REFILL DEUTSCHLAND: GERMANY’S UNIQUE GRASSROOTS REFILL MOVEMENT

Refill Deutschland (Refill Germany) recently celebrated its third birthday. So far, this nationwide refill organisation has put 5.400 refill stations and public drinking fountains on the map. From the start, all team members have worked voluntary. Even more interesting: it has grown into an open community project, where everyone can join. In this interview, Refill Deutschland founder Stephanie Wiermann and content writer Louisa Bahl explain how they operate.

INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANIE AND LOUISA, REFILL DEUTSCHLAND

Stephanie, you founded Refill Deutschland in March 2017. How come?

Stephanie: I was inspired by Refill (UK), Refill Bali and Refill NY and wanted to bring the concept to my city, Hamburg. So, I created the website, designed the window stickers and Refill Deutschland was born. My initial plan was to operate just in Hamburg. But soon after, people from other German cities showed interest, too. This is how it turned into a national movement.

That makes sense. You probably picked the right time to start. And word of mouth can be powerful. We’ll talk about that later. Could you tell us a bit about the team and about yourselves?

Stephanie: Sure! Our core Refill Deutschland team currently consists of Michael, Louisa and me. Another 5 volunteers join us regularly and we are very happy about their work in the field of social media and research. And then we have community-volunteers all over the country. As for me, I work in web design and graphic design. Last year I started a wild herbs cooking school. In our backyards and all around us the delicious and healthy wild herbs are growing but we lost the knowledge about it. I want to bring them back in our lives.

Stephanie Wiermann. Copyright Sabine Büttner

Louisa: I joined the team about in January 2019, but I noticed the project already in September 2018, when I saw a small article in a magazine. I have always been interested in water and wrote my first school project about Nestlés drinking water projects with the age of 17. As I wanted to engage for something connected to the environment and especially water,  Refill Deutschland is a good fit. I am the content writer for Refill Deutschland.

Louisa Bahl, content writer Refill Deutschland

EASY AND ACCESIBLE

Happy to hear that. You all run this project as volunteers. Is that a conscious decision or out of necessity? 

Stephanie: We have discussed this topic a lot. Of course, we could try to sell our own branded bottles or look for sponsors as most refill initiatives do, but this means other commitments. We keep coming back to the same ideals: as easy and as accessible as possible. In addition, we want to lower the boundaries to refill, even a jam jar is suitable!

Therefore, we keep our operational costs as low as possible. I maintain the website and we have a set of banners. New refill stations print or order their own window sticker.  Our communities (in various German cities) also choose the low-cost DIY approach, for example when organising campaigns.

Refill Deutschland awareness campaign run by volunteers in the city of Jena, Germany

 

Louisa: I think we all are intrinsically motivated to change the ways how we consume and how we pollute, so we all invest our free time for the good. And as Stephanie said, we all agree that our guidelines – that we want to stay independent and open and free to all who want to join – are an outstanding signal of Refill Deutschland. We had more than 50 cities, in which people were organizing the Refill cities, and at some more than twenty distribution stations you can pick up the blue stickers for free.

Refill Deutschland sticker
Refill Deutschland window sticker. Copyright Jens Peter Wedlich Schüttgut

Ah nice! At Refill Ambassador we have a very similar approach. We all work as volunteers too. How do you balance the amount of time and effort you spend on this project?

Stephanie: It’s a lot of fun. In case you’re thinking about starting a refill platform in your own country, just do it! Now is the right momentum.

Louisa: As in my opinion, Refill Deutschland is an important step to reduce plastic waste and revalue our tap water, I would love to do more, also because I really like writing, particularly about topics which are close to my heart It has to fit with my master degree, my student jobs, and as it is all voluntarily, also with hobbies and seeing family and friends. But luckily, there is no strict schedule for publishing new blogs. I basically write when I’ve time and when there is something meaningful to share.

Stephanie: At some point, it got too much. We were sending out window stickers, lobbying for new refill stations, manually adding refill stations to the map, etc. So last summer, we decided to change our approach. Louisa, Michael and me would still facilitate Refill Deutschland, but the communities would take care of themselves. We redesigned the website, altered texts and made it easier for others to add refill stations.

Wow! And how did that go?

Stephanie: It felt like letting go of my ‘baby’, but it went surprisingly smooth. The number of refill stations on our map is still growing, albeit a bit slower than at first.

ADDING REFILL STATIONS TO THE MAP

The refill stations are listed on the ‘Karte von Morgen’ map. How does this work?

Louisa: It is an open source app. On our website, you can add both public fountains as well as enterprises. By using 4 hashtags #refill #refill-station #trinkwasser #leitungswasser (tap water) users can find the refill station in the Karte von Morgen website or app (available in beta-version).

