Back in July, fresh off the plane and with 50 IKEA bookmarks saved in Safari, I moved into my new flat in Paris. Upon my arrival, I opened the door to the welcoming face of one of my French friends – who also happened to be the tenant I was replacing, before she stepped back and raised an amused eyebrow.
“That’s how you know you’re not from here,” she smiled.
She was looking down at my handbag – or, rather, at something that was hanging off a carabiner clip attached to it: my re-usable water bottle.
“So sporty!” she continued, “you Australians.”
I always knew I’d be outed as an obvious foreigner soon enough, what with my obvious accent and obvious lack of Parisian style. But I’d never even thought of how my possession of that little, BPA-free baby would so immediately and decidedly differentiate me from an entire local population.
I knew she was right, though. The general water bottle norm in Paris is to head to the supermarket, find the water bottle section (you can’t miss it) and rip open one of the many giant plastic packs that sit on the shelves, taking a single one for yourself and then repeating this routine the next day, or the next week.
Allow me to provide a few examples of the Hexagon Hydration Attitude™.
Last month at work, one of my colleagues collected the last drop out of her Vittel bottle and promptly stood up, gathering her keys.
“I need to buy water,” she announced. “Anyone need anything from the supermarket?”
Then there was the first time I headed to Montpellier to meet my host family back in 2012. 2-litre plastic bottles lined a tall shelf in their kitchen, and when I approached the sink to fill my own with tap water, my host mum objected.
“Take a plastic one!” she insisted and led me to another room that housed smaller but no less numerous bottles.
I asked if the tap water was unsafe to drink, to which she shook her head.
“It just doesn’t taste as nice,” she explained. “And this way it’s easier.”
The last time I gave into Evian (forgive me father) was in July, at the world cup final in Paris. This marked a rare occasion when I knew the size of my reusable companion just wouldn’t cut it in 37+ degree heat in a dense human crowd (aka furnace) with giant queues for refills. Besides, this was a day I wanted to blend in on – I was enthusiastically determined to meld with the very patriotic French crowd despite my shaky lyrical knowledge of anything in the national anthem up until ALLEZ CITOYENS!
It had to be done, but the post-match sea of plastic that covered the grass left me beyond queasy.
I’m very much an “each to their own” person, so I’m never going to ambush someone purchasing a plastic bottle and kick it out of their hands. Besides, I still use way too much plastic on the daily and my eco-consciousness could do with some serious extension.
But I’ve certainly noticed that there are misconceptions around plastic use – here and everywhere, and that product labels, information and general discourse can be confusing. The main issue, to my mind, is that many people think plastic bottles are all 100% recyclable, so it’s okay to use and dispose of them regularly. But certainly not all plastics are recyclable, and in France, less than 25% of them are recycled properly.
And it’s not just France. Of course, not every Australian has a reusable bottle and not every French person eschews them. I can remember a time when my own mum started to buy giant 24-packs of plastic bottles back home in Australia. Soon enough, the empty ones would collect dust under my bed and sit on ledges in the living room and crunch under my feet when I got in the car. We’re all now well-equipped with the reusable goods, but the 2009 plastic era certainly left an impression on me.
Another thing that left an impression on me was growing up in the midst of an intense drought. The Millennium Drought, as Wikipedia likes to call it, basically dried out the slice of Straya where I’m from for most of the early noughties. 2001-2007 were rough, I tell ya.
I remember the restrictions on water use that were imposed. I remember carefully washing the car with buckets and the general disappearance of hoses and sprinklers. I remember brown grass – I remember forgetting what green grass looked like! – and the stickers handed out at school showing a personified, cartoon water drop named Whizzy (iconic.) ‘Whizzy saves water,’ ‘Whizzy turns off the tap when he brushes his teeth,’ ‘Whizzy takes short showers.’ Some of them remain stuck to my shower screen and towel rack to this day, chipped and faded but as pertinent as ever.
Our upbringings certainly influence how we view water consumption – its use and overuse, or when and why we’re confronted with both its importance and limit. And our surroundings and habitual situations affect pretty much everything else too – just as we all consume water in different ways, so do we for food and entertainment and information. And perhaps we all take advantage of these things in different ways, too.
Something I find especially interesting as a traveller is the long-held perception of a Third World, which I personally consider to be a load of horse… waste. We all know there are places in the world where people don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water, but we tend to consider these countries to be extremely far away, shut off from the rest of civilization as if the world were one giant failed Venn diagram that didn’t quite make it to Africa.
But I would argue that, as travellers, we know that nothing is really ever that far away. The world is small – immense but small, and there certainly aren’t three of them. Really, the people struggling to secure safe water are only a hop, skip and a jump away from the supermarket next to the Sacré Coeur.
So maybe we can try a little harder to re-use and refill, rather than restock. Forego the supermarket for the public fountain. Remind ourselves of how small we know the world is, and think of how we can help to protect it.
One eco-conscious, health-conscious, community-conscious company already doin’ the most is LifeStraw. Not only are all their products made from sustainable materials, but for every water bottle purchased with them, a child receives safe water for an entire school year. And this isn’t some shady corporation shouting I’lL sAvE yOu! from the comfort of a skyscraper in New York. LifeStraw really does the work, directly in locations where’s there’s a need for safe water, disease prevention, maternity care and more. Damon and Jo even joined the crew themselves!
Even if Sydney-siders tend to have sporty reusable bottles and Parisians rep the plastic-is-fantastic life, the common thread throughout is that the water we drink is SAFE. And LifeStraw is working hard to ensure that’s the case for everybody.
We’re lucky to have the choice to pick and choose – to essentially curate our consumption. So if you’re keen to use that privilege as an opportunity to put a little more ‘Heal the World’ into your hydration, check out LifeStraw’s goodies, and make the most of the 20% discount offered by our partnership.
You’ll be cranking ‘For Good’ from Wicked till the end of time. xx