Monday, 5 January 2015

Convenience and the economics of drinking water

When doing the weekly shop for the home, I buy a six-pack of 1.5l bottles of Cisowianka mineral water, and a 12-pack of 0.5l bottles of Cisowianka. The large bottles cost 1.73zł (31p) each, the small bottles - containing three times less water than the large ones - cost 1.28zł (24p) each. Even taking the cost of packaging into account - let's assume the large bottle costs only marginally more in materials and labour to produce than the small one - buying small bottles seems in economic terms terribly wasteful. So why do I continue, knowingly, to pay more than twice as much per litre of water in the smaller packaging?

And why do I buy bottled water at all, given that the water served to the tap by MPWiK (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Wodociągów i Kanalizacji - literally, the Urban Enterprise of Water-Pullings and Canalisation) is absolutely fine to drink? It no longer reeks of chlorine, and costs less than half a grosz per litre (0.004.2zł  + 8% VAT).

Part of it is the minerals - 742mg per litre, including Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium, good for staving off muscle cramps in the legs which affect me especially in the summer. Cisowianka comes out of the ground at Nałęczów Zdrój, a spa, which is where Nałęczowianka mineral water also hails from but is cheaper, not being owned by Nestle. Also worth pointing out the difference between woda mineralna - mineral water, which can be categorised as low, medium or high in mineral content - the high content ones (over 1000mg per litre) tend to be slightly sulphurous in taste, and woda źródlana - water bottled at source, which is essentially tapwater.

Once upon a time, I used to drive up to ul. Buszycka to the artesian water well; here you can fill your containers brim-full for free, all paid for by the City of Warsaw. The reason I've stopped doing this is that a) this requires driving there, and using a car for such a purpose is hardly ecological or economical; b) once poured, the water needs to be drunk within 24 hours (they say) before the microorganisms residing in it start to flourish and become potentially hazardous to health; c) the best container for the artesian water is a plastic 5-litre bottle from - er, mineral water. Which should not be re-used to often, so you end up buying one every other top-up. And finally d) you have to lug a stonking great five litre bottle about the kitchen, tipping it gingerly as you pour yourself a glassful.

Whilst the large bottle of Cisowianka serves in the kitchen and is used to pour water into glasses, the small bottle can be taken on walks, left by the bedside, carried in the car. It cannot be, however, carried onto an aeroplane. You have to surrender all fluids over 100ml before security, and once air-side, you fall hostage to the oligopolistic practices than go on airports. Here, you have to pay not 1.28zł for a half-litre of mineral water, but 6.00zł. (Canny travellers of a conservative nature flying from the UK can pick up a 75cl bottle of Buxton or Evian totally free of charge of W.H.Smiths along with their Daily Telegraph).

Flying dehydrates the body, so water is a necessity rather than luxury; I'd be buying a Telegraph to read on the plane anyway, so a large bottle of Buxton (from beautiful Derbyshire, up the A6 from my brother's) is Most welcome. But paying Relay or one of those other shops at Okęcie 6 złotys is a bit much.

Still or sparkling? Coming from a generation when Thames tapwater was still fine, if I'm ordering water in a restaurant or bar (during Lent and only during Lent!), it will be sparkling, because the still stuff adds not enough value and is entirely ordinary. With ice and a slice or lemon - or preferably lime - and then I'm happy to part with six zlotys or even more.

Unlike less fortunate parts of the world, northern Europe is not short of water. Treating it to become drinkable - and disposing of dirty water in an environmentally friendly way - is not cheap. Even so, Warsaw water is very good value for money. And in the Warsaw supermarket, a litre-and-half bottle of mineral water is roughly half the price it is in a London supermarket. [Price comparison with 1.5l bottle of Buxton.]

This time last year:
Locally, it's the little things...

This time last two years ago:
Warsaw bids farewell to its old trams

This time seven years ago:
Five departures from Okęcie


Bob said...

Hi Michal - we went from buying the 5L bottles at Lidl to filling them at the artesian (sp) well in Konstancin. We have 7 5L plastic bottles that last us for 10 days or so and have not concerned ourselves with any negative biologic issues.

Maybe that's why my hair is falling out and I am twitching all the time when I thought it was a result of Chernobyl. :)

AndrzejK said...

I still love the ads for Belgian Spa Reine water advertised as being entirely free of minerals!!!

And in Wilanów there is absolutely nothing wrong with the tap water which is tests is less tainted with microbes than most bottled waters! In the days before the new water treatment plants of course one even used bottled water to rinse after brushing teeth, never mind the taste of tea made with the brown stuff which emerged from the taps.