Zero Waste drinking water. Everywhere & Anytime

Deutsche Version: Veröffentlicht als Gastbeitrag bei Zero Waste Austria!

Turn on the tap and just take a big sip of the cool water: Taken for granted in most Central European countries, but much more problematic in most parts of the world. This is also the case in Thailand, where I am currently spending my exchange time. Most people „solve“ the problem with plastic bottles. I have looked for better options which can help you at home or on your next trip to ensure a waste-free drinking water supply.


Why should I read this article?
The article can help you understand why tap water is always the better choice – for your health, for the environment & for your budget. It also gives you options to consume fresh water anywhere in the world without buying bottles – even if you’re traveling or the local water quality is not good enough without treatment. And you can do it without sacrificing taste or quality. On top of that, you can even save money by stopping buying bottled water today.

Tap water vs. bottled water: A comparison

Its way from the source to your home

Embed from Getty Images

The composition of the origin of tap water varies slightly from country to country: groundwater, water from springs and water from lakes and rivers is taken as raw water from the water cycle and fed into the tap water. Most waterworks in Central Europe, including Austria, process it by filtration and/or UV disinfection. It is then sent through a public pipeline network through the pipes in your house to your tap. There are either copper or plastic pipes. Have your water pipes serviced regularly at home so that the good quality of the drinking water is maintained right up to your tap!

Tap water is excellently controlled in most middle european countries and can be drunk without hesitation from the tap in most regions. Nevertheless, many people are afraid that there may be chemical residues in tap water. According to ecotoxicologists, however, these are marginal: we absorb much more poison directly via „body care products“ such as conventional shower gel, hair shampoo, make-up, conventional foods and medicines. And drinks in plastic bottles can also contain residues of chemicals (see „What is the quality of my tap water?“). Manufacturers of bottled water usually advertise that they have obtained water from a certain source. After it has been pumped, it is bottled, sealed, labelled and then brought to the wholesale trade. From there it goes to the retailer and only then does the consumer pick it up (often by using own car, because the bottles are heavy). So the way of bottled water is much longer and consists of many intermediate steps.

Comparison in terms of sustainability

1. Consumption
When drinking tap water you use an already existing infrastructure. The water doesn’t have to be driven through the area and so you can also save emissions, as I will explain in more detail in the following paragraph.
Consumption of tap water is also regional consumption, because then you drink the water that is sourced from your surroundings. Bottled water, on the other hand, is transported over different distances – depending on whether you buy water from your country or imported one.

2. CO2 emissions
Tap water has only 0.37 CO2 equivalents per litre, most of which are generated by its extraction and treatment. Bottled water from our own country, however, issues an average of 220 g CO2 equivalents per litre, which is due among e.g. to packaging and transportation. Of course, the amount of CO2 differs depending on the material of the bottle and the disposable or reusable packaging. And especially with imported water, the CO2 footprint can be expected to be even higher, depending on the distance. A comparison of the oil equivalents yields figures that are in very similar proportions to one another. So, tap water also performs better regarding CO2 emissions.

3. life cycle assessment
Tap water is also more sustainable when it comes to environmental pollution points: With only about 5 points, the advantage over mineral water from Switzerland (210 points) and mineral water from abroad (550 points) is quite obvious.
Not much more needs to be said about this: All in all, you can score with tap water from an ecological point of view. But tap water also has its financial advantages:

4. Private costs
This is probably no surprise for you: if you drink tap water, you can save money! While tap water is available for around 0.18 cents per litre in Austria and around 0.25 cents per litre in Germany, even the cheapest bottled water costs at least 13 cents per litre at discount stores.
If you now consume 1.5 litres of this cheap bottled water every day (much more expensive water is also available in stores!) and switch to Austrian tap water from now on, you can save around 70 € a year. The savings potential will increase if you also drink less juices, sodas, etc. and replace these drinks with tap water. So you drink less empty calories in the form of sugar, which has a positive effect on your health. It will also make it easier for you to switch to alternatives to the car for shopping, as you will have to carry less heavy shopping bags around with you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for tap water even in a restaurant. With prices of about 2.50€ for a 0.33 l bottle of mineral water in Austria, you can save even more money and emissions here. But better ask for the price of tap water before to avoid unpleasant surprises. Good restaurants usually like to serve a glass of tap water for free when you order a meal. For me a price of up to 0,50 € for a 0,5 l glass is still ok, because the service of tap water also imposes costs on the restaurant. But in my opinion it shouldn’t be much more expensive – as long as you consume also something other than water in the restaurant.

5. Social costs
Bottled water’s expensive. But not only for yourself, but also for the planet. I’m not just thinking of the waste produced by the many unnecessarily produced plastic bottles and its consequences for people and the environment. By buying water you also support the sale of a good that is even a human right according to the UN Charter. There are different views on this. In my opinion, however, pure, clean drinking water and clean air should be a matter of course for everyone! This does not mean that it must be completely free. A fair contribution, which everyone has to pay for the provision e.g. of clean tap water, is justified. It is therefore important, in my view, that politicians allocate sufficient resources to the relevant administrations in each region so that they can provide a high-quality and quantitative water supply for all.

What is the quality of my tap water?

You can easily check the quality of your water by checking the situation at your place of residence or holiday on the Internet before you drink it.

