Broken resolution


The William Morris “Anemone” water bottle

When TreeHugger reposted some of our TerraPass New Year’s Resolutions the author snarked an “about time” to my commitment to avoid bottled water for the year.

To the casual reader, I might have come across as an Evian addict who couldn’t so much as look at a faucet. But honestly, I’m really the opposite, and have been for years. I’ve never understood the bottled water phenomenon, even less the mildly flavored bottled water fad. Various stats on just how evil bottled water is (in my humble view) here.

The trouble is, that water in bottles is a convenience that all of us in the developed world have become very used to. I’ve always been perfectly happy with tap water, but never all that conscientious about carrying it with me everywhere I went. Knowing that you’re never all that far from a vending machine or convenience store makes it so easy not to worry too much.

And this was really the point of my New Year’s resolution. I wanted to prove that it was possible to anticipate every water need by carrying my own tap-filled bottle, all the time.

I’m sad to report that after three months of conscientious bottle-avoidance, I caved earlier this week. And I really don’t think I could have done much about it. It was only once I was on board the plane for a 10-hour flight back home that I realized I hadn’t refilled my bottle after drinking it all down before the security check.

The only water available courtesy of British Airways came in plastic bottles of assorted shapes and sizes (it was a small consolation that I didn’t touch the 0.2 liter bottle provided with the meal and had my cup filled from the bigger bottle instead). Really, the alternative of dehydrating at 34,000 feet didn’t seem a constructive approach.

I really had been doing well: camping trips, bike rides, a road trip in a Zip Car (I succeeded with the other resolution!). For each, my trusty TerraPass water bottle came with me. I even politely declined the nice (imported Italian) sparkling water at the fancy restaurant we went to on my birthday.

But as I’ve tried to remember hard to refill the bottle at every opportunity (trying to fit bottles under drinking fountains is an art that needs practice!) I’ve come to wonder what it will take to market tap water to compete with the silliness of branded bottled water.

I heard that a book soon to be published in the UK will provide wine tasting-style notes on the different tap waters available there. Meanwhile, manufacturers including Swiss firm Sigg and California’s Klean Kanteen are bringing some much needed style to water bottles. Back in the UK, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is now selling bottles with some great designs.

As for the resolution, I’m feeling bad about it, but I have climbed straight back on the wagon, where I plan to stay. I’m already getting ready for the challenge of the return flight. Any tips for avoiding any further pitfalls would be much appreciated!

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  1. KB - March 31, 2008

    I find the best way to fill up my water bottle post-security is to find a McDonald’s or other place with self-serve soda machines, and use the water tab. No hassling with trying to fit a water bottle under a water fountain (or thoughts of how many strangers’ lips have touched the spout). Plus you can take ice too and keep the water cold longer during the flight. Not always possible at small airports, however.

  2. Shannon - March 31, 2008

    Doesn’t sound like a broken pledge to me- sounds like you are very conscientious about it. I think domestic bottled water results in about .2 pounds CO2e per bottle, so you can easily make that up. Drying your clothes on a rack, for example, will save over 5 pounds CO2e. Or avoid a 20-mile car trip and save 20 pounds CO2e. The opportunities for savings are as large as your footprint :)

  3. DJ Waldow - March 31, 2008

    Funny. I have a similar pledge. No bottled water for me whatsoever. Tappening – – was my inspiration. Our company (Bronto) actually provides each employee with their very own bottle to refill. I agree…planes have been a challenge.
    Good luck!

  4. Dusty - April 2, 2008

    I guess I don’t get the whole bottled water thing. I’ve *never* purchased bottled water(though I have drank bottled water that was free). This resolution sounds as absurd to me as my “one night a week without checking my email” probably sounds to my mom.
    Not trying to mock or belittle your resolution, giving up something that you’ve become accustomed to is difficult no matter what it is. What helps me is to realize that I have friends that don’t own their own computer, so hopefully this will help you: Some of your readers have never purchased a bottle of water, not out of moral convictions, but just because they never felt like shilling out money for something that is free. If I was thirsty on a plane, I’d go into the bathroom and drink from the faucet… not because I can’t afford bottle water, or because I care so much about the environment, but because the idea of bottle water is so absurd to me that I never consider it.
    (though now that I think about it, I’ve never used the bathroom on a plane, and I fly at least once, and up to 5 times a year, so I don’t actually know if there is water from the tap in the bathroom)

  5. CK - April 2, 2008

    Could you have had a soda instead on the flight to stay bottled-water free? Kind of a technicality.
    I too bring my Nalgene bottle with me everywhere I fly; I always finish it or pour it out (hopefully on a plant) at the airport, then as soon as I get through security I search for a water fountain or self-serve soda machine as KB noted. However, in the absence of either I’ve found that pretty much any restaurant will have a sink somewhere behind the counter with cold water and I haven’t been afraid to ask cashiers/servers to fill my bottle up for me.

