Water in Switzerland

Can I drink tap water in Switzerland?

Tap water is the most controlled foodstuff in Switzerland. Thanks to near-natural treatment and improvements in water protection, it has a very high quality and is safe to drink. More information on the quality of drinking water in Switzerland and all of the 2,500 water suppliers can be found here.

How is the quality of tap water guaranteed?

The local water supplier is responsible for the supply to households. There are over 2,500 water suppliers in Switzerland. They work on a public contract and are legally bound to high quality standards. Tap water is treated as close to nature as possible, i.e. with as little interference with its composition as possible. This means that almost two thirds of the drinking water can be distributed without chemical treatment. Otherwise, the processing minimizes trace substances until they are far below a concentration that is hazardous to health. You can find more detailed information on the control of water suppliers here.

Who is responsible for the distribution of my tap water?

Water supply is one of the traditional areas of public activity. Typically, it is the political communities that operate the water supply. The water suppliers guarantee impeccable quality from the water catchment to the household. Within a household, the owner or landlord is responsible. There are over 2,500 water suppliers in Switzerland. The Swiss Gas and Water Association (SVGW) regulates framework conditions, bundles and distributes knowledge and represents the interests of water suppliers. They are operated by the equivalent of 3,100 full-time employees. Comprehensive information on individual communities and their water supply can be found here.

Isn't mineral water much cleaner and healthier than tap water?

No. Mineral water is not "cleaner" than tap water. Trace substances are found in every water, be it tap water or bottled water. The legal regulations for tap water are even stricter than those for mineral water. Only about half of the commercially available mineral water contains significantly more minerals than tap water. In addition, the human body can only absorb a certain amount of minerals, most of them through solid foods. Consequently, water with a high mineral content may not even provide any added value.

Which trace substances are found in tap water and how can their risk be assessed?

Trace substances can be of very different types and occur in different concentrations, depending on the location (agricultural, residential or industrial zone) and time. Currently, the most frequently observed and potentially riskiest trace substances are nitrate, pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Values exceeding the upper limit are found in areas of intensive agriculture or around settlements especially. There is no risk of harmful concentrations in drinking water after treatment, however. In recent years, more trace substances were found as the quality of measuring instruments was improved. This is much more an enormous advantage than a disadvantage. The quality of drinking water has increased due to improved measuring instruments and a more differentiated picture of trace substances is possible. More information on trace substances can be found here.

How sustainable is the supply of tap water with regard to the natural occurrence of water?

Switzerland has abundant water resources, which are constantly renewed by precipitation. The average annual rainfall in Switzerland is around 60 billion cubic metres. Only 1.5% of this is used for drinking water. A significant proportion of the water used in commerce, agriculture and industry is not supplied through public, but approved private sources. This accounts for about 2% of the annual precipitation. Despite the sustainable use, regional and seasonal shortages can occur in Switzerland's moated castle. Climate change will increasingly exacerbate this trend. Infrastructure investments and improved networking of water suppliers are needed to ensure a secure supply throughout the year.

How eco-friendly is tap water compared to mineral water?

Tap water is the most eco-friendly foodstuff. The systematic supply of tap water via a pipe network allows tap water to perform about 500-600 times better than Swiss bottled water and about 1000 times better than bottled water imported from the EU. In this way, every litre of tap water drunk instead of bottled water saves the environmental impact of a 2-3 kilometre car drive. In the case of tap water, only the treatment and distribution require energy. This is especially true for spring water: as it does not contain any civilizational impurities and builds up pressure itself due to its elevated location it is the most eco-friendly kind of water.

What social added value does tap water offer?

The principles under which tap water supply works guarantee high drinking water quality at low water prices. This is important because safe access to water does not simply mean that there is existing and functioning infrastructure. Access is only guaranteed when everyone can afford the service. Through these principles, the supply of tap water is socially inclusive and creates the basis for equal opportunities.

