Bottled water flooding Czech market leaves sea of waste behind

Since the Velvet Revolution, the average Czech household’s tap water consumption has fallen by more than 50 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Czech Republic is now one of the biggest consumers of bottled water in Europe. With empty water bottles creating hundreds of tonnes of waste a year, not everyone is happy about the trend.

A normal Thursday lunchtime in a normal Czech restaurant, and a fairly normal scenario. A waiter responds to a request for tap water by saying he’ll bring a bottle instead. Czechs are amongst Europe’s biggest bottled water consumers, drinking on average 60 litres of the stuff a year. That’s despite having some of the cleanest tap water on the continent. Jakub Kašpar is the Czech Environment Ministry spokesperson. He and his wife are on a personal mission to force restaurants to serve more tap-water. Over a leisurely lunch, and a bottle of water, he told me more about his crusade:

“It is not a crusade, but yes, my wife is, I think, a very rational person. And she thinks that when she doesn’t need to create any new garbage, then why would she? So she usually asks for two deciliters of juice, and tap water.”

And what is the response normally like? Are people getting better at serving tap-water in restaurants here?

“In Prague it is getting better. It is becoming usual for people to respond normally and in a friendly way. People only ask ‘do you really want tap water?’ But sometimes, especially in the towns and cities outside of Prague, it is still a problem, and people create reasons not to serve you tap water like ‘for hygienic reasons we can’t’.”

I hear that the water coming out of people’s taps in this country is really very good. How does Czech water compare to say Austrian water, or water from the surrounding countries?

“I think Czech water is comparable with water in Austria, which is also very good and clear. I don’t know the situation in Germany, but in the Czech Republic it is really true that tap-water going to households, going to restaurants, going anywhere by pipe is absolutely normal and absolutely healthy.”

One of the biggest arguments against bottled water is that it is not very environmentally-friendly. Is it really all that un-ecological? Because a lot of the bottled water sold here is Czech bottled water – so it isn’t being flown in from abroad…

“Yes, you are right, that the vast majority of bottled water sold in the Czech Republic is also coming from the Czech Republic. But the environmental problem caused by drinking bottled water is not connected to transport, but connected to the needless creation of waste. I understand that if you love sparkling water, then you can’t just go to the tap and get a glass of sparkling water, because our taps unfortunately don’t work like that. But for everyday drinking, this is really not needed.”