Time to Ditch Bottled Water?

I was in a meeting a couple of days ago, one of the guys was drinking some sort of what the Americans call soda – miscellaneous synthetic flavoured sugared water. The other was drinking a plastic bottle of water titled “boring still water”. He was obviously living intentionally, at least as to what he was drinking – zero calories and good for him.

I linked to the Story of Stuff in yesterdays post on the budget, and on that site there’s The Story of Bottled Water (above), which really is quite remarkable.

Now I don’t really rate plain water as a beverage. I always like it to have gone through a coffee machine first, though if the sun is over the yardarm I’m also perfectly okay if it has been introduced to fermented grape juice or barley first 🙂

If I have to take plain water sans caffeine or alcohol, at the very least I prefer it sparkling, to give it some interest, and some tang, presumably from the slight acidity of the dissolved CO2. This must be some European thing, as I had the devil’s own job finding sparkling mineral water in the US, though I was tickled to find vast quantities of filtered tap water on sale there. Filtering tap water and selling it is not something we used to do in Europe – there’s always some sort of story about the source on the bottle here. This even applies to still water, and even on the cheap stuff from Aldi that I drink, which is about 25p for 2 litres.

I was first introduced to sparkling mineral water in Germany as a kid, to Hessen Quelle which came in re-usable glass bottles. I recall this from the early 1970s, so I’m not quite sure the European story stacks up with this film in that the start of demand manufacturing in the late 1970s and Orson Welles, he of the “there is a spring, and its name is Perrier” in 1977. The story of Perrier seems to indicate that mineral water was promoted in Europe before the First World War.

However, it’s difficult to get away from some of the issues in the Story of Bottled Water. Apparently you can get round the usual problems of tap water, the smell and taste of chlorine, by chilling it in the fridge. You can filter it to improve taste and remove some contaminants, however having once seen such a filter go green with algae I’m not so keen on that now. And Anglian tap water isn’t so bad taste-wise, if the chlorine goes.

The issues with mineral water are

  • cost
  • transporting water (though I usually drink British water at least)
  • making plastic bottles or making and transporting heavy glass bottles

I prefer the taste of water from glass bottles but in an attempt to reduce costs I have sifted to 2l plastic ones. These aren’t so ideal for sparkling water as by the time you reach the end most of the fizz has gone, and sparkling mineral water that has gone flat has a curious and not particularly pleasant taint.

The trouble is my penchant for sparkling water. You can carbonate tap water with a Sodastream, but swapping one environment-hostile process (transporting water and making plastic bottles) for another, the Sodastream  cylinder exchange process is a pretty outrageous scam, presumably where Sodastream make their money. I try and avoid anything with a subscription or running cost, and I can’t even make the business case for a Sodastream compared to Aldi. Heck, Aldi even throw in the water for free, while Sodastream want to charge me for a gas that’s meant to be ending the world.

Sodastream’s cylinders are £9 for 60 litres (ie 60 liters treated water). 30 2-litre Aldi bottles will run me £7.50, so Sodastream runs 20% more, plus the £60 capital cost. Not only that, but I would be supporting a company that has deliberately designed their cartridges so they are harder to refill from a large pub CO2 cylinder which would be a lot cheaper, though it can be done. I am chuffed that the Germans felt the same way, and when SodaStream tried to abuse the legal process to stop competitors refilling their cartridges the German Anti-Cartel Office stepped in and told SodaStream (known as SodaClub in Germany)  to cease and desist their restrictive trade pracitices.

I’m not supporting capitalist pigs like that. I’m all for genuine business, but restrictive trade practices where companies actively stand in the way of customers looking for cheaper solutions should never be supported.  And I am not sure that I can face futzing about with adapters and CO2 cylinders.

The issue here isn’t cost, I would only get through a couple of these 2l bottle as week in summer, and I’m not going to break into a sweat to save 50p a week or £26 a year. However, I don’t really want to be a gratuitous hazard to the environment without at least thinking about it if there’s an alternative that isn’t more expensive. According to the NY Times, about a quarter of all bottled water crosses national boundaries on the way from source to drinker. Living intentionally means at least considering the issue.

At work we have two types of drinking water dispensers – one sort is a filter and chiller on the tap water, the other is one with spring water in big plastic bottles fitting onto a chiller unit – these are placed where plumbing access is difficult. I find the water from both of these preferable to drinking it at tap temperature. I have a perfectly serviceable chiller at home called my fridge, so I will try the usual recommended solution of keeping tap water in a glass jug in the fridge. Hopefully the taste improvement of not coming from a plastic bottle will outweigh the absence of carbonation, otherwise I will go back to Aldi.

Oh and the guy in the meeting? He was being quite rational – after all, he was in unfamiliar surroundings. He was buying the convenience of the bottle, rather than the water as such 🙂