Drink and Think | Boisbuchet | July 2017 

Disturbed by recent global headline warnings of how we nomadic humans discard half of the million plastic drink bottles bought every minute I feel compelled to do more than moan. I want to explore practical and realistic solutions to drinking sustainably and join others who work to challenge the culture of plastic bottle waste. Before leaving for an international workshop that focused on this escalating issue—one that negatively impacts on our food chain, marine and land environments, community, health and economy—a visit to a local supermarket reinforced my resolve with its summer offer of six bottles of water for £1 ! An offer made possible by large international companies who are profiting from the pandemic of arguably our most harmful creation—plastic waste. 

Domain de Boisbuchet in France is renowned for innovative design and architecture workshops and events that sustainably harmonise with nature. As a social scientist—a food anthropologist—the workshop ‘Drink and Think’ with designers and architects from Taiwan, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and England provided an incredible insight into the power of cultural traditions that surround drinking. Francesca Sarti, an international architect with an ‘interdisciplinary attitude’, led the week long residential to consider a serious issue with a reflective and inventive approach. We drank, we chatted, we walked and we ate our way around the 150 hectares of Boisbuchet dipping in and out of the free flowing discussions of memories, re-collections, ideas and information.

Our discussions and the surrounding natural environment fused and we focused on three elements of drinking; the source, the vessel and the ritual surrounding taking a drink. The pathway to concentrating on these elements, which shaped our final presentation, was enlightening and playful. We shared experiences and knowledge of cultural rituals and nature from drinking with straws at communal water bowls in Africa to the sound of the Belguim Quack glass as it slaps the wooden stand, from the bygone urban water fountain—now so enviously coveted—to the way a butterfly sips nectar with its protruding tongue. What became increasingly evident from our discussions, explorations, designing and making is the vast loss of individuality, cultural ritual and human creativity the homogenous plastic water bottle causes. There is a European cultural identity of drinking from a plastic bottle as one based on health consciousness, independence and life at high speed—a culture that contrasts with countries such as Brazil or India with water scarcity, high temperatures and unsafe tap water. There are vast and complex political and societal issues regarding access to water which makes bemoaning bottling it in plastic seem trivial, yet—and it is a big yet—it does not always have to be water in a plastic bottle. The environmental price is too high and the plastic bottle economics—of making, moving, storing and clearing away—are an illogical financial cost.

I aim to take the vision gained at Boisbuchet—of exciting, responsible and sustainable drinking using communal urban water fountains or recycled or natural drinking nomadic vessels—to architects, designers, master planners, property developers and policy makers. They may champion a new direction that meets our water needs and lobby the water companies, land owners and governments to drink and think.