10 Nov, 2009 @ 12:56
3 mins read

Don’t be naïve (Evian spelt backwards) – give up the bottle

THIS weekend I enjoyed dinner with a friend at a smart Asian restaurant near Mijas. As usual when we dine out locally, we asked for a jug of tap water along with our wine.

The young waiter paled at our request, mumbled something about it not being permitted and scurried off to fetch someone senior, making us feel like we had requested a line of coke, rather than a humble jug of ubiquitous H20.

The unsmiling owner then proceeded to tell us that he was ‘not allowed’ to serve tap water as it was dangerous, contained a lot of cal (which is actually harmless lime-scale) and that not even his staff would deign to sip the stuff.

(Not true, whispered our waiter later – he was only following orders in denying our initial request).

Seeing we were unimpressed with this answer the boss then added darkly that we shouldn’t blame him if we fell ill after drinking his tap water, before finally returning with a jug of the dreaded agua del grifo (instead of the normal overpriced half litre bottles).

After enjoying our meal, albeit with some trepidation – “do you think he may have added a dodgy prawn,” my partner proffered – I decided to do some research to back up my feeling that bottled water is a hyped-up rip-off, as well as the more obvious global pollutant.

The bottled water phenomenon spouted into our lives back in the 70s with that classy little French number – Perrier.

Here in Málaga, the water is generally excellent, particularly in hilltop villages like Ronda. Why on earth would you drink bottled water here when you have the five-star stuff right on your mountain step.

Thereafter, a tidal wave of brands has deluged the market, all sharing the same alluring commercial appeal: think Alpine mountains, pools of fresh spring water and the unspoken health benefits of this indispensable gym, yoga, jogging, tennis (you get the picture) lifestyle accessory.

It’s a big-bucks industry – even Donald Trump has his own brand of mineral water – which is rapidly expanding to include spring, mineral, purified, distilled, carbonated, caffeinated and vitamin-enriched, as well as flavours, such as lemon or strawberry, and specific brands aimed at children.

Most people drink bottled water because they imagine it is healthier. And of course in most Third World countries this is true. The water in China is apparently not that great either and, here in Spain, I remember a particularly high and indigestible salt content in my agua del grifo when I was holidaying in Sitges, near Barcelona.

But here in Málaga, the water is generally excellent, particularly in hilltop villages like Ronda. Why on earth would you drink bottled water here knowing that it has travelled who knows how far, in what sort of conditions (it is well known, for example, that heat causes the plastic to leach into the water) when you have the five-star stuff right on your mountain step.

In most cases tap water also adheres to stricter purity standards than bottled water, whose source, often far from a mountain spring, can be wells underneath industrial facilities. Indeed, 40 percent of bottled water began life as, well, tap water.

In the U.S the 20/20 news show recently took five bottles of national brands of bottled water, and a sample of tap water from a drinking fountain, in the middle of New York City and sent them to microbiologist Aaron Margolin of the University of New Hampshire to test for harmful bacteria that can make you ill, like e. coli.

“There was actually no difference between the New York City tap water and the bottled waters that we evaluated,” Margolin concluded.

A further study revealed that a third of the tested brands of bottled water were found to contain contaminants such as arsenic and carcinogenic compounds.

Then again, the US is travelling fast upstream on this issue. For example, the mayor of San Francisco has banned city employees from buying bottled water and has an online pledge to convince residents to give up bottled water.

In July this year, the rural Australian town of Bundanoon similarly banned the sale of bottled water over concerns about its environmental impact.

The statistics are thought-provoking: bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year requiring up to 47 million gallons of oil annually to produce. And while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, over 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away.

Plastic waste is now at such a volume that vast eddies of current-bound plastic rubbish spin endlessly in the world’s major oceans, representing a considerable risk to marine life. Plastic water bottles can take 1,000 years to biodegrade.

There’s a simple alternative to bottled water: buy a stainless steel thermos to carry water safely in the car. Don’t like the way your local tap water tastes? Inexpensive carbon filters, like those found in Brita jugs, will turn most tap water sparkling fresh at a fraction of bottled water’s cost.

And if you are worried about chlorine (also found in most bottled waters), all traces disappear if the container is simply left uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours.

There has long been a law in Spain that restaurants and bars have to produce a glass of water on request, in the same way as they have to make their toilets available to passers by.

Remember this when you are next pressured to buy bottled water, particularly if it is Evian (which just happens to be naïve spelt backwards).

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

Do you have a story? Contact newsdesk@theolivepress.es


  1. Whilst I fully accept what Josephine Quintero says with respect to the water in Malaga MAY be true and that her report GENERALLY contains a great deal of valid points I can assure her she most certainly would NOT DARE to venture as far as drinking the tap water in the Campo of Chiclana de la Frontera for TOO long!

  2. My spring water tastes very different to the chlorinated tap water you get. I do not buy this argument at all. I can only assume that you really do not know what real water tastes like. Comparing heavily chlorinated water from taps to natural sourced water is a joke. It has never done me any harm and I don’t know anyone whom it has. If your fortunate to have a natural spring, as on my farm, you have to be careful where it eminates from. If there is no industry or bad things leaching into the surrounding water table then I think it’s fine to drink. I’m no expert on mineral bottled water but I would much rather that than tap water. I do appreciate however that it is overly priced.

  3. I wasn’t talking about taste, I was talking about “source”, if you re-read the post properly, Mike. I did not mention tap water at all, you did.

    You need to do a bit more investigation of your own – don’t blindly believe what large conglomerates tell you. They’d tell you it was found on the moon and people would still believe it, such is the laziness of the population who are brainwashed by their TV nowadays. I’m not one of them lol.

  4. “In most cases tap water also adheres to stricter purity standards than bottled water”.
    That is so true. However, in Coín the water tastes awful (at least in our block of flats) so a nice BRITA filter does the trick.
    “If you are worried about chlorine…all traces disappear if the container is simply left uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours.”
    Now this I didn’t know. I’ll try it out when I get home.
    Thanks for the interesting article.

  5. If i had my own restaurant,i will not serve tap water to someone like u. U have to order only what it’s in the menu. I’ve never saw tap water in a menu in a restaurant or a bar. I think u’re really stingy(tight) if u asked for tap water. I really don’t understand people like u. Stay home! eat home and drink u’re tap water,it will be much cheaper. And why u post Evian? They had this water in that restaurant? Ok,if u order some other drinks and in the end u want a small glass with tap water i think they will bring it to u ,but u can’t just go to a restaurant and order tap water. No one forced u to go to that restaurant,but once u got in,u got to accept their rules and pay how much they ask. Like i said before,if u don’t like it,u don’t go to a restaurant,u stay home. And now to go back to Evian. Spelled backwards means Naive only in english. In my language and many others don’t mean nothing. Dis u knew that the name Evian it’s from a small city named Évian-les-Bains or Évian situated in south-east of France?!?!? This have nothing to do with u’re Naive word. There are more others which are more expensive the Evian. And one more last thing,no one force u to buy it. If u want to write an interesting article ,write about the level of NO2 and NO3 from so many bottled waters and tap water too. Did u knew that many waters are not good to prepare babies milk ???? Tap water makes part from these waters too. U have to boiled first and then prepare the milk. But u knew also that the NO3 and NO2 don’t evaporate like some minerals??? After boiling,the concentration remain the same. For a baby it have to be lower then 10 mg/l and for an adult 25 mg/l. So think before u drink tap water.

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