Today is Blog Action Day, when bloggers across the interwebs write about a shared subject to encourage discussion. This year, the subject is Water. I’d like to direct you the petition in my sidebar to support the UN’s effort to bring clean water to the people who need it the most. Go check it out. I’ll wait.
Now most participants are probably taking on the serious water issues. So I’m going to address the theme with something more pedestrian: Bottled Water.
Or as we call it by its brand name in the Netherlands, Spa.
Bottled Water in Dutch Restaurants
Every restaurant you visit in the Netherlands will be happy to serve you water, either still or sparkling. For a price and out of a bottle. This may be unavoidable for sparkling water, but it is rather disappointing for the ordinary still variety.
First of all, perhaps because I’m an American, I’m accustom to water being included at a restaurant for free. And when it is included, it’s tap. With the cost of bottled water often higher than that of beer, which do you think most people will choose to drink? I drank a lot more water in the US. The sad thing is that Maastricht actually has pretty good tasting water and I use it direct from the tap or cooled in reusable bottles all the time at home.
Secondly, the use of bottled water is creating excess waste that restaurants must pay to dispose of or recycle properly (at least I assume they recycle). Skipping bottled water would reduce costs and work for both the cafes and the city itself. Recycling is good, but it’s better to switch to reusable and sustainable options before you create the stuff you’ll just have to recycle later.
Now I understand that this method of serving water in a cafe probably has some cultural nostalgia behind it (although cultures can and sometimes should change). And I also understand that restaurants want to be able to charge for everything they serve. It’s only natural. But surely there can be a way to keep the feeling of the bottle (and a little profit for the restaurants) while cutting out the disposable excess that we see today.
Simply put, restaurants could offer a reusable bottle filled with clean, fresh tap water instead of the still Spa water they offer now. The water can be served in a bottle (easily refilled and washed), thus retaining whatever cultural expectation may be there. You’ve sacrificed no presentation, and the restaurants see an immediate reduction in their recycling/waste expenses (and the city has less work as well).
And now that the costs have gone down, the restaurants can pass some of that savings along to their customers. Charge a minimal fee for the water and more people will purchase both water and a beer (or soda or coffee). After all people in the Netherlands do expect to pay for water and the restaurants are making an effort to improve the presentation. Besides, it’s healthier and people will enjoy the flavor of the water just as much.
Sure it’s not a perfect plan (what about ice cubes I hear some of you cry), but it would be a good start. Individuals reducing their bottled water consumption is good, but if every restaurant in Maastricht stopped serving bottled still water? I think we’d see a huge difference. Think about it.