Much of the water we drink, whether it’s bottled or tap, has to go through a manufacturing process – all too easy to forget when it’s such an everyday commodity.
Take a stroll in any of your local supermarkets, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the choices and brands of bottled waters out there. But did you ever stop to think about how it gets produced and manufactured? How it actually ends up in the bottle?
Most bottled waters come from municipal supplies, with others flowing from more natural sources like springs and wells. Yet however it is found, it must all go through a vigorous production process to ensure it’s safe for consumption.
These drinks tend to be bottled at the source and then sealed up in safe drinking containers. But, before this, the water must firstly be filtered through multi-barrier sources to clean it and remove organic impurities, metals and other nasties. These purifying techniques can include anything from source protections3, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light4, distillation5 and micron filtration6
Spring water is usually purified with a filtration system. After the filtration process, the liquid is usually treated with ozone (which oxidises bacteria and organic materials before reverting back to oxygen) to disinfect and preserve the water.
Meanwhile, purified water bottlers can take their pick from three processes to make their product safe: deionization7, distillation and reverse osmosis.
However, most firms choose to use reverse osmosis, which applies pressure to unclean (often salt) waters to allow solvents to pass through a membrane, leaving a higher concentration of solute on one side, and only solvent on the other. Amazingly, reverse osmosis removes nearly all organic compounds and up to 99% of ions.
As we wander over to our taps to refill our glasses, wash up or fill our kettles, most of us don’t stop to think twice about how that raw water came to be safe and ready to use. But take a look at the diagram above – it’s quite a hefty process.
In the UK, most suppliers get the majority of their water from rivers and reservoirs, with the rest coming from groundwater (that’s water located beneath the ground, such as in springs and aquifers). Yet wherever your tap water came from, it must undergo thorough processes before it’s pumped into your homes and into your lovely, hot, steaming bath.
Yep, stop to think about that the next time you’re about to enjoy a luxurious soak…
Water that comes from groundwater sources tends to be naturally cleaner than that found in rivers, so it will undergo less treatment before it reaches your glass. However, raw water from rivers has to be thoroughly cleaned once it is pumped to the treatment plant for processing.
We mean – just look at all these steps it has to go through before it reaches you, the consumer:
Water will often be held in large, open storage reservoirs. These reservoirs can hold liquid for hundreds of days before it’s sent for treatment and can help to prevent further contaminants. While it’s there, the water loses much of its debris and bacteria, and the sunlight also helps to break down organic material.
The next process is Clarification8, where a chemical is placed in the water to bind together clumps of mud and other nasties to make it easier to remove.
After this, filtration9 can take place, which sieves out suspended materials from the water. Meanwhile, slow sand filters will trap organic materials and support the growth of bacteria which have a cleaning effect on the water.
The next step in the water purifying process is that of Aeration10, which is designed to either reduce, remove or oxidise unwanted compounds (such as hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide) or dissolved metals from the water.
Of course, the cleaning process doesn’t stop there – there are still three more steps which are needed to make sure the water you’re drinking is safe and pure.
Granular Activated Carbon will now be used to eliminate pesticides, organic compounds and unpleasant tastes and odours from the water. After all, who wants to chug down a glass of foul-smelling water?
Your water now gets poured into tanks and injected with an antibacterial molecule called ozone11 (this is called ozone dosing), which works to break down pesticides. Once this has been done, chlorine is added to the water as a form of Disinfection. This will have an immediate antibacterial effect and will also oxidise unwanted chemicals.
Finally – yep, tap water as we know it is nearly here! – ammonia will be added to the water to act as a long-lasting disinfectant. This is especially handy when water has to travel far before reaching customers.
All that for one glass of tap water – pretty astounding, right?
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.
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