One thing that really shocked me in my journey into sustainable living was learning that the water I consume every day is not necessarily safe to drink. I mean, I know not to drink tap water while traveling in Africa, for example, but this is America. And, well, everyone drinks tap water here. And if everyone is doing it, that must mean it’s safe, right?
Turns out that even here in the U.S., the tap water is full of harmful chemicals like lead, arsenic, pharmaceutical drugs, and by-products from disinfectants. You can actually find out exactly which chemicals contaminate the drinking water in your area by visiting the Environmental Working Group’s tap water database. My water contains chloroform, chromium, and several other carcinogenic chemicals in amounts that exceed health regulations.
After reading about this, I panicked and rushed to buy a water filter immediately. The EWG website actually shows you which filters will remove specific contaminants so that you can select one based on the contaminants that are present in your city. Based on this guide, I bought a ZeroWater pitcher from Amazon and began filtering away.
The pitcher is kind of cool because it comes with a water quality meter, which shows you the number of total dissolved solids in the water. I watched the meter reading go from 210 before filtering to zero after filtering. I didn’t like the fact that the filter was made from plastic, but there didn’t seem to be any plastic-free filter pitchers out there, so I just went with it.
Unfortunately, my excitement about my new filter rapidly declined. Less than a month after I started using it, I noticed that the water started tasting funny. And by funny I mean bad. Like worse than normal, unfiltered tap water. Apparently the filter was no longer working. I returned to Amazon to buy replacement filters, but according to reviews, the filters sold there were knock-offs that either didn’t work or didn’t last. I also failed to find another affordable place to buy them. And then there was the issue of what to do with the used filter. If there is a way to recycle these huge hunks of plastic, I couldn’t find it. ZeroWater and I were not going to get along after all.
After some more research, I decided to switch an activated charcoal filter stick. Basically, you take this magical hunk of charcoal (mine is from Kishu, available on the ‘Zon), toss it in a pitcher of tap water, and let it do its thing. At first, the idea of putting charcoal in my drinking water seemed really weird. How can that possibly remove contaminants? Won’t it leech black soot in my water?!
I’m no chemist, but as I understand it, impurities in the water bind with the surface of the charcoal, thus removing them from the water. I usually fill the pitcher in the evening and allow it to filter overnight. After a few weeks, the binding sites on the charcoal become full of contaminants, and you have to boil the charcoal stick in a pot of water on the stove to remove those contaminants and “reactivate” it. One stick will last about 4-6 months, and then you can use it as a deodorizer in your fridge or in your garden (if you’ve read my post about growing an herb garden, you know I’m terrible at gardening, so I’m not sure how that one works). Also, there’s no black soot, or chunks, or specks or stains.
I’ve been purifying my water this way for about six months now (I’m on my second charcoal stick), and it seems to work great. It removes carbon-based impurities from things like pesticides and herbicides, as well as some microorganisms. It also removes bad odors and smells. What it does not do, unfortunately, is remove inorganic contaminants like fluoride and that pesky chromium. However, it is efficient, waste-free, and affordable, and right now that’s pretty darn appealing.
Do you filter your water? Let me know what you use and how it works in the comments!