Water is in general safe to drink in the following countries:
Europe: Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Färoer Islands, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, England, Wales, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, France/Portugal/Spain/Italy/Greece (there are sometimes restrictions here, especially in the south and on the islands).

North America: Canada, USA

Asia: Japan, South Korea

Australia, New Zealand

The easiest way, of course, is when your tap water is drinkable without any treatment. Just take it directly from the tap! I prefer to transport water in a glass clip-on bottle or a stainless steel thermos flask. Also other bottles, which are designated for repeated use, are suitable. I just wouldn’t recommend you to reuse PET bottles or other plastic bottles made of untreated material more often, as chemicals can come off the plastic.
If you want to be on the safe side, you can check the quality of your pipes in the house and have them replaced if necessary.

Zero Waste drinking water supply options – even if your tap water or local water is not potable without treatment!

Depending on the quality of your tap water, you will have to treat it. There are many ways to do this, so there is sure to be something suitable for you. Depending on the quality of the water and your situation (in the house, on the way), you can choose from the following options to obtain water that is safe to drink and free of waste.

1. Boiling

Kochtopf

Small cooking pot in my ill-equipped old kitchen – but for boiling water, it is enough!

A very simple and inexpensive method is to boil the water. At temperatures above 100° some bacteria are killed. The disadvantage is that the taste is not improved by boiling and suspended matters as well as any chemical residues do not disappear.

2. UV sterilizer

20170825_155308

My UV-sterilizer

Instead, you can use a UV sterilizer. It’s small, handy and practical when you’re on the go. It kills bacteria, viruses and other germs. However, it also can’t improve the taste of the water or remove chemical residues. Therefore, it is not suitable for use in all locations. It also needs some electricity. I therefore recommend using a rechargeable model (as seen above).

3. Activated carbon filter
Activated carbon filtration is a particularly comprehensive filtration method. The water is filtered, removing bacteria and viruses as well as unwanted suspended matter and chemicals. Thus, it is suitable if your water both tastes bad and contains potentially dangerous germs. There are many different activated carbon filter models that are designed for different amounts of water.
Some of these filters can be connected directly to a faucet, which is convenient if you stay in one place for longer. Activated carbon filters are also often installed in easily transportable water purification bottles, which are recommended for use on the road. These bottles are sold by different suppliers, I myself currently use a Grayl water bottle and am quite happy with it. Only the volume could be a bit bigger and the cartridges are not recyclable or reusable after 150 l filtering. Apart from that, the bottle reliably treats the water, works without electrical energy and is very practical to use!

4. Reverse osmosis machine

Reverse osmosis

In Thailand, you often see water dispensers like this one where you can have your water bottle refilled for a small amount of money (here 1 litre = 1 bath…26 Bath is 1 €). These machines clean tap water by means of reverse osmosis filtration. Take a look at the water dispenser before you refill your water there. Poorly maintained vending machines can deliver water of poorer quality accoridng to my research, but I’ve never had problems with it. Reverse osmosis vending machines are also available for use at home, various models (Germany: from 200€) are available on the Internet. This can be especially useful if you live in a place with poor water quality and want to have clean water at home at all times.

5. Water delivery in large quantities
It is also possible to have your drinking water delivered to you. This is common in Southeast Asia, often used for offices & companies that need a lot of drinking water. One can order this water partly in very large deposit containers and thus also many bottles to save. However, it is to be noted that also deposit containers must be filled and transported, and they are delivered in plastic containers. When you use them frequently and do not know anything about the material they are delivered in, they might impose health risks in the long run (e.g. due to bisphenole A).

Conclusion
The abandonment of bottled water and the use of tap water has great potential in countries all over the world. That’s also what inspires me about it: With particularly simple measures you can have a great positive environmental, economical and social impact here!
My article shows that Zero Waste drinking water is profitable from these three angles: You save money and health risks, we save the environment plastic bottles and society a lot of future costs. It’s also good to know that you don’t have to rely on bottled water, but can supply yourself with sufficient drinking water everywhere and at any time. There are many ways to do this. Choose the one that best suits your lifestyle and the water quality in your place!

Sources and further information:
http://www.beobachter.ch/umwelt/infografik-der-lange-weg-des-trinkwassers
http://www.welltec-wasser.de/de/ratgeber/lesen/weg-des-wassers.html
http://www.zeit.de/2017/43/trinkwasser-vergiftung-oekotoxikologin-interview
​nachhaltig-sein.info/lebensweise/leitungswasser-mineralwasser-vergleich-nachhaltigkeit-gesundheit6
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwiH_4afpZfgAhVBo48K HQ5ED7MQFjAAegQICRAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fesu-services.ch%2Ffileadmin%2Fdownload%2Fflury-2011- OEkobilanzMineralLeitungswasser.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0pPi9_tpmRgi3QQ_bFtPci
derstandard.at/2000063292102/Wie-viel-darf-Leitungswasser-im-Lokal-kosten
dgvn.de/meldung/das-menschenrecht-auf-wasser-auf-dem-pruefstand-1
http://www.urlaubsguru.de/reisemagazin/trinkbares-leitungswasser-weltweit
bessergesundleben.de/warum-man-plastikflaschen-nicht-wiederverwenden-sollte
http://www.thai-thaifood.de/trinkwasseraufbereitung/

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