Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Thirsting for Reusability

                     Contributing to plastic waste in Old Manali

Refilling old plastic water bottles beats buying new ones, especially when travelling. Not all towns and cities that you visit have waste disposal processes similar to the ones that exist in large cities like the one you may come from, and buying and throwing away a lot of plastic bottles could easily ruin a beautiful town. So it makes sense to reuse old bottles to reduce the amount of garbage that you create. Also, you save up on money that you'd normally spend on bottled water, which amounts to a lot if you're backpacking on a budget over a period of time.

I found Leh and McLeod Ganj great as far as drinking water was concerned during my visit there in May & June, 2009. Instead of buying bottled water (Rs 15-20) everyday, I could reuse and refill my 1 litre bottle at refill stations that sold purified or boiled water refills, at Rs. 7 in Leh and Rs. 10 in McLeod Ganj.

In Leh, an environmentally conscious organisation called Dzomsa runs two shops that provide people with boiled water refills, apricot & sea buckthorn juice, dry fruit products, etc. Dzomsa is a good initiative to keep Ladakh clean, and to ensure waste gets reduced and reused where possible, particularly disposable plastic water bottle waste.

Old Manali was a different story however. A day into my stay there after travelling down from Leh, I realised there weren't any refills and that I'd have to keep buying a new bottle of water once or twice a day. So not cool. And after 9 days I had my own little plastic bottle collection (see picture above).

Another thing that struck me when I visited all these towns was the fact that almost none of their restaurants served free drinking water, something I'm not used to in Mumbai, where every single restaurant serves you free but probably unpurified water, which is refilled at many points during your meal, whether you want more water or not.

Not so in the North. They just sell you the bottled stuff. Now I wonder if that's a good or bad thing. Not serving free drinking water does save on water wastage, since people have a tendency to misuse and take for granted what is given for free. But it also means people are buying more water, and probably increasing plastic wastage, so I'm not sure which is the lesser evil.

I suppose the best solution would be for a restaurant to offer only bottled water that you could then refill at a subsidised cost? In which case Leh and McLeod Ganj seem to be on the right track, while Mumbai and Old Manali lie on opposite ends of the extreme wastage spectrum.

Do you have any thoughts on water or plastic wastage that you'd like to add?



Lazy Pineapple said...

A very sensible idea of refilling water in used bottles. Unfortunately, people have no regard for environment even if all of us pretend to be very concerned about global warming.

I moved to UK a couple of years back and I am very glad to see that people here are taking efforts to reduce use of plastic. Supermarkets charge you if you use their plastic bags so most people now carry jute or cloth bags to buy groceries and vegetables.

Daniel D'Mello said...

That's good to hear.

P.N. Subramanian said...

While I share your concerns, I fear that the quality of plastic bottles used for packaging water is inferior. They should not be used again and again. However better quality bottles withh higher star ratings are available but they are costly.

Daniel D'Mello said...

This is very true. We're now using high quality plastic bottles to store purified water at home. They're plastic, but high quality, and don't get spoiled like the cheap disposable bottles on sale. So you actually save money by using them in the long run. And yes, it makes sense to carry one around when travelling too.

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