Expert Opinion: Steve Slark, European Watercare
Water – we all need it, but when untreated it costs the sector thousands in repair bills and forces ‘grudge’ purchases of water filters and treatment.
Coffee, tea, whatever your fancy, the chances are the major ingredient is water. In some cases, as much as over 95% of it.
In the UK, although it’s also true for most parts of Europe, the water contains high levels of natural dissolved minerals that, when heated (or cooled), will form deposits, ‘scale’, in boilers and inside equipment, which eventually lead to a malfunction.
There is a broad agreement in the trade that some level of minerals are good for coffee and so consideration needs to be given to the ‘blend’ of water that will be served to produce a great tasting cup and also keep the machines working. Water filters or treatment must be used – and it’s true to say that for many operators these are made as a ‘grudge’ purchase.
But add to this the current focus on environmental issues and businesses should also give consideration to how any equipment they regularly use is disposed of, with recycling or return to the manufacturer the best options.
Most mainstream filtration makers or suppliers use ion exchange systems (where you replace a hardness ion with another food safe ion) or reverse osmosis systems, with some even adding minerals to meet a perception of enhanced taste. But all, apart from one British-based manufacturer, of the ion exchange systems (which are principally contained within plastic cartridges) are single use in nature with some containing up to 15 kilos of plastic. That’s not to say they are not eventually recycled as most are made from virgin polypropylene but certainly none are reused in the mode of say the BBQ gas cylinder model, which is what we do at European Watercare.
Some manufacturers offer collection and recycling programmes, while others (including ours) will repurpose all the materials to ensure no plastics will go into landfill.
‘Reverse osmosis’ is another technology that can certainly strip the minerals out for the good of the machine but then requires a careful reblending of minerals to meet the taste quality need. The downside with ‘reverse osmosis’ is that typically there is a percentage of water wastage per useable litre produced, which in some case can be as bad as three to drain per one to use.
With the movement to limit the use of single use plastics entering our channels, we must as a contemporary trade be seen to be doing the right thing and either use reusable systems or at the very least recycle responsibly and avoid adding water filter cartridges to landfill, where the boffins tell us, they’ll sit for the next 1,000 years.