When arriving in Belgium I was surprised at how some things I took for granted were somewhat different here. Two experiences stood out, which relate to the most fundamental rights every citizen has: being charged to use a toilet (especially in an establishment in which you are the customer), and the refusal to serve one a glass of water in restaurants. Restaurant owners are not short of excuses: saying that it’s their tradition to serve only bottled water, or that the water is not pure enough. The real reasons are apparent: (over) charging (I have seen 6 Euro water bottles) customers to drink this vital liquid. Worst of all, many restaurants will only offer you plastic bottles, thus contributing to the ever-growing pile of plastics that need to be recycle or burned. In the environmentalist’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra, Recycle comes last so Reducing should be the priority.
But people are trying to change this. The newly launched campaign “Free Tap Water In Belgian Restaurants” aims to do just that. Launched 2 weeks ago, it already has 2,500 followers and several volunteers that map the restaurants which offer free tap water. Campaigners also contact restaurant owners to change their policies: EXKi and PULP have already changed their water policy and offer filtered tap water in their restaurants. People behind the campaign are passionate about the cause: we are warned about the consequences of single use plastics but are not offered alternatives. This is the case of the Museum of Natural Sciences in Ixelles, which has exhibitions about plastic pollution but only offers bottled water. It is also somewhat of a crusade of principles, a belief that people should not be forced to buy overpriced water to quench their thirst.
While tap water in Brussels might not have the taste of highland water, its quality is good, and if it is filtered the taste is neutral. This campaign is not asking restaurants to stop selling bottled water, they are simply asking restaurants and cafés to give customers a choice between sparkling, flat or tap water. This young campaign seems bound to achieve its goals and on the road to change a deeply ingrained bad habit in Brussels’ restaurant, and it is surely a campaign we can all support.