Can any venue be a refill station?

Stephanie: Some people wonder whether we should add restrictions. Could an 18+ adult store be a refill station? Or what about large coffeehouse chains, who serve all take-away drinks in single-use plastics? These are tricky questions. We decided not to take stands here. Everybody should be able to join the network. The more stations the better.

Louisa: Again, the community is self-supporting here. When people have bad experiences with a certain refill station, or when the refill station is not in use anymore they can give online feedback. Or even delete the station.

Refill stations and public fountains in Hamburg, Germany. Source: Karte von Morgen

I agree. You cannot control everything. Plus, people can always choose to not use certain refill stations. Last question: where do you think Refill Deutschland will be in five years?

Stephanie: I don’t know, I’ll be almost 60 years old by then! Let’s hope we do not need Refill Deutschland anymore. Because refilling and drinking tap water even at home has become completely normal.

Louisa: I would hope so, too. But nah, I think we’ll still be there informing and inspiring the public, because as with other sustainable changes, it probably needs more time sadly…

Cool! In the meantime, we’ll keep you up to date on the latest developments. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Stephanie and Louisa. Tschüss!

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

Refill Deutschland hardly uses promotional materials due to environmental concerns, so let us help them with a bit of promo here on this blog…

Do you have a venue in Germany and would you like to become a refill station too? Great! It is fairly simple:

  1. print/order your Refill Deutschland window sticker and optionally a poster;
  2. list your refill station on the map;
  3. invite thirsty refillers;
  4. (optional) add your refill station to other international refill apps, (read our blog for more information).

Follow Refill Deutschland on facebook

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TAP WATER AT CAMINO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Is Santiago de Compostela tap water safe to drink? Yes, it’s very safe! Last month, Michal and I walked a part of the Camino del Norte (the northern Spain coastal route). We were amazed by the beautiful scenery, but also by the large number of refill stations. And the taste of tap water was quite good. However, some water fountains were out of order and we got a bit thirsty! In addition, many hostels were closed due to Covid-19 (for the entire year). Therefore we’d like to share some tips with you.

Yeah, water fountains!

TIPS TO STAY HYDRATED

  • How much water should you bring? Take enough water with you on your walks but don’t overdo it. It’s just too heavy! We took 1 L per person. This was enough with the exception of two stages (day 4: from Deba to Markina–Xemein; and day 5: from Markina-Xemein to Guernika). So bring a bit more on remote routes.
  • Pay attention that water fountains are suitable for consumption. “No potable” indicates that you cannot drink the water.
  • Very important: frequently drink small amounts to stay well hydrated.
  • Make sure your drinking equipment is easy to clean.
  • Bring a lightweight thermos flask. Cold water is a big reward when walking 8 hours a day.  
  • Make sure you know roughly where you will be able to refill. Many public fountains are listed on the water refill app Closca. You can also ask the friendly locals for help. ‘Where can I refill my water bottle?’ = Non bete dezaket ur botila (in Basque) / ¿Dónde puedo rellenar mi botella de agua? (in Spanish)
Locating refill stations (mainly public fountains) in Spain with the Closca app

Note: we walked the northern coastal route (from Irun to Güemes). We brought our own tent and camping equipment. This came in handy as many hostels were closed due to Covid-19. We heard from other pilgrims that facilities on the Camino Francés are generally better (including food, lodging and water fountains), but we do not know about possible changes due to Covid-19.

ABOUT THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO / WAY OF ST. JAMES

Each year thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago (also known as Way of St. James). This route is a network of pilgrims’ ways or pilgrimages leading to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain.

Network of pilgrim’s ways – Source: Wikipedia
  • The Camino Francés (870 km) is by far the most popular route. It starts in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (France) and passes Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León. Hostels or monasteries are located about every four to ten kilometres.
  • The Camino Portugués is the second most popular way. The route starts in Lisbon or Porto. From Porto there are two options: the Camino Central (241 km) and the Camino Costal (265 km).
  • The Camino del Norte (the one we did) is an 817 km coastal route from Irun (Basque country) along the northern coastline of Spain. The route passes through San Sebastian, Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo. It is less crowded and the hikes can be challenging. Hostels are 20 to 35 kilometres apart.

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE!

Do you have tips for other pilgrims? How much water should they take? What other gear do they need to bring? And which hostels are closed due to Covid-19? Please share your tips.

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REFILLME: A NEW REFILL PROJECT IN MYANMAR

Can you get a water refill in Myanmar? Yes you can! Today we want to inform you about a promising new refill project, situated in Yangon, Myanmar. Last year, three ambitious students founded RefillMe. Starting small, dreaming big. We just met and immediately became fans. Sit back and enjoy our interview with Haling Min Aung, co-founder of RefillMe.

