How to reduce plastic water bottles while travelling
Before we set off on our travels, we tried to pre-empt our use of plastic, and reduce plastic consumption in every way we could whilst moving around Asia. Most of this was relatively straightforward, because we had become accustomed to huge reductions in our plastic consumption at home. Transitioning all this to a backpack wasn’t that much of a challenge. However remembering to take the products out at the right times has occasionally been more difficult. We’ve become more ready to say “no plastic straw please” in every café or restaurant, however more often than not will frustratingly still receive one.
The water bottle situation bothered us more than any other plastic item though. Humans now produce around 1 million plastic bottles a minute. Just let that sink it. Over a billion everyday. With a family of four, there’s just no way we wanted to contribute to that whilst travelling.
The essential tool when reducing plastic is therefore of course an appropriate water vessel. Sturdy, non-plastic, reusable, dependable… it deserves a holiday too right? Of course it does! However, one major difference between home and travels, is access to clean and safe drinking water. At home or at work we just walk to the tap and fill it up. We may even have the luxury of a filtered UV tap.
A lot of countries we visit in South East Asia don’t offer drinking water on tap. Yes, it looks clean, but all know we can’t drink it. Locals may drink it as they have done all their life. Their bodies are more resistant to the bacteria that lurks in the water. Me though? I’d barely last an hour on it.
Choosing a water bottle is fairly straightforward. I’ve used one similar to this for over a year now. They are available in endless colours and designs by seemingly endless brands. I’ve put cold water in mine and then left it in in full view of the blazing sun for many hours. When I’ve come back, the water is still chilled. It’s perfect for hot countries. My wife uses a DYLN water bottle though. It’s not insulated, but does offer anti-oxidant alkaline water. You could also look at Tree Tribe for extra eco points.
Safe drinking water
So to prevent my lovely stainless steel, double wall vacuum insulated water bottle being redundant whilst away, we had to seek a way to ensure it could proffer safe drinking water.
As we didn’t fancy digging a well in each location we visited (planning permission would be a nightmare) we looked at alternatives. As always, these are just our opinions based on the research we have done.
Filtered vs Purified Water
Let’s just clarify the difference between filtered and purified water:
Filtered Water refers to water that has passed through a physical barrier to remove any object, sediment or particle. In addition, it can often go through a chemical or biological process too.
Filtered water may, on the surface, look clean, but won’t always be drinkable. Most tap water in Asia, for example, may be filtered but not purified.
Purified Water has also gone through a additional stage of removing impurities. This will involve removing contaminants such as harmful bacteria. It can be achieved by multiple methods. The original one being distilling (i.e. boiling the water and capturing the vapour). But now, as listed below, multiple methods exist.
Think of filtered water as going through a sieve, and then through sand to get every rock, piece of dirt, silt and foreign body out of it. Looks lovely, but it probably didn’t remove the bacteria and other potential waterborne diseases that went with it. That is where the Purifying comes in.
For this article we are assuming that the water has already been filtered, as most tap water would be. It’s important you check this in each country though.
Who doesn’t love a cup of boiling water to refresh them in a tropical country? It is of course very effective though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boiling for at least 1 minute, and possibly up to 3 if you’re at high altitude to kill disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
For this though you need to be prepared (and trust your kettle if you’re in a hotel). You’re best off boiling in the evening, and letting it cool overnight ready for the next day. If you have access to a fridge that’s a real bonus.
Just the word ‘Chemical’ always made me nervous over this one. Unless your local water plant is artesian water from an aquifer then almost all cities with drinkable tap water will use chemicals of some sort. Still, the taste and constant need to carry tablets put us off this one.
It absolutely should not be dismissed though. There’s a reason it’s used for Military Activities and Disaster Relief Operations. But if we’re travelling for 6 months, it’s not a long term solution.
You would also want to say clear if you suffer from thyroid conditions or iodine allergies, or if you are pregnant.
UltraViolet (UV) Light
UV light can destroy over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Sounds good right? Well, it is. We have been using a SteriPEN Ultra reliably for a while now. We initially bought a five gallon plastic water bottle. Yes, you read it correctly, a dreaded plastic bottle! It has served us well as a vessel that we can continually refill and store in the fridge to keep cool. We have a family base in South East Asia to justify purchasing this, but will have to rethink when we are on the road more. The Steripen is straightforward to use however it should be noted that it takes 45 seconds per half litre so we would recommend having an additional store of pre-sterilised water if you have the option.
The pen is lightweight to carry around, and can be easily charged using a USB port. See the following youtube video for a full review including testing poor quality water samples and results:
There are a number of other portable UV purifiers on the market, so do look around, but for us the SteriPEN Ultra is small, reliable and safe. The charging via USB is really handy too as you don’t need to worry about buying batteries. It also comes with a great Life Pledge.
Using a method to purify water, rather than buying plastic bottles is one of the most effective ways to reduce your plastic waste whilst travelling. As a family of 4 we could easily go through up to eight litres a day. That can be a phenomenal amount of waste if purchasing bottles.
All it takes is a little investment money and time wise. We now prepare our water before leaving the house each morning. It’s simple and now just part of the routine.
So now, my reusable water bottle is getting more use than ever. I never leave the house without it.