Maybe during travelling even more than back home, our need to drink leaves a trail of plastic bottles behind, therefore ask to refill – not just water, but also other drinks and even food. Bring your own bags and containers, proudly say no to straws and other unnecessary single-use plastics. Water is life as well as a basic human right.

Conscious travelling

I remember that my first guide books for Latin America recommended buying only bottled water, not without checking that the seal wasn’t broken already. I did understand where this advice was coming from, but I already appreciated places where I could refill my bottle back then. Unfortunately, they were few and far between. Often the second-best solution was to buy 5-10 litres containers, do our own refill and leave a little less plastic rubbish behind.

Luckily times have changed. Today we carry our 800 ml steel Dopper bottles with us pretty much all the time. Especially over the last years, water refills become a standard in many hotels, hostels and homestays (bed and breakfast) around the world. Dive centres were among the first places to offer free water refills in Indonesia. When we arrived in Labuan Bajo in 2015 almost all dive shops had big water dispensers.

Ask to refill

Wherever we stayed we would ask for refills of our bottles. Some places would offer it for half the price of a new bottle of mineral water. I liked the concept as this might not only attract the ones wanting to save plastic rubbish but the ones wanting to save or make money too. Even if a place did not offer refills, they usually would do it once we asked for it – some for free, others for a small amount.

Every time we thanked them happily and suggested that they put it on the menu/room information, create a sign or otherwise let their guests know that this option exists as a lot of people don’t like to ask. We can highly recommend it, not only did we save lots of unnecessary plastic bottles this way, but also contributed to change, one question at a time. Radha Homestay in Sanur now offers free water for their guests.

Water refill

The place you stay and the dive centres you hang out with are already great suppliers of water. But what if you are just going out for a stroll or a trip? There are plenty of apps for that occasion. We used “Refill Bali” which worked fine for the area of Sanur.

“Refill Bali has over 600 water refill stations with more than 75% of the water stations offering water refills absolutely free!”

Refill Bali app description

It’s not the only choice. There are worldwide apps for water refills as well as local solutions. A good overview is given by Refill Ambassadors. Enjoy your new travel experience and encourage others to refill as well

Reusable straws and bags

The most important thing when having a drink in a bar, cafe or restaurant these days, anywhere in the world really, is to remember to mention “no straw, please” in time. When they offer a reusable straw, be it from glass, metal or bamboo, we always congratulate them. However, Yoeri still says “no thank you”, while I take it most of the time. Not each and every drink needs a straw. After all, we all learned to drink out of glasses.

Normally I take our own set of metal straws with me, but this time they stayed at home. I have to admit carrying them around is a good reminder to mention it early enough. I appreciate it when places we visit regularly remember our preferences. That’s customer service.

Reusable bags are part of my shopping equipment since I was a little kid. I can really not understand what’s so hard to bring a bag or even better an assortment of different bags – and possible other containers – for different needs. Simply have them ready to grab whenever you go shopping. A side note for those worrying about hygiene: Just buy bags you can wash at 60° and do wash them regularly.

The way forward: Food containers and no-waste shops

You are doing all of these things already. Your coffee-to-go is filled into your own reusable cup. So what is next? We were delighted to see that some warungs in the area of Pemuteran have adopted the strategy to deliver food in reusable containers. Especially during the time of partial lock-down when the restaurants wouldn’t open for regular business, we enjoyed being able to order food without the big amount of waste being left behind by this procedure normally. Our personal favourite was Warung Setia. It is not only dependent on the restaurants but based on a collaboration with accommodations in the area. Of course, it can only work if the containers are also brought back.

Recently, I learned about a project of that kind in Germany. There has been a launch in Berlin, Cologne and Munich already and the plan is to roll it out country-wide this summer. REBOWL is still working on the perfect box which can hold everything from curries via salads to soups. REBOWL is a follow-up from the RECUP system based on a deposit for your coffee-to-go cup. Personally, I like coffee to sit, but I shall keep an eye out for this alternative whenever I am in need of a coffee while I am on the move (and don’t have my own cup with me).

I am sure there are similar projects in a lot of countries around the world. Sometimes it is worth searching for some new initiatives and alternatives to our very own business-as-usual. The same goes for shops selling their products without additional packaging (in Germany e.g. Unverpackt Läden). In Indonesia, the movement is called Zero Waste and keeps growing (Zero Waste Bali). In the end, reducing (plastic) packaging will also help save water.

Water is life

Water and waste are linked in another way too. The production of each and every product uses up fresh water. Fresh water resources are limited and all too often contaminated either by waste itself or by discarded byproducts of production (Keep your plastic and clean up the rest).

Water is officially a human right meaning:

„The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.“

United Nations: Human rights to water and sanitation

Not many countries have started to act on this human right that was first recognised by the United Nations in 2010. Even though we are not the only creatures living on this blue planet needing water, human rights are a great possibility to defend the planetary needs against corporate greed. Privatisation of water is undermining the access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, accessible and affordable water in many parts of the world.

Only a few states have taken the right to water explicitly into their constitution. Wikipedia lists South Africa alone, however, there are courts in other states that have ruled on the bases of a basic right to water. Slovenia is the only country in the European Union to amend its constitution and declare water a human right so that it is seen as a fundamental right to its citizens and not as a commodity. Bravo! I am sure they have plenty of spots to refill your water too.

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