INTERVIEW WITH HALING MIN AUNG, REFILLME (YANGON, MYANMAR)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your role at Refill Me Yangon?

Mingalarpar! My name is Haling Min Aung. I work in Earth Day Network Myanmar as an assistant manager, while also managing communications at RefillMe. Furthermore I am an activist educator in Yangon. I strongly believe that climate change should be taught in every school as the future of our Earth depends on our ability to take action.

Mingalarpar (what an amazing way to say hello)! Why and when did you start this project?

After completing an environmental studies program from the University of Yangon, we decided to tackle environmental issues in Myanmar by initiating projects. We initiated the first one, RefillMe, in November 2019.

So you already completed the first half year. We’ll talk more about the project soon. But first: who are ‘we’? Can you tell something about the team?

Sure! Other team members are my classmates from the environmental studies program. My teammate Aung Pyi Soe coordinates the RefillMe project and fellow teammate Ye Myo Zaw conducts the refill pilot in Yangon.

The RefillMe team

That’s nice. Many environmental projects (including Refill Ambassadors) start with only one advocate, and RefillMe already has three. What did you do with the refill pilot in Myanmar? How did it go so far?

The refill pilot is carried out to address issues and challenges faced during the registration process of public refill stations. It is successfully done in two townships of Yangon by using observational study as a means for gathering information. Currently, we are working together with Thant Myanmar to map Yangon (Thant Myanmar is a non-profit organisation, aiming to reduce the use and dependency on single-use plastics).

Very smart, we highly recommend people to team up with other NGO’s and (local) action groups. Together, we can create more awareness. What kind of bottles do people use when they refill in Myanmar?

Refillers use aluminium bottles, stainless steel bottles and polycarbonate bottles. Reusing PET bottles is also common in Myanmar.

TAP WATER IN MYANMAR

Mmm, just like we do in the Netherlands. Here we drink directly from the tap. How is tap water quality in Myanmar? Do local people drink tap water? Or do you drink with filters?

There is strict regulation for water quality that is supplied, however water quality varies from region to region. Factors like flooding, lack of safe water storage, old infrastructures and pipes affect the water quality. That is why people don’t drink right out of the tap. Households use filter or boil the water for consumption.

Water ATM, Yangon

Good to know. Another question: is there plastic deposit on plastic bottles in Myanmar? How is the plastic recycling infrastructure?

To our knowledge, there is no formal plastic deposit on bottles in Myanmar but you can get some cash back by selling plastic bottles to waste collectors. Recycling activities in Myanmar are carried out mostly by the informal sector, which includes scavengers, waste collectors, and waste dealers. These scavengers and waste collectors collect recyclable materials such as newspapers, books, cardboards, metal, plastic bottles, tin and glass from households, commercial areas and streets and in turn sell these items to waste dealers who clean and sell them to the recycling industry both locally and for export. We also have local plastic recycling start-ups and NGOs.

That sounds a bit chaotic but it can work. We think avoiding and reducing single-use plastics is better than recycling, but plastic-recycling can be useful to create new materials. And some people make a living out of it. We are curious to learn more about these recycling start-ups. And of course, to learn more about RefillMe, but we won’t steal any more time. Last question: what are your next steps?

We plan to look for new partners to facilitate our project expansion. RefillMe is more than just adding stations to reduce plastic consumption. Our team is using a more holistic approach to consider things like water quality, accessibility, affordability, and aesthetics which can help us accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 in Myanmar (clean water and sanitation). We dream about going beyond RefillMe project. Currently, we are working hard to launch two new projects in August.

Thank you so much Aung, we’re looking forward to hear more from you and your team!

STAY UP TO DATE ON REFILLME

Want to know more about RefillMe? Follow RefillMe on facebook or leave your message below. And if you happen to visit Myanmar, bring your empty bottle and pay attention to the refill stations. Join the #refillution!

All images in this blogs are provided by RefillMe.

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WHY SIGN UP AS A REFILL STATION? AND HOW?

Why would you sign up as a refill station? Because it really is an effective way to tackle plastic pollution at its source. But that’s not the only reason. Please read the story of eteaket, a beautiful Tea Room and Concept Store from Edinburgh, Scotland.

etaeket Edinburgh

REFILL STATION STORY: ETEAKET FROM EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND

  1. BEING A REFILL STATION FITS THE ETHOS

Did you ever think about the waste of all those tea bags we’re using worldwide? Numerous tea bags have been found to contain particles of plastic. A single plastic tea bag can shed billions of particles of microplastics. Luckily this is not the case at eteaket. The team is constantly looking for ways to minimize their environmental impact and to help their customers do the same. For example, the tea is packaged in biodegradable Nature Flex and their tea bags are made from soilon, a cornstarch-based material that is fully biodegradable. The outer packaging for their tea bags and looseleaf canisters is also completely recyclable. And they are members of the Ethical Tea Partnership. Signing up as a refill station fits perfectly with the “eteaket ethos”.

