Phil Richards, CEO of TAPP Water (Malta) Ltd, was one of the guests interviewed by Clare Agius during the session, Pitching for Good during this year’s (2021) Malta Sustainability Forum, organised by APS Bank.
The interview runs until 12:50 and below the full session is shown.
In her introduction Clare said the company, which was set up a little over a year ago, is empowering people to easily get clean, healthy water from the tap with minimum environmental impact. She went on to ask: In your research what did you find out about the quality of the water in Malta?
Malta meets all the guidelines and directives of the EU and the WHO. Our research in 2019 showed that Malta has the lowest consumption of tap water in the EU. That research points to the fact that people don’t really like the taste of the water, even though the quality is actually quite good. There has been quite a lot of investment (€150 m) in projects to address this.
The research still shows that in the general population the preferred method of drinking water is from plastic bottles. The problem is that Malta uses 200 million plastic bottles each year. With a population of about 200,000 households, that’s about 1,000 plastic bottles for each household. Generally, we know that less than 20% of these bottles are recycled. From WasteServ’s statistics of last year, only 13% of these bottles were recycled.
Now we know that with the oil prices the way they are, new plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic. We also know that when you put your plastic in the recycling bag, it’s only going to be recycled two or three times. Then what happens to it? It’s either going to be incinerated or land-filled. It can’t be used further. We also know that it takes two litres of water to make a plastic bottle holding 2 litres of water, which does not exactly feel sustainable.
Finally, the water in a 2-litre bottle costs just 0.003c and it’s sold for 50c. That’s 185 times more, which is like buying a loaf of bread for €180.00. You just wouldn’t do it. We know the bottled water companies don’t sell water. They sell plastic.
The new concern is micro-plastics. There is no regulation; there is no standard of micro-plastics in water supply. It’s quite a new thing. Current research suggests that we ingest 5g of micro-plastics every week in the food, water or air (2019 WWF survey) and research by bottled water companies in other countries shows that microplastics is found in bottled water. So, we need a new solution.
We know that there are some solutions on the market. What other solutions were you looking for that were not out there?
I was particularly looking for a solution that was sustainable – producing as little waste as possible. I looked at things like reverse osmosis, which is very effective for cleaning water, but you use… you lose more water than you actually produce. It also takes power consumption, a technician; it’s very bulky. So, I was looking for something a little bit different.
There are jug filters, pitchers, which produce good quality water; it’s quite useful, yet the filters are quite low in consumption. You don’t produce a lot of water from them. So, you’re always throwing them away. And you black bag them. You don’t recycle them.
Then there are ceramic filters, which are also highly effective but, essentially, what you are throwing away when you have consumed your filter is land-filling construction waste – it’s ceramics. So, I was looking for a better solution. I was searching for something for myself. I searched for a product. I found one and I decided to bring that to Malta.
Can we have a look at it?
This is a TAPP Water filter that attaches to a kitchen mixer. There’s a switch where you can turn it off and on. So, you can have filtered and non-filtered water. You can wash fruit and vegetables with it. You can boil water in a kettle; feed your pets; use it for plants and all sorts of things like that.
It’s quite simple to fit. It attaches quite easily to the tap, so you don’t need a technician to do it. Inside it contains a filter, which is inside this plastic case. There are five levels of filtration and each filter contains an activated carbon block made of a renewable resource, coconut fibre. Activated carbon is used a lot in filtration systems because it has a porosity of about 2 microns.
It filters as the water passes through the membrane. At 2 microns, you’re filtering out herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, chlorine, chloride and nitrates, which is particularly useful in Malta, plus bacteria. Then there is another filtration, called adsorption, where materials stick to the surface. This is quite an interesting material. If you took a gram of it and rolled it out flat, it would take up the area of a tennis court. So, things stick to the surface.
You do have to change it but, I suppose, the size of it is going to generate less waste and it is biodegradable, as I understand.
The activated carbon will break down in an industrial composter. We don’t have industrial composting yet in Malta. However, if it goes into landfill, it will break down. So, if you put (the cartridge) in the landfill, what you will end up with after a year or so is the bit at the top and the bit at the bottom. You could break the filter down and put the top and bottom bit in the plastic recycling bag. The membrane on the outside could also be recycled and, in an ideal world, the activated carbon could go in an organic waste system. At the moment, in Malta, it can’t. The outer casing is plastic and can be recycled.
From your experience now with Maltese families, since you have been installing these filters, what are the primary motivators for Maltese families to shift to a more sustainable way of life and, in this case, water consumption?
It’s been quite interesting for me. I’ve been lucky to go into people’s houses until I had to stop doing that because of COVID. It’s been nice to talk to people and the primary motivator is to be more eco-friendly because it just doesn’t feel right any more to use plastic bottles. It’s not only about the convenience; it’s about the fact that it doesn’t feel right from an eco point of view. Also, from a convenience point of view you have to buy them, store them, manage them (and) throw them away.
That’s heart warming to tell me that you have been meeting families who are concerned about the environment when we are discussing water consumption.
Absolutely. People do have a genuine concern about it and they want their children to be using re-fillable bottles for school. It’s not just about saving money. This is much cheaper than bottled water – about 90% cheaper than bottled water. It’s got quite a low investment in it which is also attractive. But it’s not just about that. It’s about saving plastic bottles because it doesn’t feel right and people want an easy, simple solution to be able to take that change.
So, we’re looking at changing consumer behaviour and introducing different ideas like this model.
Absolutely. To change consumer behaviour, you have to make it simple. You have to make it easy. The case of the filtration system, for example, was designed so that people have to take the filter out and keep the casing. So, you don’t throw (the casing) away; you keep it. People become quite protective about keeping this casing, which is great because you are no longer throwing away plastic. And that’s wonderful.
One final question: and that involves liaising or familiarising yourself with other businesses that are looking as well to become sustainable businesses. What can you tell us about that?
I’ve been very lucky to meet quite a few businesses that are also in the sustainability market and trying to do things in a different way. I think there’s a real undercurrent here in Malta of people starting to find new ways of doing the same old things. It’s been a joy to meet lots of different businesses. We work together in different ways, telling our customers about each other’s businesses because we are all out to help people make that change. There is the demand and the desire out there for people to make changes.