Education mike sutton_environment_royalty free

Published on March 21st, 2012 | by GBE FACTS


GUEST POST: Is softened water good for the environment?

As the process of turning hard water into soft water involves chemicals, there is naturally a concern for the environment and the possible damage this causes to the surrounding ecosystem.  In any case, an artificial chemical process is the human method of controlling a set of components into a specified form for a number of practical reasons. Typically, chemicals are used to enhance the original form of the substance with the aim of improving the quality of the end product, e.g. bleaches for cleaning, preventing damage to humans and removing threats. In the instance of softened water, the process is to prevent hard water damaging expensive and valuable appliances installed in the home.

To explore this issue further, the difference between hard and soft water must be understood to identify if softened water has a detrimental effect on the environment, and, most importantly, is it beneficial for us to drink and use in daily life?

Hard water v soft water

The terms ‘hard water’ and ‘soft water’ are both common terms used in everyday life, but what exactly is the difference between the two? Hard water is typically defined by possessing a high level of dissolved mineral content, specifically calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg). This is the result of a natural process as water transports through soil and rock, dissolving small amounts of minerals and suspends them in solution. Calcium and magnesium are the most common minerals that result in water becoming ’hard’ and the level of hardness becomes greater as the mineral content increases.

‘Hard water’ is simple to distinguish as it does not produce lather when in contact with soap, shampoo or washing liquids. The implication of this is the inability to wash properly, whether that may be washing the skin or kitchenware. At high temperatures, the magnesium and calcium react, producing a hard slimy white substance commonly known as ‘lime scale’. This is particularly bad for domestic appliances, such as kettles and boiler elements and can cause huge problems in industrial settings.  The direct result of this build-up in limescale is that everyday appliances become less energy-efficient, costing the owner financially. British Water state that even 1.6mm of scale in heating systems causes a 12% loss in heat transfer from the energy source to water. This causes the heaters and boilers to run longer and hotter, using more gas or electricity, resulting in a higher running cost. However, because hard water is full of minerals, it is often sought after for its unique properties and health benefits e.g. mineral-rich springs such as those in Bath, England are internationally renowned.

‘Soft water’ is regarded as treated water as it is free of the mentioned minerals, making household chores easier and lower energy bills. Through the use of a water softener, it’s possible to change the properties of hard water into soft water. The hard water passes through a tank containing resin beads holding ‘soft’ sodium ions.  The ‘hard’ calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions, thus softening the water, with the sodium or potassium ions passing down through the resin bed and out the softener’s drain.

The impacts on the environment and humans

The most common concern for the environment when using a water softener is the discharge of salt brine into the wastewater collection system. This by-product of the water softener can ultimately have a negative impact on recycled water and wastewater discharge. However there is a strong argument that this by-product can easily be drained into a separate tank and treated.

Another concern is the increase in sodium content. Although this is great for producing soft, kind to the skin goods such as bath robes, lather from soap and reduced risk of damage to appliances, there are some other areas of contention. These can range from the use of soft water in fish ponds and aquariums, and whether or not it is safe for pets to drink such fluids.

It is commonly discussed that soft water is beneficial in treating skin conditions such as eczema, and there are a wealth of studies conducted by well-respected bodies such as the National Eczema Society which support this theory. It is difficult to state whether that this is due to the type of water and the overall benefits on the skin.


To conclude, the overall impact of softened water on the environment is not detrimental, particularly as the use of a separate tank to collect the salt brine removes any possibility of treated water having a harmful effect on the local environment. Furthermore, this reduces the likelihood of transporting treated water any further and therefore impacting on the local ecosystem. Humans realise the benefits of softened water due to the reduction of lime scale and the impact this can have on the efficiency of domestic appliances and reduced running costs.

About the author: Mike Sutton has become increasingly interested in realising the benefits of water softeners through EcoWater and understanding the impacts on the environment.

Photo: Mike Sutton




YEN FOR YOGURT; Frozen treat gains favor, but how good is it for you?(BUSINESS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC) June 18, 2008 Byline: Whitney Stewart, THE WASHINGTON TIMES Washingtonians are eating up frozen yogurt this season, but what exactly makes it yogurt and how to measure the health claims being made about it remain up for discussion.