  1. SIGNING UP IS SUPER EASY

Being located in the UK, the team decided to list their two venues on the Refill app. Registering on the Refill app was straightforward and simple. Christine (store manager):“it took less than three minutes (the time it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea!). The Refill app was recommended to us by one of our customers!” Their advice to other businesses would be to take some time out today to join a movement which is good for you, good for your customers and good for the planet.

eteaket concept store

The copper sink in the middle of the room is where free water refills are available.
  1. TAP WATER QUALITY IS AMAZING

We cannot yet speak of a wide ‘refill movement’ in Scotland, but it would be the perfect setting for the #RefillRevolution. At eteaket, they realised Scottish Water is some of the best in the world. Why add more waste to the landfills when you can enjoy world-class water straight from the tap?

  1. BEING A REFILL STATION ENCOURAGES BIGGER STEPS

Putting your tap on the map is super easy and it helps to reduce the number of single-use plastic bottles (made from PET). It fits well within a bigger plan to reduce the impact of single-use packaging. eteaket encourages its customers to minimize plastic waste, by offer a 25p discount if people bring their own reusable cup. Yeah! They also sell a range of travel mugs in-store, including keep cups, bamboo flasks and Mei Li Tea Time travel flasks.

eteaket bottle assortment

The large assortment of reusable cups and travel mugs @eteaket

Christine: “A loose-leaf takeaway tea for only £1.65 is simply an offer too good to refuse; delicious, ethical and the perfect antidote to the ever-changing Edinburgh weather! With over 35 teas to choose from, what are you waiting for? Call into our store on 111 Rose Street for a life-changing cuppa that’s good for the planet!”

The weather in Amsterdam (HQ Refill Ambassadors) is pretty similar, so we know very well what tea can mean to you on a miserable grey rainy day!

READY TO SIGN UP AS A REFILL STATION?

We hope this story encourages other venues (bars, restaurants, shops, etc.) to list as a refill station too. It is fun! You can even economically benefit from it: new visitors enter your place for a free refill and might buy something else.

  1. All you need is a tap, tank or jug with clean water.
  2. Take a picture of your venue and list yourself to one or multiple refill apps.
  3. In addition, it really helps to put a window sticker or poster, so more people take notice.

In countries where tap water is non-potable, you can still become a refill station. By using water filters or by serving water from large tanks (e.g. 20 or 50L, on deposit). In these countries it is more common to charge a small fee for the water refills. Please drop us a line if you have any questions how to do this or what to charge.

In addition to Refill there are some other amazing refill apps with global coverage (like RefillMyBottle, Closca, mymizu). Ad there are some ‘local refill apps’. All of them are free to use and for signing up as refill station. If you doubt about which apps to sign up to, please contact us.

LEARN MORE ABOUT ETEAKET

eteaket tea assortment
Picture Copyright Chris Watt

eteaket was founded in 2008 by ex-lawyer Erica Moore. After a life’s too short moment, Erica travelled the world in search of quality loose leaf tea. Now 11 years later they have their Tea Room on Frederick Street in central Edinburgh, they export worldwide, wholesale across the UK and they have their Concept Store on Rose Street.

Christine: “We saw younger tea drinkers wanting somewhere contemporary and inviting to visit and learn more about tea. When we designed the store we asked our customers what type of things they would like it in. As a result, you can smell every tea in store, sample our teas from our cold brew station, enjoy a hot brew from our tea siphon and find unique and quirky tea accessories.

 We have found it to be a great space for people who want to learn more about tea, it is fantastic for tea tastings (which we hold for free every Wednesday from 12-12.30), tea master classes and events based around wellness. We often have free Saturday morning Yoga or events with independent Scottish brands like Isle of Harris Gin (which is available to purchase via their click and collect service in store). If you find yourself in Edinburgh make sure to pop in and say hi. We would be delighted to take you on a journey into the world of quality loose leaf tea.”

tea brewing
Picture Copyright Chris Watt

Note: other images provided by eteaket

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TAPP: IN LOVE WITH TAP WATER

What if tap water is potable, but not very tasty? Use a water filter! It’s almost one year ago since we tested the TAPP 2, a simple and affordable biodegradable water filter. Since then, TAPP Water has been working on the development of new products and their website. Time for a close look at this innovative company. Oh and we have a nice present for you at the end of this blog!

