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Blog Action Day: Water & Bottled Water

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

Row of bottled water & glasses. Image (cc) Xavi Talleda

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.

Why Not Reusable Bottles?

Why not a bottle like this one? Image (cc) Ingridtaylar

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.

B/W Image is (cc) to Xavi Talleda. Color image is (cc) Ingridtaylar. Both images licensed via Creative Commons.

4 Responses to “Blog Action Day: Water & Bottled Water”

  1. Meike says:

    I found your blog a couple of days ago through Nanowrimo and have been reading along (and enjoying it, I’ll probably soon be an expat myself so it’s nice to read about your life) and just had to comment on this blog.. because I’ve been to very few restaurants in Netherlands where they do not give you tap water for free (and I’ve been to quite a lot of restaurants, though most of them are in Amsterdam), so I was quite surprised to read this! Do you actually ask for tap water, or just for ‘water’? ‘Cause that might make a difference.. anyway, I do agree with your point that it would be good if people drank more tap water, but wanted to let you know that it is definitely not the case in all of the Netherlands that restaurants don’t serve it for free :)

  2. Amanda says:

    Welcome to the blog. You make a good point; not all restaurants do things the same. I don’t ask for tap water specifically, but I still think it should be the default, not the exception. Because I know the default is the serve me bottled water, I never drink water in restaurants (expect in rare, desperate situations). I’m just saying I’d be willing to pay a nominal fee for tap water presented nicely if a restaurant wanted to get away from the bottled stuff.

  3. Clarence says:

    I have to agree, it’s quite frustrating at times especially when the water they serve comes in a bottle so tiny I could finish it in a second. I am also used to restaurants offering water for free, so I really don’t get why they can’t do it here. In the Philippines and Singapore, most restaurants would gladly offer you complimentary water as long as you order something else. In France, I rarely have to pay for water, because they offer carafe d’eau (tap water in a jar) even before you ask for it.

    But if Dutch businesses still want to earn money, I agree with your suggestion. That seems like a good compromise.

    For now, I’ll continue to bring my own water bottle and just re-fill it, primarily for environmental reasons. :)

  4. Bill says:

    Usually if you ask for a carafe of water, a glass carafe of tap water is supplied which is free. I learnt this trick from a local!
    Good luck