The challenge with plastic bottled water
How can we obtain clean drinking water when travelling, sailing, and nomadding without buying plastic bottles? What are the drinkwater alternatives to plastic water bottles? Water is life. It’s a basic human need. 1 in 9 people lack access to safe water and collecting drinking water is the daily priority. At home, you may have the luxury to drink safely from the tab, in many countries and on sailing boats buying plastic bottled water has become the norm. We buy it because bottled water is cheaply available, we need it on the go, we want bubbles, because we think drinking from a sealed bottle is pure and free of contaminants, or we simply don’t know what the alternatives to plastic water bottles are. With pollution all around us, it is becoming more and more difficult to figure out if water is safe to drink. So we buy bottles flown and shipped from as far as Fiji or the Himalaya, because we assume it’s better than the alternative, we don’t know what the alternative is, or we’re gone travelling unprepared. Water has gone from being a free natural resource to one of the most profitable commercial products of the last century. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Consider these facts, explore the simple and cheap alternatives to plastic water bottles. Then choose what works for you!
Facts on plastic bottled water
- We produce almost 20,000 plastic bottles every second (1). We globally buy a million plastic bottles per Minute. It is estimated that over half a trillion plastic bottles will be sold in 2020 (2). Only 9% is recycled (3). Where does the rest go?
- The amount of water going into making a bottle could be up to six or seven times what’s inside the bottle. The total energy requirements for every bottle’s production, transport and disposal are on average equal to filling a quarter of that bottle with oil, with an energy cost a thousand times larger than the energy required to procure, process, treat and deliver tap water.
- Tiny pieces of plastic have been found in over 90% of the world’s most popular bottled water brands. Levels of plastic fibers in popular bottled water brands could be twice as high as those found in tap water (4).
- The quality of tap water is more regulated than bottled water. There is no regulation yet that demands brands to spell out the source of their bottled water. One study found that only 55 percent of bottled water brands are actually spring water, while the remaining 45 percent brands sell treated tap water as bottled water.
- If plastic bottles are exposed to heat or sit around for a long time chemicals can seep out of which some are possible endocrine disruptors.
Bottled water is not a healthy option for the ocean, our wallet, and ourselves.
What are budget and travel-friendly alternatives to plastic bottled water?
10 travel-friendly drink water solutions as alternatives to plastic water bottles
Explore the best travel water filtration what works for you and your adventure!
1. Fill a bottle or cup with tap water
In most places in Europe and North America tapwater is as healthy and good (and in many cases, better!) as bottled water. Use it! It’s a privilege! This sounds very simple and obvious but why do we still buy bottled water then? If you’re worried about the quality of the tap water or if you don’t like the taste, combine tapwater with one of the other recommended solutions listed below. If you’re in a bar or restaurant and they don’t give tap water because they sell plastic bottled water, share some ocean facts of the bottle crisis in the ocean with the bar owner and/or boycott the place.
2. Boil water
That’s what grandma did. As concluded by the World Health Organization, boiling water is sufficient to kill pathogens (bacteria, viruses, & protozoa). It doesn’t eliminate chemical contamination such as pesticide, herbicides, and other man-made pollution. DIY. After the water has reached a rolling boil (The Center for Disease Control recommends that you boil water for 1 minute), remove from heat and let it cool down naturally (without ice). The trick is thinking ahead so you have cool water.
3. Expose water to the sun and air
Municipalities often add Chlorine to disinfect tap water. Chlorine solutions lose strength while standing or when exposed to air or sunlight (source). DIY. Let tap water sit in a jug without lid and chlorine evaporates after 24 hours.
4. Filter with Fruit Peels
A widely available water filtration solution are fruit peels! Researcher Mallampati found that apple and tomato peels are remarkably efficient at absorbing harmful pollutants including heavy metals, chemicals, various nanoparticles, dyes, and pesticides. Banana peels also have proven promising qualities to filter water (6). DIY. Instead of just throwing them away, try this. Soaks the peels in a rubbing alcohol solution, dry them out, and put them in the water for two hours to let them do the filtering job. Remove the peels and the water is ready to drink. (7)
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5. Add purifying drops
Drops are a lightweight water purification solution. There are lots of chemical drops on the market with either iodine or chlorine as the purifying ingredient. Iodine is the stronger variant and kills most (but not all) pathogens. Drops are also effective to remove different types of water based contaminants. Iodine also helps to neutralize strong taste. Most of the purifying drops do not have an expiration date and are therefore a good choice for long term travel. Iodine and chlorine drops are only recommended for short-term situations because the chemicals used in chlorine or iodine-based products can become harmful to the body if consumed for extended periods of time. The only natural water purifying drops and free of iodine, chlorine and any toxic substances I found are Purinize drops. A combination of sulfate mineral salts disinfects and clarifies the raw water. DIY. You add a few drops to contaminated water. The dirt and contaminants will settle at the bottom and give safe drinking water generally one hour later. You can also remove unwanted sediment with a portable filter or cloth (but you don’t have to).
