5 Methods to Get Drinkable Water without Using Single-Use Plastic

As we mentioned in our 3 Zero Waste Easy Swap for Vanlife article, using a reusable water bottle is our #1 advice to aim for a waste-free lifestyle. However, if you want to refill your water anywhere, you will need to make sure it’s drinkable in the first place. Most of the time we refill our water from the cemeteries in Europe. Even if it isn’t expressively indicated “not drinkable”, we often doubt the quality of the water so over the months we experienced a couple of methods and heard about some others to purify our water… and we decided to gather them all in this article to make sure you find the one that fits your lifestyle. 

But what do you actually remove by filtering your water?

  • Bacteria: unable to pass through the pores (few bacteria are smaller than one micron in size), you will get rid of the common bacterias including E.coli, shigella and salmonella. Mycrobial cysts (like Giardia and Cryptosporidium) are also too lager to pass through the filter.
  • Sediment: is mainly dirt, debris and rust, which would be effectively catch by the porous surface of the filter.
  • Turbidity: is cloudiness caused by suspended particles in the water and turns it into shades of yellow and brown (yummy, right?)
  • Chlorine: is present in most city water as it is used in the municipal purification process. It usually leaves water with a chemical bitter taste and quite unpleasant smell.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): include a wide array of chemical contaminants that make their way trough human activities (agricultural runoff to consumer products like paints and pesticides). 
  • Heavy Metals: such as lead, mercury, copper, zing and arsenic are generally not removed by regular filters.
  • Viruses: often travel through water and are rather small (can be anywhere from .004 to .1 micron in size) making them difficult to filter. 

Please note that the following methods don’t always cover all the contaminants above: we carefully mentioned  for every method what will not be removed. 

What you won’t remove (and you don’t want to): Minerals

Filtering your water won’t affect the minerals like calcium and magnesium… so if you’re primary concerned with reducing water hardness, you might want to look into a water softener.

So now that you understand slightly better what you got to remove in your water, here are our 5 methods to get drinkable water on the road without using single-use plastic.

#1 Charcoal

It might sound disturbing at first sight to put a piece of black charcoal into your water to filter and purify but it does work! No worries, you water won’t turn black afterward: it will only be reduced in chlorine, mineralized and rebalanced at the pH level. We first started with a charcoal stick directly in our 10L water can before investing in our Berkey Filter

  • How to use the charcoal stick: (1) Boil your stick in water during 10min (2) Let it cool down out of water (3) Place it smoothly at the bottom of your water tank/bottle (4) Refill your water tank/bottle (5) Wait for 6 to 8 hours (6) Enjoy your waste-free clean water. After 3 months, you will need to boil it again to activate his benefits. One stick of charcoal can be used for 6 months, then you can place it in the compost. 
  • What will not be removed: chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals and viruses.
  • How to use the Berkey Filter: When your first install it, you need to purge and prime your Berkey Filter to activate the two charcoal filters. Then you simply refill the upper part, and collect your filtered water from the lower part. Pretty easy isn’t it? Needless to mention it fits perfectly in our campervan like it was designed to end up there.
  • What will not be removed: chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals and viruses.

#2 Ceramic Pearls

Earlier on in 2018, we started with ceramic beads at the bottom of our water bottle in our flat. It’s not a proper filter as the other methods: it purifies the water without capturing the contaminants. This is a really cheap and effective option if you have access to decent drinkable water. We only recommend you to be careful if you place them directly in your daily bottle since it could be ending up in your mouth with your last sip of water (True story!).

  • How to use the Ceramic Pearls: You need about 15 pearls to purify one liter of water. For the very first usage, drop some pearls in your contenant and wait 30 minutes beforehand. Then you can always leave the pearls in your contenant and drink you water after 10 minutes only. Compare to the charcoal, ceramic pearls aren’t collecting the stocking the contaminants so they can be used for an unlimited amount of time (Told you it was cheap!)
  • What will not be removed: chlorine, sediments, chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals and viruses.

#3 UV

Our next option is a bit pricey… but definitely worth it based on where you will be travelling to. We personally didn’t experience the UV filter water bottle ourselves but discovered it over a talk with our friends Malaury & Julien from Blutopia. They actually spent two nights with us in our campervan and this is how we discovered their Larq Water Bottle. Here is their feeedback on this method.

“In January 2019, we left for the adventure of our life. 7 months in 7 countries from South-East Asia to produce a positive documentary movie showcasing solutions to plastic pollution, together with the help of 60 initiatives. Since drinkable water was not readily available and single-use plastic bottles were not even an option for us, we decided to bring a purifying water bottle in our backpacks. After some research, we found Larq, the bottle that cleans itself. With its build-it UV-C light technology, it is able to neutralize up to 99.9999% of harmful, odor-causing bacteria. It is quite an investment, but you can use it for years to purify drinkable water in 30 seconds or make non-drinkable water drinkable in 3 minutes. We love its design and the way it keeps our water cool for the whole day. The best part of it? It helped us avoid 840 plastic water bottles. And I swear, we never got sick because of the water we were drinking.”

  • How to use the Larq Bottle: (1) Charge your bottle beforehand (2) Refill it with water (drinkable or not drinkable) (3) Press the button on top (4) Wait for 30 seconds if the water was considered drinkable or for 3 minutes if it wasn’t drinkable in the first place (5) Enjoy your plastic-free water sip all over the world! 
  • What will not be removed: sediments and heavy metals. Please note that you can’t put dirty water in the Larq (compare to the lifestraw for instance): clear water only.

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#4 Lifestraw

We’ve been using our lifestraws for years now, even before being vanlifers. This straw is super convenient for responsible travelers, especially when you enjoy trekking as much as we do. It can filter up to 4,000 liters (1,000 gallons) of water. This would mean, if you use it every day for all your drinking water, it will last for almost four years. 

Then you only need to replace the filter for your straw to remain efficient. We personally own two straws we only use for trekking, however we know it also comes as a refillable water bottle with the filter already inside if you’re interested.

  • How to use the Lifestraw: Water enters the LifeStraw apparatus, hollow fibers trap pathogens while clean water passes through, and filtered water is sucked up by the user at the top.
  • What will not be removed: chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals and viruses.

#5 Water Boiling

Our last method isn’t to be used on a regular basis but it’s an extremely effective method to get drinkable water in case of trouble: boil it. We ran out of water during one of our trekking in the Pyrenees last summer so we collected some water from the lake and boil it to make tea. In this way, you will be killing pathogens and won’t need additional filtration.

  • How to Boil your water: It takes approximately one minute for your water to be ready. However, at high elevations, boil the water for at least three minutes, since the water will boil at a lower temperature in the thin air. The high temperature, not the boiling action itself, is responsible for killing bacteria and viruses.
  • What will not be removed: sediments, chemicals (VOCs), heavy metals and viruses.

Avoiding single-use plastic bottle is better for our body, our planet and our wallet! 🌍💧

🌿Thank you to Blutopia for participating in this article. Disclaimer: this article isn’t sponsored by any brands mentioned above.🌿