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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BEST PRACTICES: ZERO WASTE SOFIA

Restoring the public fountains in Bulgaria. That’s one of the main goals of Zero Waste Sofia. Their founder, corporate communications professional Simona Stiliyanova wants to create a movement and help everyone in Bulgaria to reduce their waste, from packaging to wardrobe. And she pays special attention to public fountains. We were really curious about this initiative, so we picked up the phone. 

INTERVIEW WITH SIMONA STILIYANOVA (S)

Why did you start Zero Waste Sofia?

S: Adopting a ‘zero waste lifestyle’ is something many of us dream about, but struggle to actually do it. Where do you even start? I managed to reduce my waste by about 60% and I wanted to document my successful and unsuccessful attempts to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, and that’s how Zero Waste Sofia was born. I want to show that living a little more “green” does not necessarily mean mixing up recipes with 400 exotic ingredients all day long. On the contrary – by implementing various small changes you can simplify your life and even save money and earn more time for yourself and your loved ones.

Can you tell us more about the specific ‘fountain project’?

S: Fountains of Bulgaria enables active people to stop using disposable plastic bottles and save money by giving them a map of all sources of free tap water near them. I am working to embed information about its quality, feedback for broken fountains and other initiatives too.

CAN YOU DRINK TAP WATER IN BULGARIA?

So we assume, tap water in Bulgaria is potable?

S: Yes, we are fortunate to live close to thousands of free sources of high quality drinking water. In Bulgaria, there is an old tradition for people to build drinking fountains. As a result of it, there are nearly 7,000 of them all over the country. However, nowadays our modern society is rapidly adopting the “throwaway” culture, putting the tradition on the shelf and sending nearly 5 million disposable plastic bottles to the landfill every day.

 I conducted a national research among 600 respondents, and found out why people use or do not use public fountains. The 3 main reasons for not using them were:

  • 89,4% of all interviewees consider that they do not have enough information about the quality of water
  • 64% do not use public fountains, because they are broken or dirty.
  • 54% do not know where to find them

That’s why I decided to go further in addition to the mapping. I partner with local civic organizations, contact municipalities to report broken fountains and encourage my readers to do so. And together with some other volunteers, we started to clean the fountains ourselves.

Oh yes, we read about that on Zero Waste Sofia. On September 14th, you joined with the Let’s clean Bulgaria together” event. Can you tell us more about this?

S: I am really happy that even it started small, it grew so quickly and was supported by many volunteers from all over the country, even two whole municipalities and bTV national television. For the clean-up we used only natural products as vinegar and baking soda. 

You already have 960 refill stations on your map. How do you add new fountains? Can bars and restaurants also sign up as a refill station?

S: I started to add fountains to the map myself. Nowadays hundreds of volunteers are helping me out by adding new fountains through the website form. Venues that provide tap/filtered water and welcome people to fill their water bottle for free can also join. You can already find some restaurants on the map.

FUNDING & SUPPORT FOR THE PROJECT

Do you get any financial support to do all this work?

S: No. Currently the project is ran without funding by volunteering efforts in our spare time. The project is working without a budget as a Google map since 2018 and it has already gained ambassadors, volunteers and public support, including national TV and other media features. To achieve higher impact and scale our solution we need to invest in a fully functional digital platform, water sampling and analysis and a strong awareness campaign. This year “Fountains of Bulgaria” even was ranked among 30 semi-finalists from over 500 projects across Europe challenging plastic waste in the European social innovation competition. As a part of it we visited a Social Innovation Academy in Turin where I attended many really useful workshops and met amazing people from all over Europe. Integral part of the team were my partner, who is also supporting me a lot with the project and my (then 2 months old) baby, who travels everywhere with me. :)) Thanks to the competition we also met our amazing coach, who is still supporting me with the project.

Last question: what is your ultimate goal? 

S: I want to start a national movement of tap water users and ambassadors – bringing tap water its credibility and public fountains back to life. A change in consumers’ mindsets and behaviour towards purchasing bottled water (in regions where water is drinkable). Hopefully we will achieve a system change – municipalities investing in the development of a strong public fountains infrastructure, instead of encouraging the usage of more single-use plastic bottles and looking for ways to recycle them. And of course the ultimate – legislation change – plastic bottles bans at key public places. 

READ MORE

The website Zero Waste Sofia is in Bulgarian (yes with a Cyrillic alphabet!), but that doesn’t stop us from being big fans (thank you Google Translate!). In our opinion, Simona is a true hero, and a talented photographer too. Check out the Zero Waste Sofia Instagram, and get inspired!

Do you have tips for Simona how she can grow the refill network in Bulgaria? Or do you want to become a volunteer or project partner? Please contact Simona at Simona@zerowastesofia.com.

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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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