osmosis filter to install under the kitchen sink. At last, tasty water flows refreshingly from the tap, and I feel a bit better.

There are lots and lots of little things we could all do to mitigate the negative impact we have on the environment, but if you were to commit to one act, take one single step that would have immediate effect, it would be to stop buying bottled water.

A few facts:

  • In 2003 “An estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.” That number is now around 40%.
  • “75% of tested New York City residents actually preferred tap water over bottled water in a blind taste test.”
  • Municipal water is subject to much stricter regulation than bottled water, and must be tested several times a day, while “a significant number of [bottled brands] have undergone almost no regulation or testing.”
  • Reusing plastic bottles, while seemingly a good idea, leaches harmful phthalates into the water you’re drinking.
  • “Each hour, North Americans consume and discard about 2.75 million plastic water and soda bottles; that’s 24 billion a year.”
  • 17 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic bottles annually – enough to fuel 1 million cars for a year.
  • For every liter of bottled water, 3 more are used to produce it. In other words, it takes 4 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water.
  • “Currently, there is six times more plastic than plankton floating in the middle of the Pacific.” The situation is similar in all of the world’s seas and oceans, and much of that plastic comes from water bottles.
  • A bottle of water is used up in about 2 minutes – it then takes anywhere from 400 to 1000 years to degrade, and those micro-plastics enter our food supplies.
  • Bottled water costs on average 1,000 – and up to 10,000 times – more than tap water. In fact, “the recommended eight glasses of water a day, at U.S. tap rates equals about $.49 per year; that same amount of bottled water is about $1,400.”

    This is what large parts of our oceans look like

    This is what large parts of our oceans look like

So what can you do? Well, it’s pretty simple, really. Don’t buy bottled water. And if you must buy bottled drinks, get them in glass and make sure they end up in a recycling bin. There are tons of great reusable bottles out there; pick a few up for you and the kids, and wean yourselves off the plastic.

The Story of Stuff has a fantastic video outlining the problems with bottled water – take 8 minutes to watch it and it just may change the way you live.

Each of us can leave a footprint in the sand. Let’s make sure that the sand is not made largely of plastic.

Further reading:
The Water Bottle Deception
The Truth about Bottled Water
Bottled Water Facts
Marine Litter
And this one for the kids: Drinking Water: Bottled or from the Tap? 

The greenwashing

The greenwashing

The reality

The reality

19 thoughts on “Water that Kills

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  3. Wow those facts are scary! I’m gonna join you. I grew up in rural Germany and at times our water was not safe to drink. Rare occasions but it means my family will not touch tap water at all! I am working on them… Will share your post x

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    • Thanks, Frau Naish! I’m curious, do you know why your water was sometimes unsafe? Was the problem chemical? Agricultural? And did municipal officials warm you when it was not okay to drink?

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      • I grew up in Communist East Germany in the countryside. I think it was as simple as a burst water pipe. I remember water coming out brown. So we just automatically never drank it. And my family have stuck with that. I drink it now but they look at me funny. Pretty sure its clean there now. Probably extra clean being German 😉

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  4. Even allowing for some of that plastic to have blown into the bird, that is truly horrifying. I am always taken aback when restaurants bring me a bottle of water when I have stipulated out of the tap. Generally, people don’t accept that drinking room-temperature water is an option either.
    I recently borrowed a hessian shopping bag from a family member. As I was walking out of the house I noticed that it stated on the outside that every (plastic) bottle of water consumed was helping create water supplies in Africa. I was appalled. I didn’t use the bag.

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  5. That was very informative, thank you. We used to buy bottled water for the kids as we thought it was better for them. We have decided against it and now we all drink tap water. The taste is not really great but it’s really a matter of getting used to it. If you drink it really cold out of the fridge it sort of it eliminates the bad taste as well.

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    • Maybe a simple Brita-style filter would improve the taste. As I wrote, our tap water tasted so bad that no one wanted to drink it. The reverse-osmosis filter was the only thing that worked. It cost about 140 Euro, but the money saved in bottled water will pay for that in a few months.
      Hope all’s well with you these days, Tatu.

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  6. This is so true. Here in Germany you get the evil eye as soon as you order tap water in a restaurant. Since two years me and my wife only buying bottles when we have friends over. They tell me that I am cheap to use tap water. But you know what. Yes i am and after that video more proud of it.
    Thank for sharing.

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    • It’s strange and true that there is a kind of stigma attached to tap water, and I think that was in large part orchestrated by beverage companies who had massive campaigns to induce people to buy water. Not only is drinking tap water safe, nearly free, and environmentally sound, it’s simply the right thing to do and it needs to be framed as such. We need campaigns that stigmatize the wastefulness and environmental degradation caused by bottled water, so that you get the evil eye in a restaurant when you order an Evian.
      Thanks for visiting, and for drinking from the tap!

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  7. Thank you! I am going to share this because many of my friends just don’t get it. We have Lake Michigan water and I love it and yet people continue to buy bottled water, I don’t get it.

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    • It is indeed hard to fathom why people waste their money in this way. We’ve been manipulated to buy an expensive and environmentally harmful product that we simply don’t need. Definitely share this far and wide – it’s something I feel very strongly about!

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