Published:

Shawn Parr

Water: Quality, Convenience, & "Sustainability"

I've recently seen some articles, some on general sites, and some on manufacturer's sites, about bottled water and sustainability. The people of the world use a lot of bottled water, a frightening amount. And many don't recycle them. As of a few years ago there wasn't even a way to recycle them where I'm currently living.

But there are other issues to consider as well, such as availability and quality. Turns out I've accidentally stumbled upon what may be a great solution, especially for my community.

The Quality Issue

Many people out there, especially 'green' type people, think you shouldn't use any bottled water at all. Think of the waste. But it isn't just the 'green' types, I hear plenty of people complaining about the cost, and the fact that most bottled water is just tap water from somewhere else. Both valid points. Both groups typically want you to drink your local water, whether from a municipal system or a well.

There is, however, an issue for some with the quality of water that is available. Of course I can hear you now saying "everyone thinks their water is terrible, but it probably isn't that bad." In our case there is an active EPA Program (PDF) looking to try to clean up our water. Since the issue the EPA is trying to resolve involves many personal landowners and bringing systems up to code I don't have a lot of confidence in it happening very quickly.

Immediately upon moving here we started using filters so that we could use the tap water. Filters here don't last very long. In one case our water started tasting horrible out of the filter after about a week and a half. Add in the drought conditions that have taken place the last few years, and due to water pressure issues we've had numerous boil-orders which worsen the water quality. Eventually the filters just became too much hassle and cost to keep up with. Don't get me wrong, we've used the filters in other parts of the country with great success, but the Natchitoches municipal water system is just too much for them.

Bottled water is one solution to this issue, as even if the water is tap water from somewhere else. The 'somewhere else' is actually the solution to the issue. However the bottles have issues of their own, even outside of waste and recycling issues.

The Convenience Issue

In addition to the quality issue there is one of convenience. A great example is having water at work throughout the day. I certainly can't put a filter on the water faucets and drinking fountains at work. Because of this we tried using filters at home and bottled water at work. We would purchase and store a package of bottles in a fridge in our offices and use those bottles during the work day. When at home we had the filtered water.

Bottled water isn't a great solution for convenience either though. First off the amount of water you get compared to the bulk in a package of bottled water is less than ideal. Then you have to deal with the bottles themselves, whether you are trashing or recycling you go through at least a couple of them a day, and after a while they fill up your trash/recycle bins requiring frequent trips to empty them. Plus some of the more affordable brands use very thin and cheap plastic for the bottles which makes for bottles that aren't totally stable so you have to ensure you keep the caps on them. And don't even get me started with those caps, drop or lose one and it will come back to haunt you later. And you never lose just one of them.

Solution Part 1: The Über Bottle

Music Mountain coolerAfter our filters started proving unreliable and expensive, we began to consider getting water delivered to the house. Thoughts of the Culligan Man were running through our heads with the promise of potable water. I'm not sure if Culligan actually operates here, but we did hear good reports about Music Mountain Water. They have traditional plans and newer family type plans based around a fixed amount of water a month. Our plan gives us seven 5 gallon bottles each month, and if we don't use them all they give us a 24 pack of individual bottles for each gallon we don't use. We have been using the plan since the spring and have received about five of the individual packs. Considering the amount of water we go through in a year is down to less than 150 single serving bottles, it's not bad. We do find this convenient, as while I prefer not to use the individual bottles when we can avoid it, having a small stock for immediate access on car trips, going out on a walk, etc. is extremely handy.

Jessie was originally concerned as municipal water tends to be fluoridated and bottled water is not. Music Mountain has an option for fluoridated water though so our dentist will be happy. They also presented an option for distilled water which seems a little extreme to me, but I'm sure someone wants it. We also discovered the convenience of having instant hot water. Our water cooler both cools and heats, and the hot water is hot enough to make cocoa, tea, and probably some pre-packaged soups instantly. It is amazing how easily you can settle into this habit, as it seemed irritating to have to warm up water on our holiday travels. Right after being irritated I would always feel a bit sheepish as it is a rather "first world problem," but it's easy to become accustomed.

In the grand scheme of things the water company reuses the water bottles after we are done with them, cleaning and refilling them. So our waste is much lower than if we just went to store bought water bottles. Initially we were using the individual bottles we occasionally received to take into the office. However it was so nice to have one at home that when the opportunity to set aside space for one at work presented itself I jumped on it. For that system I decided on purchasing a cooler (with heater!) outright and use an exchange program at the local grocery stores. The water/bottles are provided by Primo Water, and the quality seems just as good as Music Mountain, although either is a great step up from our local water.

