By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Feeling guilty about your bottled water? Or worried that it is not as pure as the pastoral scene on the label implies? Your worries are justified. Bottled water is unregulated in the US, and often as not, it is just filtered tap water – with a heavier carbon footprint thanks to the requisite plastic container and the shipping.
Luckily, just as you’re re-evaluating this resource-intensive habit, so is everyone else, from the cities that have passed bottled water taxes (hello Chicago) to the bottled water companies themselves, to entrepreneurs trying to figure a better way.
Culligan, the big kahuna of bottled water service companies now makes a cooler that hooks up to your tap – an apparent concession that the days of carting around those big blue bottles are numbered.
But one of the most unique solutions to filling your cup without filling the landfill may be generating your own purified water. You can do that by tapping into the humidity in the air with an Atmospheric Water Generator, which pulls water from “thin air,” as long as that air registers at least 35 percent humidity.
We tested such a water generator, called the Ecoloblue 28 (see photo, right). At first, it was hard to believe that this water was just materializing in our kitchen. It tasted fresh, crisp and cool, outperforming the stuff that came through our refrigerator’s charcoal filter.
We just loved that we were generating our own water, like being off-grid with the electricity. Not being dependent on the tap, we had no worries about fluctuations in the local water supply and the additives you can’t turn down, like the fluoride and chlorine in so many city systems. Nor did we have to worry that our water contained traces of medications, like those found in tap water tested during an AP investigation last year. Tap water, for the record, is still considered basically safe, but it varies, by city, region and within time frames. Same for bottled water; it varies by label but largely comes from tap water, and can be contaminated too as tests by the Environmental Working Group found. Or it might be pure as the snow — in the Alps; so add a jet ride to its carbon footprint.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s report, Tap Water Quality and Safety, endorses tap water, but with caveats for pregnant women and older people and people with special conditions. Makes you wonder.
But we wanted to know more about the Ecoloblue water, and what it did or did not contain. Is pulling water from air a perfectly pure proposition? Our home water tests showed that the water generated was free of chlorine, nitrates/nitrates, sediment, suggesting that the machine’s multiple filter system was doing its job. At one point, there was a buildup in the intake area, the result of one filter that hadn’t been prepared properly at the factory. That problem has since been fixed. New tech sometimes needs tweaking. (For more on our personal take on using the Ecoloblue machine, see Ecoloblue: Our Home Test.)
HOW IT WORKS
So how do these AWGs produce water? It’s simple de-humidification, followed by complex filtration. The reason the water generated tasted so pure — and professional tests show that it meets or beats water compliance standards in several countries — is no mystery. After the machine condenses the water from the air, it runs it through a sophisticated system of three carbon filters, one reverse-osmosis filter and three UV lights to kill or trap any germs, dust, pollen or air pollutants that might float in or build up in the storage tanks.
“The object is to make sure everybody can use the water regardless of the environment they’re living in,” says Ecoloblue CEO Henri-James Tieleman. So if you have cat dander floating around, or Uncle Joe is standing nearby with a cigar or you happen to live in a high air pollution area, the Ecoloblue will be impervious. Even in Shanghai, where the machine was deliberately tested outdoors, it produced pure water, according to one of several water tests the company has commissioned in the US, China, Australia and the UK.
“We are complying even with polluted air in Shanghai, what else (other proof) do we need to get?” asks Tieleman.
But are four filters and three UV lights, and all that, really necessary?
“Do you like the water you’re drinking?” asks Tieleman, a native of The Netherlands and apparent master of the non-rhetorical question. “I would say this is why you like it, because it went through all this process” in which the filters, lights and collection uptake are engineered, timed and strategically placed to work together.