BECOMING TRUE WATER GEEKS

The TAPP team is growing fast. And so does their knowledge. They consider themselves to be ‘water geeks’. We like the fact they share valuable info on their website, e.g. about different filter mechanisms and tap water quality around the world. For example Can I drink tap water in Ibiza? Or in Hong Kong? The website also has a 3-minute water filter type test’ ☺.

Information on water filtering @ tappwater.co

The TAPP team (image: TAPP)

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT TAP WATER

The 25 team members gained lots of insights regarding misconceptions about tap water. Silvia Gennaro (PR, Affiliation & Partnerships Manager) shared a few stories with us. For example many universities are engaging with their students giving them reusable bottles to refill and avoiding single-use plastics. However in countries where these universities are, many still refil the reusable bottle with water that comer from plastic bottles. (e.g. using 1,5 L single-use plastic bottles from the supermarkets).

Silvia: “Italy has extremely pure water sources. It’s even famous for exporting bottled spring water, like San Pellegrino. However, Italy is the world’s 3rd country when it comes to bottled water consumption per capita (after Mexico and Thailand), the first one in Europe. Tap water tests in Milan and Rome show the water is very clear and safe, yet people buy bottled water because they have false beliefs.”  

Furthermore Silvia told us some people believe they get kidney stones from drinking tap water, even though many studies show it is not true. Overall, tap water provides a perfect mixture of sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Even more strange: healthy humans buying low mineralisation bottled water and mineral supplements! Strange!

TESTING FILTERED TAP WATER

Last month, TAPP demonstrated their water filters on a local food and artisan market in Barcelona, their hometown. During the event, they conducted blind-tests with filtered and non-filtered tap water. Visitors were amazed by the difference in taste. “Amazing!” “It tastes really good, I’m going to buy it”. Something we also concluded with our own user test (50 participants).

GET YOUR OWN WATER FILTER – SPECIAL OFFER

All in all, we feel TAPP is a cool company striving for big changes. They really want to re-educate people in the way we consume and drink water. Most importantly, they offer sustainable, affordable water filters. The TAPP 2 is a biodegradable water filter (Activated Carbon Block, 1-2 microns) that you connect directly to the faucet. It strongly reduces bad taste, chlorine, lead, microplastics and a wide range of other contaminants.

Do you want to get your own filter? With the coupon code refillambassadors you get €5,- discount on any order at TAPP (apply this code in the first step of the check-out). In addition, our project receives a very small percentage when you use this TAPP discount code. We’ll use this money to cover our operational costs.  Happy refilling!

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WATER KIOSKS & REFILL STATIONS IN AFRICA

Last week, the recent water crisis in Harare hit the news. Journalists report Zimbabwe’s capital has one week’s supply of clean water left. A very undesired situation, which we hope to be solved soon. Luckily, we also received positive messages from the African continent: The ITF-International Transformation Foundation is constructing new water kiosks and refill stations in Kenya and Rwanda. We asked 5 questions to Venuste Kubwimana, Secretary General at ITF.

INTERVIEW WITH VENUSTE (VENU) KUBWIMANA, ITF

1.      Can you tell us a bit about drinking water in your country?

In sub Saharan Africa access to safe drinking water is one of the main challenges to so many people. In 2013 ITF members worked together in their respective countries research project on “sustainable clean drinking water system”. The main insight gained was, all communities wished on an improved water system.

Most rural/poor communities do not have a working tap water system at all, prompting school-going children and women to walk very long distances to secure water from neighbouring communities’ wells/ rivers which is also dirty.

2.      How did you start this refill campaign?

Ironically in urban areas, the single use of plastic water bottles is common, since it is the only source of clean drinking water for those who can afford, but on the other hand it promotes littering within the cities.

That’s how our campaign with Join the Pipe started. With “a water kiosk at school” as the solution for rural/poor communities and “Public drinking tap water/refill stations” for urban areas.

Image: A Water Kiosk at School
Image: Youth Solutions Report 2019

3..      What is your role in this project? 

As ITF founder and Secretary General I’m ultimately responsible of the project. ITF is an international youth-led non-profit organization providing youth educational and self-development programs encompassing leadership and entrepreneurship to harness creativity for a youth system that provide jobs, offers security, opens opportunities to grow and contributes to the development of communities.

4. How many people have you reached so far?

Thus far we have built 12 water kiosks in community-based schools across Kenya and Rwanda providing clean drinking tap water and sanitation to 6541 students and 120358 community residents.  Furthermore, the water bottle bikes are still being used.

