Buying bottled water in South East Asia: Facts and options

Twenty years ago while travelling around South East Asia I drank the tap water quite often and got extremely ill most of the time. This trip I wanted to see if I could avoid the disturbing hours spent in the toilet or with a bucket beside the bed. I found a lot of shops that sold 19 litre purified bottled water and saw locals driving around on their motorbikes with one or more of these “Gallon Bottles”. If you watch out for them you can find them all over the place in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Why buy such big jugs of water?

When buying the bottle or carrying back to the room, locals ask me all the time why we buy the gallon instead of the 1 litre bottles as most of the other tourists are doing it. In the Asian climate,  Kathi and I usually drink about 5 litres each per day which means up to 10 plastic (PET) bottles per person. I recently explained to some Indonesian university students that in one month of drinking from the refillable big bottle we saved around 300 plastic bottles that would become garbage and possibly end up in their beautiful ocean or forest. When they heard this explanation, they agreed this was a good reason but not one they had ever considered.

Plastic bottle figures!

  • Plastic water bottles are made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET).
  •  1 litre plastic bottle weighs 38 grams and the cap is 2 grams.
  • It roughly takes one barrel of oil to make 1765 PET plastic bottles.
  • Every litre of water in plastic bottle equals 3 litres of water (2 to make the bottle and 1 litre to fill it).

What happens to plastic in Asia?

  • It goes into rubbish piles and gets burnt resulting in the ever present smell of plastic toxins at sunrise and sunset.
  • These dioxins are very harmful to humans and animals.
  • They are blown or thrown into oceans, seas, the countryside, and then can take up to 450 years to fully biodegrade.
  • A group of environmentally conscious  people actually recycle it by finding a positive use for it (fibrefill for jackets or sleeping bags).
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