The low-fat alternative to ice cream is gaining new attention thanks to research on probiotics, the live cultures that give yogurt a tangy flavor. site frozen yogurt recipe

A redesigned marketing concept that makes frozen yogurt cool to eat is aiding its popularity. The first-generation frozen yogurt, more closely resembling ice cream, has been stripped of most sugar. Now it tastes like plain, unsweetened yogurt, only frozen, and it’s being sold out of artsy, modern venues.

But while the health buzz focuses on the nutritional benefits of yogurt cultures, no federal standards regulate content for the ingredient gaining so much attention from health-conscious fans of the cold treat.

Purveyors of a berry or granola-studded cup of the frozen yogurt may say their product contains live and active cultures to arm the gastrointestinal tracts with immune-building good bacteria. But with no uniform standard in place to require a certain concentration of cultures in frozen yogurt, it’s up to individual producers to make sure their products are as healthy as they claim.

Some frozen-yogurt makers test their yogurt in a laboratory and some seek voluntary certification from the private National Yogurt Association, said John Allan, manager for regulatory and international affairs.

“Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the importance and benefits of having live and active cultures in yogurt products,” Mr. Allan said. He called it a renaissance of yogurt and added the seal both substantiates shop owners’ health claims and reassures consumers of the yogurt’s bacterial content.

Currently, no local shop holds NYA certification, and nationwide, only Pinkberry, Red Mango and Berry Chill – leaders in the frozen yogurt trend based in California, New York and Chicago – are certified. Mr. Allan said he has received nearly daily calls in the past year from people seeking information on getting their frozen yogurt shops certified, and consumers call him, too.

“We get calls weekly from consumers that are wondering where they can buy yogurts that have the seal, or they’re wondering why their particular favorite brand of yogurt doesn’t have the seal,” he said.

NYA certification acts as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the yogurt industry, said Pinkberry Spokeswoman Heather Wilson. go to website frozen yogurt recipe

“It shows there are no questions for what we have in it,” she said. “It’s an industry standard and we felt it was worthwhile to pursue it, and it put aside all those questions.” Two of the newest entrants to the frozen yogurt market locally say though not yet certified, they plan to seek NYA approval in the near future. Nicolas Jammet , one of three owners of Sweet Green, which opened in Georgetown last August, said he’s already taken the first step toward the frozen yogurt recipe he calls “sweet flow”: an independent, U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved laboratory analysis.

He said the report showed his yogurt surpasses NYA standards.

“Before we opened, we took a lot of time in a test kitchen to test the perfect ratio for our sweet flow,” said Mr. Jammet, 23. “People in D.C. are very health minded, very nutrition minded, and I think we hit the nail on the head.” Business at Tangysweet, which opened June 6 in Dupont Circle, has started strong – selling to about 1,000 customers a day – and owner Aaron Gordon said once the opening craze settles, he plans to begin seeking the certification as well.

“I’m not quite sure if we’re there yet, but we’re certainly going to try to get there,” he said. “You do want to have enough yogurt cultures to be considered by the NYA as a complete yogurt. It’s certainly something to live up to.” TCBY’s frozen yogurt includes seven different cultures (NYA testing only considers two for certification), and TCBY Director of Marketing Steve Willies said the company is considering pursuing independent certification for its 1,000 stores across the country. Yogen Fruz, a Toronto-based company with plans to begin expanding into the Washington market as early as this year, does not certify their yogurt, either, but President Aaron Serruya said he may pursue it if customers demand it. In the meantime, he said, company tests show Yogen Fruz’s frozen yogurt contains 70 million cultures per ounce.


Paula Braam (left) and daughter Kellie, a junior at Boston College, sample the frozen yogurt at Sweet Green, which opened in August on M Street.[Photo by Michelle Gininger/The Washington Times] Customers purchase frozen yogurt at Sweet Green in Georgetown on Monday. The store has taken the first step in the process of receiving certficiation from the National Yogurt Association for the live and active cultures in their yogurt.[Photo by Michelle Gininger/The Washington Times]

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  • Vicki Lipinski

    I could be further noted that there are technologies out there that do not produce brine. Further, it is, in many communities becoming increasingly difficult for the publicly owned treatment works to manage the brine that is being discharged – resulting in much of this brine going to our waterways and ultimately impacting down stream water users and agriculture.

    • http://www.glennrileymeyers.comor Glenn Meyers

      A point well taken – we too often tend to ignore where water ultimately ends and what all of us do to it along the way.

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