Think before you drink
From high in the Himalayas, to tea stalls in the Andes and at floating markets in Vietnam, you are never far from someone selling you bottled water – offering you convenience and a promise that it’s safe to drink. You may also not be far from a rubbish dump or a river bank that has plenty of evidence of discarded bottles, making the natural environment less than healthy.
Buying one bottle of water doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when multiplied by the millions, we have one dirty big problem…
- 200ml of oil is used to produce a 1 litre plastic bottle. Plus 2 litres of water to make the bottle, therefore for every 1 litre of water sold, 3 litres of water are used.
- Consider carbon emissions – CO2 from production and transportation. How many ‘ships in the night’ must pass each other with bottled water from different ends of the earth!
- What a waste – in countries where recycling systems are prevalent, it’s estimated that still only around a third of bottles are recycled. An Intrepid group of 12 people on a 14 day trip in a hot country, could, at just two bottles of water a day, discard 336 plastic bottles!
So what are your options on holiday? It’s wise to know before you go. And once at Intrepid’s destinations your group leader can let you know about the available alternatives. They may include:
- Bubblers/dispensers – filling from a bubbler, a purifying dispenser or reverse osmosis system (common in India), or obtaining boiled water from a flask in your room or the kitchen – the latter being common in China and Russia.
- Water purification tablets – available from camping stores or pharmacies. Some of the newer brands of water purification tablets have very minimal taste, especially if put in the bottle and left with the cap off to ‘vent’ overnight. Micropur brand is a good example.
- Iodine – tablets or 2% tincture of iodine solution available from pharmacies. Used at 4 drops per litre of water and left for at least 20 minutes, longer in very cold weather. Iodine may leave a slightly unpleasant taste. This can be countered by adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the treated water, but this should only be added after having waited the recommended amount of time for treatment because it neutralizes the effectiveness of the iodine.
- Portable water filters and purification systems – there is a wide range to choose from and your choice will depend on your intended usage, destination and length of time away. Considerations include whether you’re mostly treating town water, heading into the wilderness and collecting water from natural sources, the level of silt and the likely contamination. As the technology is advancing so rapidly in this area, we advise you get the latest recommendations from a reputable outdoor gear supplier.
- Tap water! Ask your leader. Don’t assume the water is bad, or good – find out!
With a bit of forethought, you can drink plenty and stay healthy during your travels. Plus you can help protect our precious resources and the natural environment of your host’s community.
This article was originally posted in March 2010, but since then the water bottle situation has become even more serious. So we want to remind you that there are now easy alternatives for travellers that will avoid us all adding to the global trash problem.
* photo by Amanda Stuart – Intrepid Photography Competition