Wasserwende: Germany urges more people to drink tap water to protect environment

For many Germans, it’s second nature to buy bottled water rather than drink from the tap. But Germany’s environment ministry is pushing to change this.

Wasserwende: Germany urges more people to drink tap water to protect environment
A woman in Sieversdorf, Brandenburg pours herself a glass of tap water. Photo: DPA

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze is calling for more environmental and climate protection through turning to tap rather than bottled water.

Tap water in Germany is “flawless,” the Social Democratic (SPD) politician told DPA. 

“Drinking tap water saves money, energy and unnecessary packaging,” she said, adding that using drinking water fountains are a “healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to the many disposable water bottles that people carry around with them every day”.

She added that they make it more pleasant to spend time in cities, especially on hot days.

The ‘Wasserwende’

The problem is that there are not yet many public drinking fountains in Germany. Throughout the country, there remains a norm of buying bottled water or ordering it at cafes and restaurants. Asking for Leitungswasser (tap water) is often frowned upon.

SEE ALSO: 13 things foreigners do that make Germans really uncomfortable

In hopes of sparking a cultural shift, the ministry has formed a Verein (association) with a name in English: “A Tip: Tap” 

Its prized project is “Wasserwende (water transformation): Drinking water is climate protection”, which Schulze's ministry is supporting with €1.3 million.

The aim is “to switch from bottled to drinking water from the tap in order to reduce CO2 emissions and plastic waste,” the Ministry of the Environment said in a statement.

But how? Project organizer Carmen Heilmaier explained that it is about informing people – at stands, in day-care centres and schools, and in companies. They are also setting up drinking fountains or “refill stations” in order to drink from the water dispenser directly or fill up a reusable bottle.

To put more fountains in place, the association is working together with local authorities, public utilities and other drinking water initiatives, such as those in Berlin-Moabit, in the Labertal valley near Munich, in Marburg, Karlsruhe, Neuruppin and in Chemnitz.

A man refills a reusable water bottle in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Keeping 'taps' on water usage

Internally and via external experts, the Verein plans to check whether people are really switching from bottled water to tap water.

It is difficult to say how many greenhouse gases are actually produced by bottled water. A decade ago, Germany's Gut certification company determined that tap water and mineral water score roughly the same in terms of extraction and treatment. 

However, transport routes and packaging made a huge difference. According to the study, “the typical mineral water sold in Berlin fluctuates between 60 and 425 grams of CO2 equivalents per litre” – whereas tap water only has an average of 0.35 grams.

Even under particularly favourable conditions, CO2 emissions per litre of bottled water would be 171 times higher.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has no data on the CO2 balance of mineral and tap water, but the direction is clear: “If you don't buy bottled water, you save on your own transport routes and transport throughout Germany or Europe, often by truck,” said water expert Hans-Jürgen Grummt. 

The quality of the tap water is so good that “there is no reason to buy bottled mineral water to quench thirst,” he says.

Do the Germans see it the same way? 

In March, the water industry association BDEW reported that 83 percent of Germans drink tap water “regularly or occasionally,” with the average consumption per person per week estimated at nine litres. Yet only four percent of tap water Germans use is for drinking or in cooking, with the majority (36 percent) for bathing.

According to the Association of German Mineral Water Fountains (VDM), the consumption of bottled mineral water has risen sharply in recent decades. In 2018, per capita, consumption of mineral water was 147.7 litres. 

In 2010 it was still around 131 litres, at the turn of the millennium 100 litres and in 1980 even just under 40 litres. 

A man uses a public drinking water station in Frankfurt to wash his hands. Photo: DPA

Cheaper prices

The Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU), whose members say they supply more than 90 percent of Germans with water, emphasizes the “unbeatably attractive” price of around 0.2 cents per litre on average. For one euro, you receive an average of 500 liters of water, they said.

Yet many have safety concerns about nitrate in groundwater or old lead pipes.

The monitoring company Stiftung Warentest published an overview about drinking water in June. “Traces of the environment were found in almost all water, but they give no cause to worry about one's health,” their report stated.

BDEW Managing Director Martin Weyand emphasized: “Drinking water is one of the best monitored foodstuffs in Germany”.

UBA expert Grummt said that lead pipes in residential buildings were “a regional problem of older houses” which were no longer used after 1973.

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Sweden to set world’s first consumption-based emissions target

Sweden political parties have unanimously backed the world's first consumption-based emissions target, with the country aiming to hit net zero by 2045.

Sweden to set world's first consumption-based emissions target

The committee responsible for setting Sweden’s environmental goals on Thursday presented its proposals for what goals Sweden should set for greenhouse has emissions linked to the country’s consumption. 

“No other country in the world has done what we have done,” Emma Nohrén, chair of the climate goals committee, said at a press conference announcing the goals. “There has been a pioneering sprit.” 

About 60 percent of the emissions caused by people living in Sweden are released in other countries producing goods to be consumed in Sweden, meaning Sweden’s production-based emissions goals, like those of other countries, arguably misrepresent Sweden’s impact.  

In a press statement, the government said that as well as the 2045 consumption emissions target, the committee has suggested setting targets for the climate impact of its exports, include emissions from flights and cargo ships in its long-term national climate goals, and aim to include emissions from internal flights in its target for domestic transport by 2030.  

The committee also proposes that emissions from goods and services ordered by the public sector should decline at a faster rate than those of the rest of the country. 

Amanda Palmstierna, an MP for the Green Party who sits on the committee, said it was positive that the new goals had the backing of all seven of Sweden’s parliamentary parties. 

“It’s important that all the parties are backing this proposal so that it can become implemented,” she said. “Significant action is required now. We have so little time, as we saw in the IPCC report which came out on Monday.”