Image: Join the Pipe

 5.       Really cool. Last question! Do you have tips how people in Africa can reduce the amount of single-use-plastic bottles?

I think companies that sell water and sodas are the biggest distributors of single use plastic bottles.  It’s very evident in our drainage systems when it floods it is plastic bottles from these companies that float all over. If these companies adopted multi-use plastic bottles then that would reduce the pollution or they could have a recycle program for these bottles.

Otherwise it is up to us consumers to boycott these companies and their single use plastic as now although not many as needed there are option/alternative for tap water refill stations that promote usage of multi-use bottles.

READ MORE

Venuste Kubwimana is an award-winning youth activist and social entrepreneur based in Rwanda and Kenya. Do you want to get to know Venuste? Check out his website.

Find more pictures on facebook.

Do you have tips or questions for Venuste? Leave your comment behind!

 

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USING A STERIPEN ADVENTURER OPTI TO STERILISE TAP WATER

In this blog I share my experience with the SteriPEN adventurer Opti, which I used when hiking in the Dolomites, Italy. You might wonder, can’t you drink tap water in the Dolomites? Yes, in most places you can. Sometimes directly from the mountain stream. However, there are some areas where tap water is not potable. For example in some mountain cabins also known as ‘rifugio’s’, we could not drink tap water (listed in the end of this blog). Luckily with our SteriPEN we didn’t have to buy any single-use plastic bottles. In this blog, we explain how it works. 

WHAT IS A STERIPEN?

The SteriPEN is a portable gadget which uses ultraviolet light to sterilise water and make it safe for drinking. The device kills the DNA of harmful microbes, viruses and bacteria. According to the manufacturers, 99,9% of all harmful enemies are killed. The SteriPEN does not filter metals or chemicals.

USING THE STERIPEN

Several models exist. We bought the SteriPEN adventurer Opti for our trip. This device only has one button. Click once (for 1 L) or twice (for 1/2 L) to activate the UV light. Then stir around in the bottle until the green light flashes. And done! In case it did not go well, the sensor gives other signals to warn you.

STERIPEN ADVENTURER OPTI PRO’S AND CON’S

What we love about the SteriPEN adventurer Opti:

  • Lightweight: 108 grams + batteries
  • Quick: 48 seconds (1/2 L), or 90 seconds (1 L)
  • Clear interface: green and red lights (unless you are colour blind!)
  • Capacity: can filter 8.000 liters of water
  • Value for money: prices vary from €60,- to €100,- (or around 1-2 cent/litre)

Drawbacks:

  • Battery: you need CR123 batteries, which can be expensive and difficult to find
  • Bottle: you need a bottle with a wide opening, otherwise it does not work

OTHER WATER FILTERS / PURIFIERS

The SteriPEN is one product to purify water. For example there is also the Lifestraw or Grayl water filter. We did not test these, but read what other travellers wrote about this topic:

How do you filter water when travelling? Share your experiences!

BACKGROUND INFO: SOME CABINS (RIFUGIO’S) IN THE DOLOMITES WITHOUT CLEAN TAP WATER (BY MACHA LINSZEN)

Our friend Mascha Linszen also travelled to the Dolomites (natural parks around Cortina d’ Ampezzo) and she kept track of tap water conditions in all cabins she visited.

“Most cabins are large and comfortable, and often well connected to civilization by means of a cart track. The comfortable cabins where we have been sitting or passing along the way have running drinking water from the tap at their disposal. In our case this involved the following cabins (DE / IT):

  • Hütte Plätzwiese / Prato Piazza rifugio
  • Dürrenstein Hütte / Vallandro rifugio
  • Sennes Hütte / rifugio Sennes
  • Schutzhütte Vodara Vedla
  • Berggasthaus Pederü
  • Fanes Hut
  • Berghütte Lavarella / Rifugio Lavarella

In some smaller huts the tap water was not drinkable. This was indicated in different ways, and there were alternatives available:

  • Seekofel Hütte / Rifugio Biella
    Indicated: by means of signs (‘kein Trinkwasser’) next to the tap
    Alternative: water / soft drink / alcoholic drink offered for sale
  • Ucia dles Muntagnoles
    Indicated: on arrival, verbal communication by the hostess
    Alternative: water / soft drink / alcoholic drink offered for sale
    Alternative 2: tap water at a nearby larger cabin (Fanes / Lavarella)
    Alternative 3: the host lady (living in the hut) drinks from the nearby stream herself, but clearly indicates that this is at his own risk given the larger huts upstream. Two Germans who, despite this warning, drank from 4 brooks in the brook soon got stomach flu.
  • Ütia da Rit
    Indicated: warm tap water temperature
    Alternative: water / soft drink / alcoholic drink offered for sale
    Alternative 2: there is potable tap water in the kitchen – we asked the cook on the spot if we could fill our bottles.”

