Ethics of water and benefits of using a travel water filter & personal water bottle to reduce global pollution


For 4 decades my work has always revolved around the central theme of water in all its forms with projects that have seen me working in many of the worlds oceans and rivers. In order to reduce my own footprint when travelling I always take with me two Katadyn water filters (no affiliation or sponsorship); one is the Combi model, for filtering fresh water using a dual filter of ceramic and charcoal and a Survivor 6 for desalinating sea water into drinking water. Both units together weight around 1.4 kilos which is a lot, but my applications are a little more extreme than a normal tourist may encounter.

'The Naive Twins'  dated 2020. A parody of the water industry & the associated pollution they create.
made from beach cleanup aluminium drinks cans 
weight +/- 1,250 grammes - h 20cms x w 6 cms (each), edition of VII.

The statistics of plastic pollution from the water bottle & the drinks industry are simply staggering, each year, 35 billion plastic water bottles alone are thrown in the trash in the United States alone. The total carbon footprint of one 500 ml bottle of water is 828g of carbon dioxide. Globally 1.5 billion plastic drinks containers are made each day, with only 6% on best accounts are ever recycled into further use. To see that still to this date where we know full well the consequences of our actions on the environment that over 90% of these valuable and difficult to produce materials - aluminium and plastic from the confectionary and drinks industry are either buried in land fill sites, burned or dumped in rivers and oceans. (Supporting Data here).

Over 90% of bottled (mineral) water sold today is in fact just filtered tap water at best, with no health benefit aside of it being plain water. However the footprint from the packaging, logistics and industry alone to support the 'convenient lifestyle' of being able to buy a plastic bottle of water rather than carry your own is vast. There is also a huge amount of data that consumption from plastic containers is wreaking havoc on your health, whilst this is a separate thread for conversation - you can read this from the EcoWatch.com resources.

I created several sculpture works to raise the dialogue on the scale and social penetration of these brands into our phsyche, thinking that drinking from these bottles is indeed the healthiest way to live and consume your daily water, it was a lie.. It was a marketing trick by commercial entities pressing their profit loaded concepts into our daily lives at a perilous cost to the environment. I created this short film at the opening of the Makers Place recycling studio in the Maldives (dated August 2021), where I discuss the four big brands and present alternatives. As human population numbers increase at a staggering rate, if we continue down the same path the future is not so healthy or indeed clean at all. You can read about how the word 'convenience' is destroying the natural world with extensive data and supporting research.

katadyn combi in the field
Katadyn Combi fresh water filter, my blue version is now over 20 years old and still going strong.

In 1985/86 over a period of nine months I sea kayaked from north to south of the Maldivian atolls, giving away over 250 aluminium drinks can crushers with information leaflets handed out to suggest to hotel manager and guests the benefits of tourists themselves taking away the imported rubbish they create during their stay. If you drink a can of beer at the bar or with your dinner, the waiter would crush the empty can and bring it to the table with your bill to take home with you in your luggage, where aluminium recycling is more accessible which is not the case within the remote island groups seen in the Maldives. The project was fully unsupported and being alone at sea for so long, the Survivor 6 desalination water filtration was an absolute with regards to  personal safety and survival. I only needed to use this filter on the days where there was insufficient direct sunlight for my solar still to work. This particular unit is no fun to operate, generating only 1 litre of fresh water from a solid hour hard hand pumping; but as a backup device it is absolutely a lifesaver.

katadyn survivor 6 used in the field
katadyn survivor 6 desalinator water filter used in the field.

The solar still I used back then is a variation of an Australian design I used bagging a section of green vegetation on a tree. The same idea of condensation inside a contained environment is a simple but life saving design that in my version converts ocean salt water into fresh drinking water using the energy of direct sunlight. This is an age old design that was re-made in the form of a floating air bubble made of a flexible clear PIA Polymer material, the design was shaped with a simple heat weld edging in much the same as a Portuguese Man o'war nautilus jellyfish. It had black rubber base containing the sea water, basically a floating air sack that induces condensation of the sea water in the base, collecting on the inside of the clear bubble and running into a collection point from where it could be collected and drunk.

Portuguese Man o'war nautilus jellyfish, Physalia Physalis is a marine hydrozoan.

This amazing design made me very nervous for the first week or two, but once I understood what I needed to do to maintain my fresh water supply it managed to produce 6 litres a day, and I just towed it behind my sea kayak on a piece of cord. Planning had to be careful, as you did not want to travel while towing this behind; the drag created was considerable. If planned ahead 3 days of travel could be catered for by stored water, replenishing at the next stop.

solar still towed behind sea kayak
Solar Still. image sourced from the net (copyright unknown) as I could not find past images of the design.

In 1995 I continued with this project by designing and fabricating 500 of these solar stills. I spent a year hand distributing them amongst nomadic ocean inhabitants from the Maldives to Indonesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, & the Solomon Islands. All the while with my trusted Katadyn filters as my personal backup. The solar stills need direct sunlight to work, so on cloudy days without my Katadyn Survivor 6 sea water filter I would not have managed to continue.

solar still design

I do however believe that aside of my life dependency for such water filters when I am working on remote location projects, mass tourism should embrace these lifestyle choices also. Think for a moment on two people travelling to a country where it is advisable to drink only bottled water. On a 2 week trip that would equate to around 112 small (500ml) plastic water bottles or 38 large (1.5l) bottles. aside of the cost implications think of the plastic waste  generated and the carbon footprint of moving all that water around to service the tourists. On the other hand travelling with a water filter that same couple would produce no plastic waste at their chosen destination, vastly reducing the carbon footprint of their trip and saved around $8 a day a saving of $112, money which could be far more wisely used by exploring the local wines for example.

The Katadyn Combi water filter offers 0.2 micron ceramic filter technology impregnated in silver eliminating bacteria and protozoa, with an activated carbon filter reducing flavours and odours and absorbs chemicals from it. I have never had a problem with the water it provides despite on many occasions filtering from very poor quality water sources. 

I think of all the years of travelling and remote locations that my work has led me to; reducing my carbon footprint has always been a priority, but this single lifestyle change; that of using my own filter system for personal drinking water that is not in 'single use' packaging is of real benefit and value to the modern traveller. I urge you to consider it.

I hope you found this journal entry informative, now that you are here please let's stay connected.

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