Give Me Back My Water!

How to be cured of the packaged drinking water delusion

Ranty post alert. But read on for the greater good!

I am more sad than angry as I ask you to make a pledge. No, not a new year resolution but a pledge. Resolutions are lame.

This year make a pledge you’ll not consume packaged drinking water.

Ever. Unless, you are in the middle of a desert dying of thirst. Actually, even as you almost die, be discerning and accept water only if it is from a tap and served in a glass. Ok, I may have taken that too far…

Why not packaged drinking water? Because I am convinced, it is the biggest con in history. That’s why. So every time you pick up a bottle of Evian, Aquafina, Dasani, Bisleri or one of scores of brands from your friendly neighborhood grocer, please feel duped and shitty like hell. Duped because one $2 bottled water is equivalent to a month’s drinkable tap water. And shitty, because when you buy a $2 bottle of water packaged in glorious plastic, you are naively thinking you are paying for convenience and safety. In reality, you are consuming pure evil from some of the vilest and greediest of corporations the modern world has ever seen.

I’ll save my breath and precious word count – just watch the latest episode of Rotten, Troubled Water on Netflix. Or, if you prefer, read Amy Livingston’s report on the topic.
As you will see in the documentary, or in Amy’s report, picking up a bottle of water amounts to you depriving scores of communities from some of the most underprivileged parts of the world, their right to natural drinking water – no less an example of moral turpitude than murder.

Giving up packaged drinking water and managing thirst sustainably is actually not that big a challenge. At least not in my “underprivileged” part of the world.

Ironically in India, for a resource that is so scarce, we tend to be quite generous with it in everyday life. In India and elsewhere on the sub-continent, offering free water to guests is a fundamental first deed of hospitality. Small and big restaurants offer filtered tap water free of charge. When you visit a home, your host doesn’t open the fridge and offer you a chilled bottle of water – generally, you’ll be offered filtered water off the tap. In most malls, train stations, bus depots, airports, you easily find public drinking water fountains that are attached to humming industrial strength water purifiers. I always used to wonder why one doesn’t see these basic conveniences in public places in advanced nations like the US of A. Now I know.

There’s all this free water right in the midst of mountains of plastic-packaged drinking water all around us and yet we reach out for that paid monstrosity blindly. You can drink your fill without spending a penny. How hard can it be? Just ask for tap water and if you are too concerned, confirm if it is filtered. I know, easier said than done. Folks visiting from more “privileged” parts of the world are gripped with paranoia. And that fear of disease is hard to overcome by just appealing to reason.

I noticed of late, as a fallout of corporate initiatives to use less plastic in office premises, the facilities team in my office has begun to keep reusable glass bottles in meeting rooms, reusable cups and glasses. But on the other hand, in the offices of my American counterparts, vending machines continue to dispense bottled water, pantries continue to stock plastic cups and glasses. Clearly, more needs to be done. In conference halls, fancy hotels, big-shot weddings, and sundry functions, hundreds of these wasteful half-litre plastic bottles are placed on tables so that attendees can quench their thirst without having to move their butts. These need to be shunned in favour of refillable water bubbles which attendees can walk up to and drink from, using a paper cup, or better still a reusable stainless steel tumbler. Again, in this part of the world, it is commonplace for people to drink without making lip contact with the glass so that others can use the same glass with a quick rinse. A skill worth acquiring. Start practicing now, it’s pretty simple.

Personally, I have pledged to organize my thirst management in simple habit changes:

  1. Always carry a one-litre stainless steel, glass or copper refillable water bottle when commuting within the city or on long journeys – flights, trains, buses, anything.
  2. Refuse the hard-sold packaged water and ask for filtered tap water in glasses in restaurants.
  3. Get a filter installed in the kitchen. One-time investment with some yearly maintenance.
  4. Don’t drink water immediately after food. Dual benefit – drinking water after a gap of at least an hour of eating your meal is good for your digestion. Plus if water is not easily available – say you are eating on the street, you have an hour to get to a source of tap water.

So there. If you take the pledge and live by it, you would give back to communities around the world, drinking water that is rightfully theirs, as well as rid the world of plastic. In one fell stroke. No, I know. It’s not that simple. But any big movement starts with a small habit change and a bit of inconvenience, no?

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