You might think the subject of bottled water to be quite an irrelevant and unimportant one. Well, Germans take their water very seriously. So much so, that they have over
Germans consumed around 148.2 bottles of mineral water in 2016 per year, per-head on average. That’s an enormous amount of bottled mineral water. The upside: they do recycle.
Why do the Germans, who have the safest and one of the most tested tap water in the world, choose not to drink it? I previously spoke about cultural differences and recently came across the subject of bottled mineral water. Russians like vodka, Brits love flat beer (*sarcastic laugh* ha-ha, not true!), Mexicans love the tequila and the Italians love limoncello*. We know Germans are ahead of the game with their highly controlled ingredients in beer. So why don’t they drink tap water if theirs is one of the safest in the world?
Regional Tap Water Differences
In the UK the water is very hard, particularly in the south. Anyone who is into tea knows the struggle when you get a chalky surface with rather unappetising particles floating in it. You really need to filter it but it is safe to drink. People normally use a Brita filter (which is not particularly environmentally friendly) but it means you get a clean strong tasting cup of tea. And tea for us Brits and Irish is simply essential. Don’t mess with the tea.
The Bottled Mineral Water Hype
To get back on track, I asked 20 different Germans or German nationals who are from different cities, to ask them why they love bottled mineral water so much to get a good variation including Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Dortmund, the Pfalz region, and Erfurt to name a few.
Vöslauer has 38,3% (wiki) of the market share in Austria and Adelholzener Alpenquellen make €131 million profit per year. Wowza. Let’s not talk about Nestlé, however. I did not want to get political, but do not buy Nestlé. See why you should boycott Nestlé here.
There are 820 sources in Germany where they can get water – so which ones are the favourites?
Results: Do you prefer still or sparkling water?
Surprisingly, I got a strong 9/20 like Sprudel and 11/20 like Still. Almost 50:50. Most said they used to drink lots of Sprudel and have since then converted to drinking still bottled water. This seems to be because they were given sparkling as children and now want to avoid the fizz. Serious adulting.
A lot of respondents expressed their concern with sparkling water. The main reason, which I never considered or experienced myself, is that lots of Germans get a Blähbauch (masculine noun, meaning bloating) due to drinking sparkling water. To avoid the ‘undesired side effects’ that most said they switched to Stilwasser or saying ohne meaning ‘without’, as in without bubbles, in restaurants.
Which brand do you prefer?
Vöslauer | Saskia | Volvic | Adelholzener | Spreequell | Viva con Aqua Laut | Blackforest water | Thüringer Waldquel | Rennsteigsprudel | Röminger |
Some people appear to prefer some minerals, levels of salt, ‘light’ taste of Volvic. I previously said that all water tastes the same, but if you try the tap water in Munich compared to Berlin or London compared to Manchester, there is a difference in taste! So I imagine with bottled mineral water there is also a preference. It’s interesting that no one voted for Evian as their favourite bottled mineral water. We love that in the UK. Or Badoit. Or San Pellegrino.
Do you drink tap water?
Most people agreed that tap water is very well controlled and tested in Germany. Despite this, certain individuals in Berlin were concerned about the medication that gets filtered into tap water when they get thrown into the toilet or that the water companies aren’t able to get rid of the medication after purification. Others said they thought maybe the water was fine but the pipes in their Altbau apartment were not so clean and could be bad for health. More reasons for not drinking include: “I don’t like the taste.“, “Tap water is boring.“, “I feel bottled mineral water is healthier.“.
Other feedback around tap water or Leitungswasser, translated literally as ‘plumbing water’, is that you would not offer this to your guests; you would buy bottled water and never offer tap. Some people considered tap water to be the poor mans drink, and even unhygienic or unhealthy, surprisingly. The general consensus is: ordering tap water is sometimes uncomfortable in restaurants, but some may still order bottled mineral water (even if it is expensive at up to 5 EUR for less than a litre) because they fear for the lack of taste, lack of style, or health risks with tap water. Fair game.
Gibt es Pfand?
“Is there a deposit on this?” Pfand is the word for ‘deposit’, a concept which some countries have adopted like in Sweden or Belgium, but has not been introduced to other European countries yet.
All this bottled water and having this lifestyle must be balanced out somehow. Plastic is one of the worst polluters. We all know this. Luckily Germany has got their head in the right place and is not producing plastic that cannot be recycled (UK take note!). Up to 97% of cans, plastic bottles and glass is recycled in Germany due to the deposit there is on each of them. The plastic bottles have a deposit of 0.25cents per bottle meaning that if you are buying a crate you might have an extra 6-8euros. If you’re living in Germany and do not understand how to recycle the bottles, check this handy guide.
Although the Pfand system works very well – all this schleppen and running around unable to drink very controlled and tested tap water sounds rather like first world problems. On the other hand, if the UK has salad and many many other items wrapped in plastic which is actually not recyclable and goes straight into landfill, then we all need to reflect a bit more on how we can improve and be more eco-friendly.
Getting a soda stream and filtering seems the most logical and environmentally friendly way to drink sparkling water. Rather than buying bottled mineral water, there are also different purifiers out there meaning less waste and carrying it up to your 4th floor apartment.
In other news, there are people in the world who find themselves without access to clean and safe drinking water. I read a story about a boy bathing in his water and having to use the same water to drink due to the shortage. Please realise that this is a real crisis, and donate just a few euros like I did whilst writing this post, to try to help the children in Gaza and Yemen and the rest of the world by donating to Unicef. Sharing is caring. <3
*All of these statements are based on clichés and are not meant to represent the truth.