 

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TAP WATER IN ARUBA, BONAIRE & CURAÇAO

Can you drink tap water in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao? The answer is yes. Tap water on these former Dutch Antilles islands is distilled from sea water. It is perfectly safe to drink, meeting the highest quality standards of the World Health Organization. I was wondering whether you can also get water refills on these islands. Time for a meetup with Rob van Holstein, refill ambassador and Caribbean expert.

REFILL STATIONS IN ARUBA, BONAIRE AND CURACAO


According to Rob, refill stations on Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are limited. Public drinking fountains hardly exist, whereas local businesses are not used to provide refills. Luckily, Rob and his colleague Charlotte try to change this. With “Gratis Drinkwater”, they want to create a network of free refill stations.

Their ultimate goal is to decrease the waste stream of small single-use plastic bottles with 90% by 2020.

Rob: “My drive was born on Bonaire. Plastic garbage is washed ashore, especially after a tropical storm. Tiny plastic parts are scattered on the beaches. I knew the images of sea animals with plastic particles in their bellies, but seeing it in real life was something different.”

So far, Rob has made several visits to the Caribbean and launched 33 refill stations on Bonaire. These refill stations can be found in local restaurants, bars, dive shops, etc. Everyone can drop by for a free refill. For business owners, a water refill costs only €0,01 and it generates interesting foot traffic.

THE BLUE BOTTLE

In addition to the refill network, Rob created the Blue Bottle. The Blue Bottle is a thermos flask made of two layers of stainless steel. It keeps drinks hot (up to 6 hours) or cold (up to 12 hours). Rob told me he uses the Blue Bottle himself for water, tea, coffee and even beer!

The 500 ml Blue Bottle is sold for €15,-. The bigger 750 ml variant costs €20,-. So if you buy a Blue Bottle, you earn it back after only a couple of refills. And nice to know: 5% of the sales price is donated to local foundations in Bonaire.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Based on my own experience, I really recommend you to connect with other people when working on a project. Talking with Rob gave me insights about issues such as project investments. Rob:  “Stay positive and do the best you can. I trained my dog to pick up plastic bottles and cans.”

Changing behaviour requires time and patience. Rob hopes to create more refill stations in the near future and to collaborate with relevant local organisations. Both on Bonaire, other Caribbean islands and in the Netherlands itself. Good luck Rob! And for those travelling to the Caribbean, bring your refillable bottle or get yourself a Blue Bottle.  

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PLASTIC-FREE HIGHLIGHTS IN SEVILLE

When travelling, you easily use a dozen single-use plastics per day. Coffee-cups to go, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic straws, plastic toiletries, etc. Spain and single-use plastics go hand in hand. But there is light in the end of the tunnel. During our research trip in Seville we found some great plastic-free shops and restaurants. We’ll tell you all about it! 

OUR TOP-3 PICK

  1. El Jarillo Lata

This beautiful store has everything you need to carry food and beverages. Also a wide range of wooden toothbrushes, soaps and cloth diapers. The founder Sonia Sánchez explained us all about their product assortment and vision. Definitely worth a visit (check the opening hours first), as the neighbourhood is really nice too. Don’t miss out on Mercado de Feria, next door Palacio Marqueses de la Algaba, or the free Flamengo nights in Taberna Gonzalo Molina.

Located in the same street as El Jarillo Lata, this vegan restaurant has tasty vegan food that comes with a bonus: free chilled tap water. The water tap is connected to the beer tap’s cooling system. We’ve seen this in more bars and really like this. So don’t hesitate to ask for a cold glass or bottle refill. Water with gas is served in glass bottles.

Located in a cute market (Mercado del Arenal), this place has delicious cakes, pastries and main dishes. And lots of tea. You will not find any single-use plastic bottles here, Veganitessen is happy to provide you a fresh refill from the tap (self-service).

READY TO EXPLORE?

Our little plastic-free detour has brought us to some beautiful places outside the main attractions.  You can be part of the change. Fill your durable bottle when you leave the hotel. Ask for refills in the bar, restaurant or use a refill app to find the nearest refill point. Be pro-active and you can manage to travel without plastic bottles in Spain. Buena suerte.

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TAP WATER IN SEVILLE

Is it safe to drink tap water in Spain? Yes! At least 99.5% of all public tap water in Spain is safe to drink. According to a recent study, Seville has the best tap water of all big cities in Spain. Do people – locals and travellers – actually drink from the tap in Seville (in Spanish: agua de grifo)? And where can you refill? That’s what our Ambassadors Hella and Michal are trying to find out. Time for a quick update from Seville, Spain. 

