As World Ocean’s Day raises awareness about the importance of the Earth’s biggest water source this Saturday (June 8th), Localiiz talks to water filtration experts Life Solutions about Hong Kong water quality and how we can all do our bit to preserve and protect the big blue.
Making up for 70% of both the world’s surface and our body mass, water is undeniably our most precious life-sustaining resource. It is recommended that we consume at least two litres of water a day to help with everything from regulating body temperature to maintaining concentration, with just a 2% drop in hydration leading to a massive 20% reduction in brain functionality. The fact that we can live for weeks without food but only days without water is all the proof you need of its optimum importance.
While we in Hong Kong are lucky to have an endless supply of drinkable water coming straight out of the tap, less than 0.3% of the world’s water is drinkable. An overwhelming 97.5% is salt water, while 70% of the remaining 2.5% is holed up in ice caps and 30% lies underground, leaving less than 1% available for human consumption.
This shortage obviously leads to massive problems in developing countries, where 3.3 million people die each year due to water-related health problems – coasting more lives than any war to date. A child dies every 15 seconds from drinking unsafe water, and while 1.1 billion people already lack access to a clean supply, this figure is expected to grow by 40% over the next decade.
While most of us are well versed on ways to save water in the home, few of us are aware of the incredible amount of water it takes to produce everyday consumer goods and food stuffs. For example, it takes 1,259 litres to produce a pizza, 3,178 litres to bring a kilogram of cheese into the world, and a whopping 3,500 litres (around 17 bathtubs) to yield a juicy 8oz steak.
“It surprises me, even being in the industry, to see exactly how much water is required to produce everyday goods such as a loaf of bread or a kilo of cheese,” said Life Solutions managing director Blake Ireland. “While there’s perhaps less we can do about controlling how much water is required to produce food, other than being more efficient in our farming processes, what we can do is change our habits and eat less of those items that require a lot of water, predominately meat and dairy products.”
The Bottled Con
As well as making sustainable food choices, cutting down on time in the shower, turning the tap off when you brush your teeth and fixing leaks, Blake says that saying no to bottled water is essential in the fight against water waste. Hong Kongers spent an estimated HK$3.1 billion on bottled water last year, enough to fill both IFC buildings!
Bottled water can cost as much as 1,000 times more than tap water, even though 40% of it comes from exactly the same source. Over 90% of this cost goes into packaging, the vast majority of which ends up in landfill. Amazingly, it also takes 17 million barrels of oil to create the world’s bottled water supply for a year – enough to run a million cars over the same period.
“To create one litre of bottled water you need to use three litres of source water in the production process, so it’s a huge wastage, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the carbon pollution of manufacturing, transport and disposal,” said Blake. “Bottled water should only be used in areas of the world where you can’t get safe water municipally. It’s damaging to the environment, it’s expensive and there’s no excuse for it in Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong Story
Although many Hong Kongers, particularly of the older generation, are convinced the city’s tap water cannot but drunk without first being boiled, our municipal water supply meets all WHO standards and is considered to be some of the best in the world. The slightly off-putting taste and smell of Hong Kong water is actually chlorine, which is added by the government to kill bacteria and viruses.
“The residual perception that the Hong Kong’s tap water is undrinkable harks back to around 30 years ago when the quality was not as good. But now, contrary to popular opinion, Hong Kong tap water is perfectly safe to drink,” explained Blake.
“However, there’s an obsession with boiling the water here, which only does two things – kills germs, which are killed by the chlorine anyway, and removes the chlorine, which makes the taste better. Anything slightly dangerous like heavy metals, which occur in minute amounts, cannot be removed by boiling, so the process really is pointless.”
The Taste Solution
If you still can’t stomach the taste of Hong Kong tap water after reading the above, there are a couple of environmentally-friendly steps you can take to improve taste and remove impurities. As Hong Kong water quality is generally very good, all most people will require is a combination of sedimentary and micro filtration systems to remove that taste of chlorine.
However, once the water enters a private building, the Hong Kong government is no longer responsible for it. If you live or work in a particularly old building therefore, you may want consider a reverse osmosis system, which will illuminate any smaller particles in the water.
“In general terms, water in Hong Kong is safe and perfectly acceptable to drink, but it becomes a personal choice as to whether you want to improve on that already acceptable quality and taste, in which case you can opt for filtration” said Blake. “In First World countries we have so much good quality safe water available from the tap for next to nothing but were still wasting it. We need to educate people about being more diligent on both the use and wastage of water.”