  6. Jessica - April 2, 2008

    You’ve mentioned that you would look for water fountains at airports to refill your bottle. I too do the same and I’ve done a lot of traveling. In North America and Western Europe at least, I’ve found that water fountains are 90% of the time next to bathrooms in airports. So keep your eyes peeled for some toilets and you’ll most likely hit water fountain pay dirt.
    Also, don’t feel too bad about having some water on the airplane. It’s a very minor setback, and for a lot of people they see resolutions as do 100% or die type things. Perfection is a nice ideal, but it’s not worth beating yourself up over it. Sounds like you’ve learned from what happened and will probably make sure to avoid that situation in the future.
    Also, I don’t know if you already do this, but I’ve found that carrying around a water bottle is a lot easier if you have a purse/man bag/backpack/messenger bag/etc. to put it in for the day. That way you can throw it in there, fuhgetaboutit and be prepared for the unexpected.

  7. Paul - April 2, 2008

    I remember a time not long ago when water was consumed when it was available -as in when you are standing in front of a drinking fountain or your own kitchen faucet-.
    This bit of history shows the whole phenomenon of “fear of dehydration” is completely over blown.
    Of course you should drink water on a plane in what ever form you can get it in.
    Of course you should drink water when doing an active sport.
    But if you are just doing errands or going for a walk, you won’t die if you don’t drink any water until you get home. In fact you won’t even feel much different if you wait a couple minutes or hours before your next sip.

  8. Joe - April 2, 2008

    How’d the road trip in the ZipCar go? I’d be interested to know how cost/day and cost/mile compares to, say, a rental car.

  9. Slightly - April 2, 2008

    Wow, kudos to what you’re accomplishing! I agree with the other posters – when it comes to a situation like that, you really don’t have a choice. Resolutions are about paying attention to and changing the choices we make.
    I purchased my first Klean Kanteens this year after reading a couple articles not only about carbon footprints, but also about the whole bisphenol-A deal.
    If I may ask, can anyone point me towards a filter that is particularly good at dealing with over-fluoridation? My tap water tastes good, but it has a very high fluoride content. Thanks!

  10. Michael Hedrick - April 2, 2008

    To Slightly:
    I am a dealer for the FluorideMaster ( which is an excellent filter for removing fluoride from water. Same price as online.
    Mike Hedrick
    Healthy Living Technology
    Energy-Efficient Full Spectrum Lighting
    State-of-the-Art Air & Water Purification
    Air & Water Ionization
    (616) 451-3999
    There is no such thing as new water. The next time you turn on your
    faucet for water, ask yourself, “Who used this water last, and for what

  11. pam - April 2, 2008

    Thank you Paul, for reminding us of a time, in the not too distant past, when we all got through the day, the week, etc. without carrying water with us anywhere.(Though I will grant that the amount of flying many people do these days does require figuring out how to hydrate on board.) My 86 year old mother thought this whole bottled water thing was nuts! She drank water with her meals, and filled up a glass at the tap between meals, and used water fountains. She also thought it was quite ironic that back in the 70’s we baby-boomers gave her generation a hard time about their big Cadillacs, etc. and now drive around in SUV’s !

  12. PBrazelton - April 2, 2008

    We use a two filter strategy at home – a big whole house carbon filter right where the municipal water enters the house, and a reverse osmosis filter at our kitchen sink. RO will remove most fluoride from the water, and the carbon block keeps it from working too hard to remove the other random crap that comes in from the city lines (iron, calcium, sediment, etc.)
    The only downside of RO water is the waste – for every gallon you get from the faucet, you lose 3-5 gallons as waste water. It’s horrific. I’m working on a sustainable strategy to capture the waste water and reuse it, but that’s in the planning stage.
    There are also fluoride-specific block filters on the market. Google can help you there, but I don’t know how effective they are.

  13. Erin - April 2, 2008

    Thanks for sharing your struggles with sticking to reusable bottles. I too made a similar pledge late last year and find tap water difficult to come by in some locations, including airports.
    I’d very much like to hear more about the wine-tasting approach to water around the world. Do you have any more info you could share?

  14. Chris Kmotorka - April 2, 2008

    I ran into one a couple of weeks ago. I went to spring training game here in Tucson and brought an empty, dry, and open water bottle. They absolutely would not let me bring it in. I could bring in a full commercial bottle of water, a camera, a cooler, a bag of food, a whole list of things but they thought I was insane to even consider bringing in an empty water bottle to fill at the drinking fountains inside. Security wouldn’t budge.
    After the game I went to the office and they were like, “Yeah, that does seem silly. But those are the rules.” I sent an email to the facilities management and they simply blew it off as “our rules are consistent with ball parks around the country.” They also thought it should make a difference if the bottle was clear! Empty, dry, and OPEN doesn’t count, but being clear might! It was a real WHAT THE $#%@?!? moment.

  15. Gail Rekers - April 2, 2008

    I also try to avoid bottled water but am completely at a loss over how to solve one big issue/problem: I live in the San Francisco area. Earthquake preparedness recommends keeping water on hand for three days for all family members. How do I do that without resorting to bottled water? And then, having bought the bottled water, it has to be used before it is outdated (assuming no earthquakes) and replaced. Any ideas on how to handle this?

