Bubbling Guilt in a Bottle

I am a worrier. I’m constantly caught in my head thinking about all the things that might go wrong or could go wrong in the future. From the obsessive-compulsive relationship I have with double-checking that my stove burners are switched off to the sleepless nights I spend thinking about the complexities of climate change and the financial crisis.

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There is one issue in particular that really causes my stress levels to go off the scale though: water – and everyone having it for free. It probably started in primary school watching videos of polar bears floating out to sea on tiny ice-floats in the ever-warming Arctic Ocean or images of women carrying dirty, plastic jugs on their head for miles across a dessert in a world I could not relate to.

We were taught as six year olds never to leave the tap running while brushing one’s teeth (a practice I have never forgotten) and to never to take a shower longer than seven minutes. Water is too precious to let run down the drain.

By the time I reached grade three I knew that the world was running out of water and it was all my fault. As a university student I was dedicated to promoting water as a human right. I bought fair-trade t-shirts with witty slogans promoting people to drink tap water. I handed in my research papers on soft drink companies’ advertising strategies to encourage Canadians to drink fresh, pure, mountain spring water from beautiful, glaciers rather than the chlorinated poison that the government provided us for free. I made sure all my friends knew that the bottle of water they had purchased cost them more per liter than it would to buy gasoline, and that the water wasn’t from a clean, fresh spring – it was from a local tap. They were such fools!

For two years, I didn’t buy a single bottle of water. I insisted that I was given water from a tap at every restaurant and venue I graced my presence at. I was able to stop worrying about those polar bears. I lugged a PET-free water bottle with me where ever I went. Its weight reminded me of those who weren’t so lucky to have potable water available to them. I was taking my “one-step” against climate change.

Ah, yes, I had become a preachy environmentalist. But then, I moved to Hungary. A foreign country, home to an unconquerable language, a diet high in meat, and people that look at you oddly for insisting on csap víz (Or is it csap vízet?!). I lost my PET-free water bottle and re-focused my stress on finding the post office, setting up a new home, and managing my incredibly low budget.

I was wooed by the wide array of water available in the local grocery store: tiny glass bottles, interesting new brands and to top it off ? Exotic fizzy water! Back home, you see, that fine delicacy was only for the very rich and prestigious who could afford to buy French Perrier. But here in Hungary – it was the same price as regular water. In fact, the blue bottles (which to me logically means still water) were actually filled with the tingle-in-your-mouth, delight your stomach goodness that is soda water!

I became enamored, buying this treat wherever I went. No more tap water for me when I am dining – I will take your best mineral water, just like a proper European. After over a year of this, the novelty began to wear off and the ghosts of the well-trained, environmentally conscious child and eco-friendly, pretentious college girl I once was began to haunt me.


“All it takes is one small step to prevent climate change”, it would mur­- mur as I unscrewed the lid. “You, just like everyone, else are responsible for this planet”, it’d say as the muscles in my neck contracted from the stress I felt when I casually tossed my fourth bottle of the week into the trashcan. “Think of the polar bears… They won’t be able to swim to land anymore. All. Because. Of. YOU!” it would scream as I opened my fridge to reveal three different kinds of fizzy water.

I had to cut back. I already work pretty hard at restricting myself from the things I love. I only eat meat a few times a week (you know it takes more energy to produce a cow then it does a carrot – and just think of the way that meat has been processed). I try to buy local produce when I can find it (but the bananas from Costa-Rica are so good). Even on my low budget I try to buy eco-friendly dish-washing soap.

Cutting back on my bubbly water addiction in order to calm my worrying stomach is still a work in progress for me. But as I spend my nights tossing and turning over the decisions I’ve made I am beginning to get quite angry. Why are we the ones to have to fix everything “one small step at a time”? Why is it that we are told to stop buying plastic water bottles in order to save the planet? Why do we have to be responsible for changing all our light bulbs and buying energy saving products? Why are we the only ones who do anything about this mess?

Let me step on my eco-friendly, recycled-material soap box for a moment and rant to all the big-wig, policy making, corporation owning political power players for a moment. Why don’t you folks start making changes – tax bottled water manufactures, limit plastic production, stop poisoning our fresh water sources and for God’s sake stop privatizing water! Don’t you realise how many ulcers you are causing me?!

Jill Piebiak can be reached at [email protected]