6. Activated charcoals sticks
Another creation of mother nature: Activated charcoal sticks! Active charcoal naturally bonds with mercury, chlorine, copper, and even lead. There are lots of other purposes for activated charcoal too (brushing teeth, food poisoning). I now have it standard in my nomad kit. Activated charcoal is not effective in removing dissolved inorganic contaminants, some metals, chemicals and viruses. How does it work? You place the activated charcoal stick in a jug or bottle of water and let it sit for a few hours. Voila, impurities are filtered. They work up to four months and you can ‘reset them’ by simply boiling them! The best part: active charcoal can add healthy things like calcium, magnesium and iron back into your drinking water. (note. Activated charcoal is different than charcoal)
7. A Straw with filter
Similar to boiling water, filter straws eliminate bacteria, viruses, & protozoa. They can’t pass through the microscopic holes of the filter. They can filter up to 1000 liters of water without chemicals. It doesn’t filter all chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides.
8. A Bottle with filter
Using a filter bottle has saved me from adding hundreds of plastic bottles to the trash pile, in just one month! The market has plenty of different filter bottles available. The challenge is to find filters that don’t need to be replaced often and that do not come in plastic. Also check out the jugs with filters so you can cater for more people. My go – to favourite is Maunawai. I wrote a review about it here.
9. Screw on a filter
Screw on water filters, also called ‘Faucet’ water filters can be screwed onto bottles and taps. Most but not all of them are a little bit bulky.
10. Copper Bottle
Recommend in Ayurveda. It naturally purifies water and adds goodness to it.
11. Don’t forget the reusable bottle
How do you know if it’s safe to drink?
Skeptical? Test your water!
What is the best travel friendly water filtration option?
The best travel water filtration option is the one that does not leave a trace. The best alternative to plastic water bottles is the one that works for you in your situation and destination where you are going to. It depends if you travel alone or not, your preferences, and the resources and availability around you. With so many options out there, different combinations of water purification and filtration can perfectly do the job. There’s is no excuse for single-use bottles.
Which alternative to plastic water bottles will you try out?
What do I find the best travel water filtration in my nomadlife?
I’m a complex case since sometimes I’m on a boat, sometimes I’m on the land. Sometimes I’m in developing countries and sometimes in the developed world. Sometimes I travel alone, Sometimes with others. So what do I use to access clean drinking water? I source clean drinking water with a combination of the above depending the situation I’m in. The habit of always having a reusable water bottle with me is in the system. I refill from taps wherever I can. Sometimes the sailboats I’m on have a water-maker and/or filter on the tap. If they have both, I trust it without using additional purification. If the boat only has a water maker I now also additionally purify it myself. I’ve become terribly sick by trusting a water-maker only. The tank can still contain contaminants, also when it has been 100% emptied and refilled. For additional purification, I boil it if I have the facility. If I don’t, I use a water filter. So far I’ve tried a water filter bottle. This has saved the environment from buying hundreds of plastic bottles. It’s not a circular option since the filters need renewal every two months and produces waste. The charcoal sticks are now my personal favorite water purifying technique since I do not generate any waste. I simply put the stick in my reusable bottle. It tastes great and I feel great. I’m super curious to try out the drops and will update this post once I have.
As sailors and ocean lovers, we should not and we don’t have to rely on bottled water. We have the responsibility to be prepared with alternatives to plastic water bottles. Inspire your fellow crew and travelmates with your alternative to plastic water bottle water system. And let me know how you go!
Water Filtration Solution for sailing boats
Marja Kok, a circumnavigator and superyacht captain, dedicates herself to improving the water sourcing situation and purification solutions on yachts, and superyachts in particular. Learn more on WaterwithoutWaste.org
As always, opinions are my own. No organisation or brand is paying me to write this or mention them. What drives me is saving the ocean. Sometimes links to ocean-friendly alternatives to plastic water bottles contain affiliate links. If you’re looking to purchase something, huge thanks if you purchase it via this website (but try to find it locally first! ). At no extra cost to you, orders and bookings through this website give me a tiny piece of the pie that help me keep investigating, exploring and creating content about on ocean action and solutions! The information about best travel water filtration presented here is not a substitute for specific training or experience. When going into the outdoors it is your responsibility to have the proper knowledge, experience, and equipment to travel safely. Here are more ways to support ocean awareness and action. Splashthanks!