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Campaign encourages restaurants to offer free tap water for a month
Belgian restaurants are being issued a challenge from grassroots movement Free Tap Water in Belgium: offer tap water without charge for one month.
Restaurants do not need to remove their bottled water options from the menu to participate and several restaurants have already accepted the challenge, including Fermento Wine Bar on the Chaussée d’Ixelles near Place Flagey.
From 28 June, it will offer free tap water to their patrons for a period of four weeks.
“Our main motive is an ecological one: tap water has a much lower impact on the environment and the climate than bottled water does,” Free Tap Water in Belgium said.
“Through this campaign, Free Tap Water in Belgium hopes to show the positive effects of offering tap water and to inspire restaurant owners across the country in this way.
"In return for the results of this experiment, like differences in turnover and number of clients, Free Tap Water in Belgium will give extensive attention to the participating restaurants on their own social media."
Restaurants will also receive, in collaboration with AquaFlanders, Vivaqua and Aquawal, up to 50 free jugs each in exchange for their participation.
Belgium currently has no legislation to make offering free tap water in restaurants mandatory, as is the case in some neighbouring countries, and “unfortunately, a lot of Belgian restaurant owners still refuse to offer free tap water on their own initiative”, the campaign group said.
The campaign's organisers created a Facebook page in 2019 to raise awareness about the ecological impact of bottled water and a group of volunteers successfully convinced restaurant chains Exki and Le Pain Quotidien to change their policy.
Almost 1,000 places in Belgium now offer free tap water, according to the group, each marked on Google Maps and in their app.
“We also convinced Brussels Airport as well as the Eurostar terminal in Brussels-Midi to install a water fountain,” the group said.
“Furthermore, the SNCB confirmed that they are working on installing water fountains in the 80 busiest train stations by the end of 2023.”
Sarah Ehrlich, who initially founded Free Tap Water in Belgium, said that Belgium lags behind its neighbours when it comes to access to free drinking water, despite the fact that – particularly in Flanders – Belgian quality standards for tap water are higher than many producers of bottled water.
“Our country has one of the highest rates of bottled water consumption per capita in Europe,” Ehrlich said.
“Most sport centres and amusement parks do not have access to drinking water fountains, so visitors are forced to buy single use plastic bottles in hot weather even if they brought a reusable bottle.”
Ehrlich said that a culture change should begin with restaurants.
“There is a sense of restaurants sometimes implying bottled water is superior, but it is only superior in cost,” explained Ehrlich.
“In every other respect, tap water is the answer, with almost no carbon footprint. Even glass bottles have a much higher ecological impact than many people realise, because of the pollution during transportation and the energy consuming sterilisation process.”
Free Tap Water in Belgium hopes to confirm the participation of at least one restaurant in Flanders and one in Wallonia soon.