  16. Adam Stein - April 2, 2008

    Gail — that one seems pretty easy:
    They also make collapsible water containers, which can be handy, but maybe not so important if you’re just going to store them in your basement.

  17. paul - April 2, 2008

    This is all absurd. You will not dehydrate on a plane. I have never taken a drink of water on a plane, and have lived to tell about it. This obsession with water is what is going to cause us to run out prematurely. You can easily make it through the day with a glass of water in the morning. I have a cup of coffee for breakfast, and a glass of milk for dinner, and believe me, you will not die like this (on the contrary I am a picture of health). On the other hand, if you can find fast food in an airport, you can find water. everybody has got to wash their hands, and yes, the water in those faucets comes out of the same pipe as a drinking fountain. deal with it.

  18. Adam Stein - April 2, 2008

    Paul, you might want to cut back on that coffee.
    Incidentally, I wouldn’t be too quick to drink the tap water in airplane bathrooms. I’m the furthest thing from squeamish, but this is just nasty.

  19. Aaron A. - April 2, 2008

    Paul & Pam:
    I agree that “we all got through the day… without carrying water with us anywhere,” but there’s more to it than that. As noted in Pete’s post, and several of the comments since, it’s hard to find a drinking fountain these days. When I was a kid, you’d find a water fountain at every school, every park, and in nearly any publicly-accessible building. I can’t speak for your town, but around here, you’d be hard-pressed to find a water fountain available to the public.
    Consider the humble phone booth: As cell phones became more affordable and more popular, phone booths weren’t as necessary any more. Cities and phone utilities stopped replacing their phone booths, so cell phones became more of a necessity. The cycle continues, and now everybody over the age of ten “needs” their own phone, because a working payphone can be hard to find after business hours.
    There’s probably even more to the story, such as our nation’s car culture (if we don’t walk anywhere, why would we need water fountains?), but it’s certainly a more complex issue than laziness or some irrational fear of dehydration.
    — A.
    On a tangent note, I find that I drink more water more consistently when I have a container at my desk, rather than having to stop what I’m doing and walk to the break room any time I get thirsty.

  20. paul - April 2, 2008

    Aaron. I agree with your sentiments about payphones, but where do you buy your water? If a shop sells water, that means they have employees. Employees are required by law to have a bathroom provided for them, and they are also required to wash their hands before returning to work. This means that there is a water supply. Not to mention the fact that most gas stations and convenience stores also have soda fountains (with a water spigot). I have yet to find a place that sells water that wont fill up your jug for you if you ask nicely. And if it is a germaphobia, you can grab yourself a steripen from any camping supply store and sterilize the world! Happy drinking!

  21. Greg - April 2, 2008

    Would this work as a business/Nonprofit idea?
    You have a vending machine that sells “bottled water” in sturdy reusable water bottles. The water is just tap water, though. Then in that same machine you have a collection of used water bottles.
    So say you buy a sturdy reusable cool water bottle with water and it costs $5. You get $4.50 back if you deposit the bottle back into the machine. Or you could keep the bottle and reuse it yourself.
    Is that feasible? Would it cost to much to stock and clean the deposited bottles?

  22. Aaron A. - April 2, 2008

    I don’t buy water if I can at all help it; 90% of my water goes straight from the tap into a Nalgene bottle or a coffee mug. My comments were more to address the “fear of dehydration” statement; I think that it oversimplifies an intriguing societal shift, a shift from availing ourselves of shared resources (payphones, fountains, public transit) to paying to have our own private resources (cell phones, bottled water, a car for every driver).
    Your reponse ties in nicely with the payphone metaphor; although publicly-available facilities are dwindling, a resourceful and polite person can usually find a way to get what they need.
    Greg: In San Diego (where the tap water is, imho, undrinkable), I’ve seen machines in front of the supermarket that would provide a gallon of filtered water for 50 cents, as long as you brought your own container. The idea might need refining, but I think it has potential.
    — A.
    As long as I’m yearning for the past, where have all the elevator operators gone?

  23. Jonathan - April 2, 2008

    Paul, I am glad you are so healthy and only require one glass of water a day. at this very moment, I am suffering from a kidney stone, and I can attest that some need more water than others.

  24. Slightly - April 3, 2008

    PBrazelton and Michael Hedrick, thank you both for your replies! I will look up both of those solutions.
    Adam Stein – Thanks for the REI link! Down here we have the same issue for hurricanes.
    Before a hurricane we have to fill up all of our bathtubs and sinks with water to use for bathing and flushing the toilet. That water can get pretty nasty pretty quickly…

  25. Bob - April 3, 2008

    Let’s put things in perspective:
    carbon footprint due to drinking bottled water on airplane: small
    carbon footprint due to the 100+ gallons that is your share of the fuel used on a 10 hr flight: huge!
    I totally support avoiding bottled water whenever possible, but really folks – we look pretty silly when we discuss them in the context of the most carbon-intensive activity that most of us do and don’t even notice the irony!