EARTH: ‘SELL WATER FOR WATER’

EARTH is known for its bottled water, coffee and tea. You might be wondering: “Bottled water? I thought Refill Ambassadors is promoting tap water.” Yes we do. But EARTH has an interesting story, which we’d like to share with you. By selling bottled water, tea and coffee, they have been able to donate over €1.5 million to various water projects. We interviewed co-founder Patrick de Nekker.

EARTH founders Patrick de Nekker (l) and Henk Witteveen (r)

INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK DE NEKKER, CO-FOUNDER EARTH

When and how did you start EARTH?

In 2007, together with Henk Witteveen I founded EARTH Water/ EARTH Concepts. The idea was (and still is) to ‘sell water for water’. 100% of our net profit is invested in sustainable water systems around the world. Later we added EARTH Coffee and EARTH Tea, in response to our customers’ demands. We also experiment with EARTH Cacao, depending on supplies.

Where do you source your products?

Our water is from a small water source named Anl’eau, located in the province of Drenthe (the Netherlands). EARTH Tea comes from Sri Lanka, EARTH Coffee is from Nicaragua, Guatamala and  Peru and our cocoa from Cameroon. On the latter we hardly make money as profits remain overseas.

Where are your products sold?

We are a B2B brand. Our products are sold in restaurants, hotels, at events and in the catering industry. Plus in some large chains like Starbucks and IKEA. Our water is also sold in China.

Your water is transported from the Netherlands to China?

Yes. You can debate whether that is good or bad. Quality of tap water in China is not always good, so there is a demand for our water. And we want to earn as much money as possible to donate to people who are in need of clean water.

Example of water project in Mali (Source: EARTH)

That is an interesting discussion indeed. We will not go into details now.

TAP WATER VS. BOTTLED WATER

Another question: tap water in the Netherlands is of really good quality. You sell bottled water. And you use plastic packaging. Can you explain why?

The way we look at it: preferably drink tap water. If that’s not possible then drink EARTH WATER. Our bottled water is useful in places that do not have tap water available, like outdoor festivals. And for people who do not trust tap water.

Plastic has many advantages and recycling possibilities. But it has received negative input because it has entered our food chain due to human behaviour. Our packaging is made out of 100% recycled PET, and we use Tetra Pak’s. We’ve been offering recycled PET bottles for 10 years, Coca-Cola just started. Many companies now donate 5 or 10 cents to charities, while we make a 100% donation of our profits (after deducting our fixed costs). As a result, people support our brand.


15 CENT DEPOSIT ON SMALL PLASTIC BOTTLES

Nice to hear people support your brand. However, many people support Coca-Cola too. Their revenues keep growing, also in bottled water. We want your opinion on something else. From 2021, a 15 cent deposit will be introduced on small plastics bottles in the Netherlands*. What do you think about this?

I’m a supporter of deposit systems. But I doubt deposit of 15 cents will make a difference. With €0,50 for sure, but will you stand in the queue at McDonalds to get a €0,15 refund for your bottle? In the end it’s about clients demands. I would also be in favour of heavier fines if you litter the streets. Comparable to using a mobile phone on a bicycle. Then people don’t do it anymore.

Interesting thinking. Hopefully the 15 cent deposit system will already be effective, but this we can only found out in the future. We’d like to ask you something else. Not all your ‘water products’ is packaged. You also offer water tap systems with filters. Can you tell us more about those?

Our tap systems filter and chill tap water. They have a luxurious appearance. Venues also donate to our water project ‘6 Mile’ when using our taps. It’s like a subscription model.

Our clients can decide for themselves how much they want to charge their customers for consumption. It raises interesting questions like “How much extra value does a filter provide?” Bottled water in general has a very low purchase price. And it’s being sold for a high price. For example in Dutch restaurants you sometimes pay 6 euros for a 1 L water bottle. I have some difficulty with this.

Yes we totally agree! 6 euros for 1 L water really is a lot!

FUTURE VISIONS ON BOTTLED DRINKS

We could talk for another hour but it’s time to wrap up. Is there something else you would like to share with our readers?

Yes! There are many debates about bottled water. But I think it is important to treat water similar to sodas. You don’t want to force people to buy a Coke because they can’t buy water in a plastic bottle.

And perhaps we should tackle issues on a different level. Like a ban on all packaged drinks. Then we may start to think in completely different business cases. For example fill your own cup with Red Bull via a machine.

That will be interesting. We’re sure you’ll be creative enough to continue with EARTH Concepts even in a world without packaging. Thank you for your honesty Patrick and good luck with EARTH.

*the 15 cent deposit on small plastics bottles is somewhat different for the catering industry, because they are not forced to return their bottles. One can say; go to the supermarket to get your 15 cent. And that is the bottleneck is this discussion.

CONNECT WITH EARTH

Our interview with Patrick was inspiring. Things are not always black and white. Doing good sometimes means making sacrifices. Without the sales of bottled water (and tea and coffee), Patrick and his team would not have been able to donate >1.5 million to projects that are so desperately needed.

Henk (l) and Patrick (r) announce EARTH Water surpassed the 1.5 million euros in donations, 2019. (Source: EARTH Concepts)

Do you have questions for Patrick and his team? Or do you want to share your vision on the EARTH concept? Leave your comment behind or get in touch with patrick@earthwater.nl

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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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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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COMING UP: TRIP TO SPAIN

We’re thrilled to announce our upcoming trip to Andalucia, Spain! Research will be conducted from mid-November to mid-December and includes the cities Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla. The goal of this trip is to analyse existing water refill infrastructures, future challenges and opportunities.

REFILL STATION PILOT

Besides our research we we will approach eco-friendly businesses: ho(s)tels, shops, cafés, restaurants and tour operators to conduct a pilot. This means they become a refill station for a couple of weeks. They will offer water refills to customers and/or passengers, for free or for a small fee. Hereby they help to save single-use plastics. We will add the venue to two refill apps (Refill and Tap) and help them with in-store communication. And hopefully they want to continue after the pilot ends.

This will be an interesting opportunity for venues to reduce their footprint, as well as engage with the community and attract new customers. 

     

IS TAP WATER IN SPAIN SAFE TO DRINK?

Nowadays, 99,5% of tap water in Spain is safe to drink. However, bottled water consumption in Spain has grown to around 6-8 billion plastic bottles in 2017. Most people do not like tap water due to its chlorine taste. We will tackle this problem by using the TAPP2 water filter to improve the taste of tap water. This is the World’s First Biodegradable Smart Water Filter.

HELP US SPREAD THE #REFILLUTION IN SPAIN

Do you know a place in Sevilla, Granada or Malaga or surrounding areas that we can approach for a pilot to become a water refill station? Please send us a message. We are looking for eco-friendly:

  • shops
  • tour operators
  • hotels, hostels
  • bars, cafés, restaurants
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