DO PEOPLE DRINK TAP WATER IN SEVILLE?

So apparently tap water in Seville is the best in Spain. We don’t know if this is true, but we agree that Seville’s tap water is good compared to other places we visited. It has a slight chlorine taste, but one quickly get used to this.

Many people seem to drink tap water at home or in the hostel, but they buy bottled water in restaurants or when on the go. These insights were confirmed by employees from several venues. Still, some people choose not to drink the tap water, like Monica (tourist from Northern Ireland): “I feel bad about buying plastic bottles, but I really don’t like the taste of tap water here.” 

PLASTIC BOTTLES & REFILL PLACES IN SEVILLE

What do we see on the streets? Our observations:

  • Single-use plastic water bottles can be found on every corner: in the grocery store, kiosk, tourist shop and ho(s)tel. Even so claimed eco-friendly venues usually sell single-use plastic bottles. Read the next blog for some found some positive  exceptions.
  • Most restaurants and bars serve water in single-use plastic bottles, unless one specifically asks for tap water. Note: Andalusian cafés and bars are required by law to provide free drinking water to customers (as part of a regional government plan to improve the population’s health).
  • There is no deposit on plastic water bottles (only on >20 litre gallons).
  • Some venues (usually more luxurious) offer glass bottled water.
  • There are bars and restaurants with a tap water jug and glasses available for self-service. If not, you can ask for it. A few bars serve cold tap water.
  • Public drinking fountains can be found in many squares and public spaces, also in touristy areas. These fountains have signposts indicating it’s safe to drink. The public drinking fountains are sometimes hard to spot, and sometimes unsuitable for bottle refills.

PLASTIC BOTTLES FOR SALE ON EVERY CORNER

Many tourists buy single-use plastic water bottles out of convenience. You can find them on any street corner in town, for usually €1,- (for 0,5 L). Hostel staff and shop workers stated they sell a lot more water bottles in summer, when it gets really hot. In supermarket the water is cheaper, around €0,45 for 0,5L (cold water). Prices for large bottles can go down to €0,65,- for 5L (unchilled).

OPPORTUNITIES

Overall, we think Seville has decent tap water, so whenever you’re visiting this beautiful city, ask for agua de grifo! If you want cold water, you still have to buy plastic bottles in most bars, restaurants or kiosks. We see a gap for cold water refill stations, and an overview of all refill points. In addition, the taste of tap water can be improved by using filters. We are going to test a filter for our next blog, so stay tuned!

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PUBLIC DRINKING FOUNTAINS

Around the world, there are thousands public drinking fountains. Refill your bottle during your citytrip, walk in the dunes or weekly workout. Free fresh water, no plastic needed! We love public fountains. But they can be hard to spot. It’s like searching for an ATM machine: when you really need them, you cannot find any. We know a solution: use the free water refill app Closca or mymizu.

WHERE DO I FIND PUBLIC FOUNTAINS?

Use your phone to locate an increasing number of public water fountains around the world! Water refill apps are free to use. We recommend you to use Closca and mymizu, as they cover the largest number of refill points, including many public fountains. We see many similarities between Closca and mymizu. Both apps work with user-feedback: you can suggest new refill stations (including public fountains) through the app. 

  • Closca Water app started in June 2019, and lists >200.000 refill stations worldwide. The app works with a reward system, you collect points when refilling. Download Closca here.
  • mymizu was launched in September 2019. The app now displays almost 200.000 refill stations around the world. Download mymizu here.

WHO TAKES CARE OF PUBLIC DRINKING FOUNTAINS?

Who is responsible for the water fountains? How are they maintained? Who decides where to place new fountains? This really differs per country. We can only speak for the Netherlands. Here, drinking water is supplied by ten different public water system companies. These companies facilitate and maintain our public drinking fountains. For example Waternet provides the water fountains in the Amsterdam region, Evides in Rotterdam, etc. Sometimes this is done in collaboration with organisations like Join the Pipe

PUBLIC DRINKING FOUNTAINS IN THE NETHERLANDS

Besides the apps Closca and mymizu, public fountains in the Netherlands are also mapped on the website Drinkwaterkaart.nl. The website (in Dutch) also displays free “pee-places” and “free-swimming-spots”. 

HAPPY REFILLING!

Public water fountains in general are safe but they seem to suffer from an image problem. We think this is unfair. Just make sure to double check in areas where tap water is non-potable. To prevent bacteria/virusus from spreading, you can use some clothing when pressing the button. 

What if there are no public fountains in your area? Try to refill your bottle in a bar, restaurant, shop. Don’t be shy, just ask! 

 

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