Watch Your Mouth: Tapping the Source of Carbonated Water Where Does Carbonated Water Come From?

A refreshing look into the peculiar origins of the carbon dioxide bubbles in our drinks.

In the 1990s, marketers proved that just about anything can be bottled and sold by convincing us to buy water. Since then, we've bought more and more of it. Bottled water consumption has quadrupled since 1990. The marketing feat of the decade relied on positioning the product as a kind of status hydration. Some people are content slurping straight from the tap for less than a penny a glass. Set yourself apart by paying up for natural artesian water bottled from the islands of Fiji.

In recent years, bottled water's sophisticated status has given way to less palatable connotations—global warming, plastic pollution, disposable consumer culture. We know now that bottled water has about 1,000 times the carbon footprint of plain old tap water. As choosy drinkers begin to view environmental consciousness as a key status indicator, clever marketers have found an alternative strategy for classing up water: Make it sparkle.

Enter the home carbonator. Gadgets like SodaStream, iSi’s Soda Siphon, and Twist n’ Sparkle, which allow drinkers to dress up tap water within the confines of their own homes, are claiming precious countertop space in kitchens across the country. Further afield, cities across Europe and restaurants across America are infusing municipal tap water with a throat-ripping cachet of carbonation. The process has even caught on with some jerks in Brooklyn hoping to resurrect the old-timey charm of phosphates and drugstore soda fountains.

Rick Agresta, president and CEO at iSi North America, says several factors are driving the bubbly tap water trend. “It costs less money. You can control the calorie content and the ingredients when you make it yourself," Agresta told me. "There’s also a craft element," he says. "It's the satisfaction of drinking something that you made.”

Taking control of the production process also allows consumers to keep a handle on water's ecological effects. Homemade carbonators discard the need for the gas-guzzling trucks that heft heavy water bottles from far-away springs, as well as the disposable plastic packages that deliver the water straight to your lips. That leaves home sparklers with one big environmental mystery: Every couple of months, they must secure a new carbonator filled with carbon dioxide. That's the same compound that's pumping out of your cross-town bus's exhaust pipe and it's a major contributor to global warming. Where does all that gas come from?

Centuries ago, that question had a simple answer. Water brimming with tiny bubbles came exclusively from insthe earth. In 218 BC, according to a legend perpetuated by Perrier, Hannibal discovered an effervescent spring in Vergèze after a trip across the Alps. Hannibal was pretty refreshed by the water and its dissolved carbon dioxide gasses, and, so, apparently, was his elephant. As it turns out, we're not the first humans to link water sources with self-worth. In the centuries that followed, Europeans associated soaking and drinking naturally carbonated mineral spring waters with health, and sparkling waters began turning up on pharmacy shelves.

That process persisted until 1772, when an English chemist named Joseph Priestly set out to replicate the “fixed air” in the mineral waters of Germany’s “Vapor Cave," believing that it could cure scurvy. Priestly's theory didn't hold water, but he nevertheless found that by dripping a little “oil of vitriol”—or sulfuric acid—into a container with chalk and water, he could create and capture CO2 in the lab. By the late 19th century, carbonators made their way behind drugstore counters, and two of the most well-known American pharmacists, Caleb Bradham and John Pemberton, doctored up carbonated water to make Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

Today, the carbon dioxide in bottled and homemade sparkling waters is predominantly manufactured. Only water labeled “Sparkling Bottled Water” was actually tapped from the source with bubbles intact. Under the Food and Drug Administration's confusing labeling rules, that term can apply to water that's been manually carbonated, too, as long as the water is sold with "the same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source." In the case of Italy’s San Pellegrino, The Big Thirst author Charles Fishman told me, the company actually extracts naturally occurring carbon dioxide from water at one of its wells and then adds that gas back in to water extracted from another well.

Aside from these and other natural wells of carbon dioxide inside the earth, the gas used for carbonation is often cultivated from waste.

Susan Szita Gore, a Praxair spokeswoman, told me that their gas is captured from the biproduct of other industrial processes. “When you make ammonia, those plants will emit carbon dioxide. Most of the time, it’s just vented to the air. Coal-burning electric plants will emit carbon dioxide," Gore says. "So what we do is capture the CO2 from an industrial process, purify it, chill it, and deliver it. It’s almost a form of recycling.”

While there's some carbon offset from capturing and cleaning the waste gases produced by fermenting ethanol or ammonia, infusing your tap with bubbles won't exactly save the world. The 2.2 grams of CO2 contained in a 16 ounce drink remains pretty inconsequential compared to the carbon dioxide released during the production and delivery of the gas straight to your kitchen. Hey, at least it beats Fiji.

Images via Descriptive Catalogue of James W. Tufts Arctic Soda Water Apparatus, 1890, courtesy of Rabelais Books. Thumbnail photo (cc) via Flickr user racheocity


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.