As an adventure travel company operating tours in remote regions that are off the beaten path, we are always faced with this concern for access to good hygienic facilities and clean drinking water. More often than not, the safest option for travel operators is to go sterile and travel with bottle water and with facilities that are also high on sterility. These approaches do not factor in the environmental sensitivity and the pollution this may cause to the region. At Unventured we have over the last 3 years deliberated on the prospect of finding a balance between ensuring access to good hygienic water for our travellers and yet not compromising on the hygiene quotient and quality of water. At Unventured, we believe in taking a greener/environmentally conscious route to travel and we would like to in simple ways make a difference in our approach to conserving the very region that we travel through. We believe we owe it to the people, the region and the environment.
Before we talk about what we did here are some facts about bottled water:
- Bottles used to package water take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes
- It is estimated that actually 3 liters of water is used to package 1 liter of bottled water
- Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide
- Producing the bottles for American consumption (highest in the world) required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation
The Unventured Scenario
Our flagship cycling tour between Manali to Leh is a 485 Km trail that we cover over 9 days using local homestays and campsites for accommodation. Although we travel with a fully equipped kitchen that serves as a healthier option for our travellers, addressing the consumption of bottled water lingered over our minds. We wanted a long-term, sustainable and yet a healthier option that would drive the message against the usage of bottled water. Working with locals gave us an insight into streams that are un-polluted and safe for human consumption. The Manali to Leh route although very pristine and beautiful with many streams as you pass by; most streams are formed from snowmelt and consuming snowmelt is a rather risky option. We used the knowledge from the locals who have travelled through this route over and over again to find us safe stream waters that for most part are snowmelt but are safe from any form of human/animal pollution this helped us identify “safe” streams.
Manali to Leh Expedition: The Per-Traveller Math
We host 2 groups of travellers through June and July, 12 travellers in each group which adds up to 24 travellers from 2 tours. For the purpose of this math we have accounted for a full tour group of 12 participants. Refer to the illustration on the math.
Having identified safe streams our next challenge was not just in adopting a non-bottled water approach but also influence our travellers. We now have a dual goal of ensuring we gogreen but also assuring safety for our travellers. We analyzed the concerns and challenges in providing potable drinking water on our trails, we personally tried and tested various methods of water purifying before we opted filtration as a process. There were 3 basic options of dis-infecting water that we found most suitable to our need up in the mountains: heat, chemically treat or filter.
We opted for the filtration method; here were our pre-requisites for picking a method.
- Convenience on the trail
- Less chemical interference
- Conservation of minerals and trace elements in water, which is a healthier source of drinking water.
While we have been propagating the use clean filtered water, team Unventured has over past 1 year also opted out of using bottled water on our travels both personally and professionally. This ensured simulations of consuming water from various sources using the filter method and any concerns that arose from it. Simple practices like carrying a stainless steel thermos with filtered water on our short day tours and weekend trails began to make a difference.
Once we determined that the benefits (environmental) of consuming filtered safe water far out weighs the benefits of consuming bottled water while not compromising the health of the traveller on such tours. Our approach was to influence one traveller at a time.
The Benefits of going “bottle” free, well…water used to be free and still is and add to this
- Less carbon footprint – We are aiming at a Zero waste processes, and getting off bottle water is our foot in the door.
- Detaching from bottled water also meant we support the idea that public access to clean, safe water is not only a basic human right, but is also technological triumph worth protecting.
- Drinking from safe local sources of water also meant connecting ourselves at a holistic level to the local water system via natural resources.
CONSIDER CARRYING A BOTTLE OF WATER WHEN YOU HEAD OUT OF HOME AND AVOID BUYING BOTTLED WATER AS YOUR FIRST STEP FOR A GREENER ALTERNATIVE TO BOTTLED WATER
Our next blog will detail out further on our research process for choosing the product we chose.