Solution Part 2: The Sports Bottle

This is the part of the solution that really makes things work, and was implemented almost by accident. A couple of years ago I started doing some day hiking. At the time we had a variety of cheap reusable sport style water bottles around that we had collected throughout the years. On a couple of occasions when the family came with me on a hike it became apparent that I had a bit of an issue on my hands. Those cheap bottles leak, especially if turned over. And with two rambunctious children and a quick to be annoyed wife the situation was dire. I had to find a solution.

Camelbak Better Bottles & Insulated EddyEventually I decided to try out some Camelbak Better Bottles. Almost all the reviews agreed that they were leak proof, plus they came in a number of nice colors so I could get one for each of us and color code it to avoid arguments. Robert would want a red one. Vivienne would want a pink one. Jessie and I got green and purple ones, although when Vivienne wasn't around Jessie uses the pink one. I had two moments of shock with the Camelbak bottles:

  1. The are totally leak proof
  2. Their support is real

 I'll get to that second one shortly. The Camelbak bottles all have a bite valve which is like a silicone set of lips on the end of the straw. In order to get water out you partially bite down on it, the lips open, and water flows out (suction is required, it is a straw after all). When not being bitten on the lips are tightly closed and the airlock system that lets air in as you are drinking seals up very well and doesn't let water out either. Sometimes when turning the bottle upside down you will get a drip, however this drip was on the outside of the bite valve to start with. Since buying the bottles almost two years ago we have only had one start to leak, and it was due to one of our kids chewing the bite valve until one of the lips cracked. Not exactly Camelbak's fault, and in their defense they do make a child specific version that appears more resistant to such things.

We have had some bottle failures though. Out of the four we purchased, three have had failures in the hinge where the bite valve flips up. When the first one broke I had memories back to when I purchased them and was concerned over their cost. I had only owned cheap sports bottles before that and wondered how long these 'expensive' bottles were going to last. I happened to check their website to see if they had a warranty, and not only do they, but they claim it is for life. I decided to try it out and my second shock occurred. I had to fill out a form on their website including details of which bottles I had and what part broke. A couple weeks later I had a package in the mail, and it was not only a new top, but also a new bite valve and straw. I immediately noticed that they were newly designed. The new top fit all the bottles, but the straw and bite valve only fit the new top. The second and third bottles that broke did so in exactly the same way, and the second time the replacement was just as easy.

On the third broken bottle, I decided to try to fill out the comments section explaining I had bought four bottles together and three had failed already. Since they already replaced two would they please send me two more so i'd be ready to replace the fourth right when it broke. When the package arrived there were not two sets of tops, there were four. They went way above and beyond supporting two year old water bottles. I'm officially a fan.Camelbak Better Bottles & Insulated Eddy

Now how does this fit into the whole idea of how I handle water on a daily basis? I now carry a Camelbak bottle around with me throughout the day, and at home. I fill it up in the morning, take it to work and drink. During the day I refill it a few times, then bring it home. If I commute in on the bike it goes right in my water bottle cage and is available on the ride. When I get home I refill it and use it around the house. As I'm typing I have one with one drink of water left in it right next to me. At the end of the day I fill it up and put it next to the bed. I really like it during the night as when I used to use a regular glass one of the cats would sneak in to drink out of it, usually quite noisily. It is gross to share a glass with a cat, it is worse to be woken up by one slurping. Plus I now charge my phone and iPad on the nightstand and since the Better Bottles are leak proof I don't have to worry about me or the cat being clumsy in the night and spilling. We are still quite clumsy, but it doesn't make a mess.

As a side effect I'm drinking a lot more water than I used to. Each of my bottles is .75 liters or a bit more than one and a half pints. For Christmas I was given a Camelbak Eddy Insulated bottle, and I look forward to testing how it will work on bike rides when it gets hot in the spring. I should mention that the Better Bottle has been replaced by the Eddy; they are very similar, and their lids are compatible. I have the feeling that my replacement tops turn my Better Bottles into Eddys.

Conclusion

 At this point we have a fairly good solution for us. We have better quality water, but don't have continuous waste from individual water bottles. And it has the advantage of causing me to drink a lot more water which is supposed to be healthy. And we get a lot of convenience along with it like instant hot water. Of course I would prefer a solution with much lower monthly cost, but considering our situation this works very well.