What challenges does the water supply face?

Unfortunately, water suppliers have to deal with conflicts of use more frequently today. The pressure of increasing residential areas plays the biggest role, followed by the agricultural sector. The limited space is often not used for the necessary water protection zones, but for real estate and infrastructure projects. This is more lucrative for many communities, at least in the short term. Despite their elementary and excellent service, water suppliers often do not receive the priority they deserve in the public interest in conflicts of use. Political processes in settlement construction and agriculture should once again focus on the regulations surrounding the protection of drinking water resources.

Aren't there more important sustainability issues than water consumption?

Measured against the absolute environmental impact, it doesn't make a big difference whether you drink tap or bottled water. Overall, if only tap water was consumed, about 0.5% of Switzerland's per capita environmental impact could be saved. However, there are two reasons in favour of discussing the water issue. Firstly, the supply of tap water works according to a completely different system than branded water. The fact that high quality drinking water flows out of our taps at all times makes drinking branded water particularly absurd. No comparable infrastructure is provided for any other foodstuff. Secondly, water consumption can be used to effectively make various topics visible: from eco-friendly and responsible actions in everyday life to global inequalities in access to water. Drinking tap water connected to the corresponding communication then serves as an initiator and catalyst for environmental policies, which have a comparably bigger influence on eco-friendliness.

What are the advantages of returnable bottles and carafes made of glass or stainless steel?

The chemical composition of glass and stainless steel, unlike other packaging materials, is known. Both materials are impermeable: neither do substances penetrate through glass and metal, nor do these materials mix with the contents. Unlike plastic, no particles are transferred from the container into the contents. Glass and stainless steel are made from natural materials. This is why degradation products are harmless to nature. In addition, the food chain is not disturbed because animals recognize the inorganic material and do not eat it. This is not the case with plastic. You can get your reusable glass or stainless steel bottle here.

How eco-friendly are glass and stainless steel compared to PET bottles?

The production of glass and stainless steel is energy-intensive. Therefore, only returnable bottles can be classified as eco-friendly. Comparative tests often assume a reuse rate of 25-50 times. Such comparisons do not apply to bottles and carafes that have been used for years. This type of use is by far the most eco-friendly, as recurring expenses, transport and waste are completely eliminated. Conventional plastic bottles are only energy-efficient if they are recycled at an extremely high rate: on an international comparison, Switzerland's recycling rate of around 80% is at record levels. Up to 300 million bottles annually are still not recycled, however. Therefore, even though recycling is a lot better than burning plastic, the only sustainable solution is to forego one-way plastic.

Can I simply use my PET bottle several times?

The properties of PET are not designed for multiple use. Therefore, there can be several disadvantages when refilling a plastic bottle. The main reason is that plastic is not waterproof. More parts of the packaging are released into the contents every time you reuse the bottle. This release of parts of the packaging into its content is undisputed: by drinking water only from PET bottles for a year, one "eats" an entire PET bottle. The most noticeable substance is acetaldehyde, a colourless liquid with a pungent odour that is found in PET. You can even taste this substance in PET bottles sometimes. The health hazards this poses are controversial as long-term consequences are not yet foreseeable. Therefore, it is best to avoid plastic bottles and get a glass or stainless steel bottle instead. Get yours here.

What happens to our bodies when we take in microplastics?

Microplastics have been found in foods, cosmetics, soil, air and even the ice at the polar caps. We are therefore constantly exposed to it. Consequently, it is not surprising that microplastics have already been detected inside the human body. This is problematic for our bodies as well as for the environment because synthetically produced plastic hardly decomposes, but is only reduced in size. However, the long-term effects of microplastics on health are still difficult to assess. Further information on microplastics in the environment can be found here.

You have not received an answer to your question yet?

You can find further information on drinking water on our page Water Quality in Switzerland. If you can't find an answer to your question there, please feel free to contact us. Click here for the contact form.