Tag Archive for water

Biodegradable water filters

Water is on my mind these days. It is either bone dry in the garden or sodden (yes….the climate is changing). And two of my evenings this week will be devoted, in different ways, to campaigning to preserve the ecology and beauty of the mighty Ottawa river.

On a more mundane level, summer means more thirst for most people. I am bad at drinking water. But when I do drink it, I love the non-taste of my home water, which flows through a reverse osmosis (RO) purification system.

I know this is a controversial technology as there is a good amount of water wastage. I do, though, enjoy the pureness and I feel reassured me when I dip my ‘total dissolved solids’ meter and find that my glass contains maybe 1 or 2 parts per million (PPM) while city water is typically up at 56 PPM.

I am not suggesting city water does any harm: far from it. Just remember that 1PPM is 1 milligram in each kilogram of water.

I abhor the out-of-control use of bottled water, and particularly the global traffic in water (when so many have completely inadequate access to drinking water). I am therefore very glad to see water fountains making a come back in public spaces.

If you are someone who is reluctant to forego bottled or filtered water, check out GAC filters: these small bag of black ‘grit’ (actually granular activated carbon made from old coconut shells) remove many of the superficial nasties and taste in city water. In fact, activated carbon is one of four steps in a typical RO system.

GAC is a family-run Halifax-based company that sells compostable, teabag-sized pouches that you can toss in your water bottle and reuse (each pouch is good for 50 litres). The filters are actually put together in Sri Lanka using carbon from Haycarb. This is a green carbon source (actually a carbon-neutral carbon source, if you get my meaning) that uses waste products whenever it can.

So the advantage of these filters is that they are lightweight (less than 5g) and fully compostable (no plastic casings, the mesh surrounding the carbon is plant-based). They are small enough to leave in a coffee maker reservoir or in a sports bottle, but you can also use them in a pitcher in the fridge.

Each (reusable) sachet cleans about 50 litres of water and costs C$1.55 (with free shipping over $15 domestically and over $20 internationally).

The ‘cleaning’  process takes about a minute, though you can also leave the sachets in your bottle or pitcher and just refill. Sadly the sachets only work for already potable water, otherwise they’d be a sell-out for camping trips.

One word of caution, though. The packaging suggests you rinse the filter before use. I do recommend this. My first glass of water was alarmingly grey. Not harmful but not reassuring either.

Finally, full disclosure here, GAC sent me a few of their filters to try out. We did a family taste test this morning and my discerning children ranked the GAC water up there with RO water.

Washing in the wilderness

Summer is finally here! Where I live, that means cottages, lakes and paddling and, for some, summer camp.

So, what should we be packing for the great summer getaway? And how to keep clean without damaging the environment?

I suspect that the first thing people think about – including those who write camp supply lists – is biodegradability.

All soap – in its pure form – is biodegradable, since it is essentially a detergent (something that grabs onto dirt and loosens it from a surface) that is made from natural sources (traditionally animal fat – now often vegetable fat – and lye, a strong alkali). However, the things that are added to soap, such as fragrance, dye, sudsing agents, etc. may well not be biodegradable. Furthermore, what you think of as liquid soap may in fact be a detergent made from petrochemicals. So biodegradability – or purity in the case of soap – is desirable.

However, biodegradability is not the panacea you might think. A biodegradable product is one that can be broken down by living organisms (usually bacteria). For the process to take place, the product has to come in contact with the bacteria. For soaps, detergents, shampoos, etc. that means they have to meet the soil where the bacteria live…soap will not biodegrade if it remains in water. This is why even biodegradable soaps should be used at least 200 ft away from water sources, to prevent pollution, and why used suds should be buried 6-8 inches deep in soil. This is something that is often overlooked by campers, however environmentally aware.

Another concern is that some biodegradable products contain sudsing agents, etc., that are known skin irritants (such as sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate) and that we might otherwise choose to avoid. Since ingredient labelling is not compulsory it is hard to make a call on this. My advice is that if companies do not disclose product ingredients, you might want to avoid them.

In fragile, natural environments, for those few fleeting months of summer, why not err on the side of caution and choose products that are as natural as possible? You might not get the lather you expect from your regular products, but maybe you can live without this for short while.

Here are some liquid soap and shampoo suggestions from the Environmental Working Group.

small olivier

I am just about to pick up products from Olivier Soaps, a New Brunswick company which scores a zero (best) on shampoo and soap and which sells both on-line and at a variety of bricks and mortar stores (including at a franchise store in Old Chelsea, Quebec).

Two final pieces of information.

First, a quick note on phosphates and lakes (which are a bad mix). Canada banned phosphates from laundry detergent in the 1970s and in 2010 both Canada and 16 US states banned phosphates in dishwasher detergents. So many of us do not have to worry about that problem any more. (Interestingly, this is an area in which the EU lags North America: it is only this year that the EU banned phosphates in laundry detergents and its ban for dishwasher products will not come into effect before 2015.)

Second a plea NEVER to purchase products containing the anti-microbial agent Triclosan (that means no anti-bacterial soaps, sponges, toothbrushes, baby toys, etc.). Triclosan – which is in up to three quarters of liquid soaps and nearly a third of bar soaps – has numerous harmful effects, including increasing antibiotic resistance, producing highly toxic dioxins and destroying aquatic ecosystems, due to its effects on algae. A very bad choice for the home and an even worse one for the cottage.

Last, but not least, think wash cloth and water when in the wilderness. We do not always need soap to keep clean.

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