Whenever I think about the impact of individual action on the environment, I wonder how one person’s effort balances against the global scale of our issues and what is needed to solve them. We must do whatever we can do to improve the environment, of course, but each country has its own domestic, cultural and very distinct fundamentals. How can we concentrate our efforts in a way that makes sense?
Water is a very good example.
Japan is quite rich in natural water. Mountains cover 73 percent of Japanese land, so we have many streams. So, we are quite sensitive with water as well. A traditional tea ceremony would start with the host drawing good pure water the previous day or very early morning of the date. The extra effort is made in the spirit of hospitality toward guests.
I asked people around me whether they had any particular preference of water. All of them had their own individual logic on how to choose water. Tap water is one of those choices, but they need a variety of water in their lives. There are 1,000 different brands of bottled water, and 800 of them are domestic products. Japanese water streams are relatively short, so the water cannot accumulate rich mineral content. Usually, Japanese water is soft. Occasionally, people want hard water, either as a physical requirement or a personal taste.
We also use tap water, which is filtered for cooking. In Japan, the average consumption of water for cooking is 73.6 liters (278.6 gallons) a year. At almost all times, Japanese use tap water for cooking. But water for beverages –not merely Japanese tea, but black tea and coffee as well — require the best quality of water available. So we mix our use of different sources Another reason is very simple: We can buy water at vending machines that appear every minute you walk on the street in any Japanese city.
Per capita consumption of mineral water by countries is interesting comparison. Take this list of annual mineral water consumption (in liters) per person from the Mineral Water Association of Japan:
Mineral water consumption per capita is quite variable. Thanks to public water system improvements over the last 10 years, we basically rely on tap water. Since 2007, mineral water consumption is flat. Import volume also stays around 17 percent.
As I mentioned in a previous post, PET bottle recycling is critical. Technically, we have the means of addressing this issue, but practically speaking, we aren’t there yet.
However, the issues of water scarcity and uneven recycling are global issues. There is huge room for improvement usage of bottled water in other countries. Through behavioral changes and government action, each nation can make changes. But an international agreement on a rational target for limiting water consumption would have much value as well. The nations’ commitment can help reflect and inspire change in citizens’ minds.
But we cannot leave solutions to governments and diplomatic channels. Every consumer should be ready to fight against global environmental damage. I like to think that people in America, in Europe and in Africa can also be mindful and patient when it comes to making changes that preserve our resources. Our own standards could inform policy for each nation.