It’s rare to go out anywhere these days without seeing people clutching their latest must-have accessory, their own personal bottle of water. This innocuous little item seems to have become part of a daily habit, something that we can’t possibly leave home without. I heard this phenomenon rather graphically described recently as a substitute for a mother’s nipple!
Ever since the 1970s we’ve been told that bottled water is the healthier option, much safer and more pure than tap water. The documentary film ‘Tapped’ exposes the global bottled water industry as one of the biggest health cons of our time. Aside from the fact that we are all paying good money for something that is free (!), it describes how we are also damaging our health and contributing to the demise of the environment in the process!
Not that we’ve got much of a choice here in sunny Spain. Unless you live in a major city, you can’t rely on mains tap water for drinking, so a staple for most people here is a goodly supply of 5L containers of agua potable (drinking water). So, even though you can’t drink it, mains water is available to all households around here and, rather like the UK, it is used liberally for everything including washing of self and clothes, watering, cooking etc.
This is not the first time we’ve had to get used to living without the luxury of both mains water and electricity. Yes folks, we’ve been here before!
We spent three years in the wilds of Devon, on a mission to save this historic, centuries-old cob and thatch house from total dereliction, digging our heels in when the planners said “no”.
Our living conditions were more primitive there as we made our home in an old, battered caravan without the benefit of mains anything, no solar panels or well, reliant on a generator, water butts, river water and an old Rayburn.
Water was to become a revered and very precious commodity for us during our special time there. Here are a few extracts from the book I wrote about our experience (“Shoestring Warrior“, Lynda Franklin, Wunjo Press, 2005):
“The sparkling nearby stream gave us an abundant supply of running water, but water was too heavy for me to lug around even using light plastic containers and I often wondered how on earth our ancestors managed with wooden buckets. So, for convenience we used a network of plastic water butts to catch every last drop of rain from the caravan (and later, the barn) roof, and I would dip a bucket into it. More often than not the water had a smoky tang due to soot deposits from the Rayburn chimney. The butts were nearly always full. Wet Devon or what!”
I must admit I was developing the unenviable trait of becoming a bit holier than thou, especially regarding wastage:
“There was a sort of purity about processing our own rubbish and we certainly had to become very sparing with water when it had to be carted around and manhandled on the top of the Rayburn. Joe emptied our portaloo every six days and we had a large bucket into which the cold water from the sink drained. We did manage to keep relatively clean via the cracked, plastic kitchen sink, although we didn’t wash as regularly as we used to. Unless you’ve lived the way we did, or are a hardened camper, I guess there wouldn’t be a need to question consumption of natural resources, ‘oh, I’ve left a bit of loo paper floating in the pan, I’d better flush it a few more times’.”
“We are increasingly conditioned to be aware of how we look, keeping sparkly clean and having our hair shine-shake-shine. Are we really so manipulated that most of this has become subliminal now? There are wipes and disinfectants to remove every trace of every germ known to man. I’m sure most of us have felt sick when brought face to face with investigative films showing the state of kitchens, say, at the local Balti or burger bar. Yet it’s still comparatively rare to get food-poisoning. We’re quite a hardy breed really.”
I digress. Back to the bottled water. You probably remember the scare a few years back that a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic water containers (ie Bisphenol A or BPA) is highly toxic and can potentially migrate into the contents of the bottle. Back then, it was estimated that more than 2.2 million tons were made each year.
Since we totally rely on our own water supply and spring water gathered from the mountains – little point in going to the supermarket when you can get it for free – we’d got into the habit of using the same old 5L bottles time and time again. We were shamed into replacing all our old bottles, but I must admit we’ve still been potentially harming ourselves by storing water longish term in these bottles, and often in high temperatures.
So, having just watched ‘Tapped’, we were filled with a new resolve. All our plastic containers have been declared redundant and dangerous. We’re eagerly awaiting delivery of a 25L stainless steel urn and if we do use the odd 5L container, it will only be to transport water from our own well, or from the spring to home. At the moment, we are using glass jars and a large saucepan to store the water.
I believe there has been some changes made in other countries to the laws regarding the use of such chemicals for food/drink containers, but I was surprised to read that in January this year the European Food Safety Authority stands firm against the scare-mongers. In publishing its latest re-evaluation of BPA exposure and toxicity it concluded that it poses “no health risk to consumers of any age group“.
It went on to say that “uncertainties surrounding potential health effects of BPA on the mammary gland, reproductive, metabolic, neuro-behavioural and immune systems have been quantified and factored in to the calculation of the Tolerated Daily Intake“. However, they have a get-out clause that this evaluation is regarded as “temporary” pending the outcome of a “long-term study in rats“.
Better safe than sorry!