What does it take to change how people think about reusing water? Sometimes, just a crisp cold beer.
Would you drink recycled water?
Well, technically you already do. We all do.
4.5 billion years of life on this planet have guaranteed that all our freshwater has been used and reused many times over. In fact, the water we drink today is the very same water once consumed by the dinosaurs. So why do we as a society seem to share a collective stigma toward recycled water?
The culprit seems to be our mental image of the water’s most recent origin. When we turn on our taps, we don’t think about the source of that water. If we do, we often imagine it comes from distant, pristine snow-capped mountains.
For recycled water, the images often conjured in our minds are… less idyllic. In other words, we have a perception issue – or as we say in the water industry, we’re contending with the “yuck factor.”
So how do we help transform the conversation around recycled water and tackle this perception issue head on?
Rethinking water reuse through beer
At Epic, we focus on the untapped potential of water reuse to address growing water scarcity challenges and help communities suffering from drought become water-secure. But currently, most recycled water isn’t used for drinking purposes. Instead, it’s used for things like irrigation, toilet flushing, laundry, cooling, and other non-potable applications.
Given the advanced water treatment technologies and robust public health safeguards in place, this water is often safe enough to drink. So we decided to try something new and a bit unorthodox: craft the first-ever beer made with highly purified recycled water from a high-rise building (in this case, Related California’s Fifteen Fifty building in downtown San Francisco).
We had no idea that our first experimental foray into the beverage space with our OneWater Brew would generate the type of global attention that it did. To date, our Epic OneWater Brew has garnered over 1.5 billion media impressions, with highlights ranging from CBS Mornings host Nate Burleson chugging a glass on air, a feature in the print Business section of The New York Times, and a spotlight on NPR’s preeminent show and podcast Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.
Our beer has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, ABC News, CNBC, USA Today, Fox KTVU, The Weather Channel, Bloomberg, The Guardian, SFGate, CBS Mornings, NPR, and the BBC. Industry leaders in water, sustainability, real estate, and the food and beverage world have reached out to sample our beer, calling it “crisp” and “pleasantly bright and refreshing.”
It’s inspiring to see the power of a Kölsch-style ale to jumpstart a much-needed conversation about recycled water innovation.
From hesitation to inspiration
At major conferences and gatherings around the world, we’ve seen OneWater Brew transform people’s perceptions about water reuse. When offered a sample of our beer, initial reactions range from excitement to trepidation – and occasionally, both at the same time. But after the first sip, any initial hesitation disappears.
“I was apprehensive,” notes food and beverage reporter Madeline Wells from SFGate. But “after a thorough explanation of what makes the water they used to make the beer safe to drink (ultra-fine membrane filtration, disinfection with chlorine and ultraviolet light),” she gave it a test and concluded that it was “pleasantly bright and refreshing.”
Bloomberg journalist Matt Cantor agreed, explaining that “if this were served at a bar, I’d never guess where it came from.” No surprise, since recycled water can often be more highly treated than tap water. One BBC host who blind-tasted the beer didn’t know that the water was reused and reacted with an excited “oooh, I quite like it!” Once he was told the beer’s non-traditional origins, he appreciated its pure taste.
There’s an oft-repeated trope in the water industry that the public’s not ready for recycled water, but we’ve found the opposite to be true.
Beyond beer: expanding the discussion about water sustainability
While a more circular approach to water may be new, the science is clear on a few things:
- Recycled water can be purified to meet or exceed current drinking water quality standards.
- Our freshwater resources are diminishing and struggling due to increased demand from our populations and our industry, all of which is compounded by climate change.
- To ensure safe, drinkable water in the years to come, we simply need to rethink how we manage our freshwater supplies.
We trust science and technology to fly our planes, produce life-saving medicines and equipment, and even guide our driverless vehicles. We as a society need to start getting more comfortable with the science and technology behind water purification and reuse.
As more people realize that the status quo of water use is unsustainable, we hope that our first-of-its-kind Kölsch-style ale helps illustrate the exciting future of tackling our greatest water challenges.
People should judge water by its quality, not history
Lucas van Vuuren, a water recycling pioneer, said, “Water should not be judged by its history, but by its quality.” Fortunately, public perception of water reuse is shifting: in 2016, 87% of Californians supported the use of recycled water, and by 2020, 95% of Americans accepted some use of recycled water. Over a third were willing to drink it!
Here’s to a future where we harness new and exciting ways to narrate the water story. With the power of science, an open mind, and a good beer, we can help create a world where water scarcity is a distant memory.