~ Posted by Samantha Weinberg, April 26th 2012
Spring in Switzerland and the snow is beginning to melt. Clear water is running down those beautiful mountains in babbling brooks and pellucid streams, and into vast, serene lakes. Unlike Somalia, say, or Uzbekistan, or Britain even, Switzerland is demonstrably not suffering from a shortage of water.
But go to one of its restaurants and you might be forgiven for thinking it was an issue. Last weekend, we had a family holiday in the picture perfect city of Lucerne. On one evening we were going to a new ballet and we booked a restaurant for a pre-theatre supper, nothing fancy, no tablecloths and standard Swiss fare. We ordered a bottle of wine and asked for a jug of water for the children.
This was duly brought, and refilled several times. Then came the bill. The food wasn’t cheap for what it was, but the surprise came with the water: 15 Swiss francs (roughly £10 or $16). We queried it and the waiter directed us to the menu where, on the last page and in small writing (German), we duly saw: 1/2 litre of tap wasser cost three francs.
"The problem,” the waiter explained when we asked for an explanation, “is that most people now order tap water.”
“We do not make a profit from tap water. Most restaurants in Lucerne charge for it now.”
Hmm. Sales of bottled water across most of the Western world have been falling over the last five years, a result primarily of increased environmental awareness. According to research published in Environmental Research Letters, it takes around 2,000 times more energy to produce a bottle of water than to get it from the tap. This year, many universities in America banned the sale of bottled water.
Yet in Switzerland, country of snow and lakes, of low unemployment, steady economic growth and punctilious environmental awareness (in 2012 it again topped a Yale/Columbia survey of the world’s greenest nations), they feel the need to charge for tap water. Go figure.
Samantha Weinberg is assistant editor of Intelligent Life