Caffeine in Our Water Supply: Do Our Habits Pollute the Environment?

Caffeine isn’t just prevalent in our food––it’s prevalent in our wastewater, waterways, and treated water. 

On February 8th, Google celebrated the 225th birthday of Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, the scientist who accidentally discovered caffeine. Runge was asked by a friend to analyze the chemical makeup of coffee beans. In doing so, he discovered the compound now called caffeine.1

Caffeine Is Found in a Range of Foods

Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee, cocoa, and tea.2Besides soft drinks, it can also be found in a range of coffee- or chocolate-flavored foods, including and breakfast cereals, puddings, yogurts, and ice creams. It is used in medications as a diuretic and to improve effectiveness.3

Caffeine Is Flushed into the Wastewater System

Caffeine is also showing up in our water supplies. This is because the human body doesn’t metabolize or absorb all the caffeine ingested. Caffeine is excreted by the body and flushed into our wastewater. Wastewater, in turn, is treated and recycled back into the environment, or––in some cases––directly back into drinking water.4

Additional sources of caffeine in the wastewater include running coffee grounds through garbage disposals4and dumping caffeinated drinks into the sewage system. U.S. wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have 60% to 70%  efficiency rate for removing caffeine. Swiss plants have a higher rate of elimination ––81% to 99%. Nevertheless, concentrations of caffeine are ever-present in Swiss lakes and rivers.5

Caffeinated Water Is World-Wide

Studies of caffeine concentrations in waterways correlate with precipitation data, suggesting that caffeine is washed into the environment when WWTPs and septic systems are overloaded.5,6 America and Switzerland aren’t the only countries affected by caffeine in our waterways. It has been found all over the world.6,7,8  Nor is it only contaminating our lakes, rivers, and drinking water. It has also been found in our oceans.9

Caffeinated Water Is not Naturally-Occurring

Concentrations of caffeine in our natural waterways are miniscule. It should be noted, however, that caffeine does not naturally occur in waterways and the environmental impact is unclear.


1. G Steer (2019). Google doodle celebrates the chemist who accidentally ‘discovered’ caffeine, Time Magazine,

2.  Sources of caffeine,The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee,

3Besides coffee, these other foods, beverages, and medications may also cause you to stay awake, The National Sleep Foundation,

4Caffeine is in our water supply, CafeineInformer,

5. I Buerge, T Poiger, M Müeller, H Buser (2003). Caffeine, an anthropogenic marker for wastewater contamination of surface waters, Environmental Science & Technology,

6. P Spense (2015). Using caffeine as a water quality indicator in the ambient monitoring program for third fork creek watershed, Durham, North Carolina, Environ Health Insights,

7. S Weigel, U Berger, E Jensen, R Kallenborn, H Thoresen, H Hühnerfuss (2004) Determination of selected pharmaceuticals and caffeine in sewage and seawater from Tromsø/Norway with emphasis on ibuprofen and its metabolites, Chemosphere,

8. L Eisenstadt, Drugs in the water, Triplepoint,

9. M Liebert (2013). Caffeine as a contaminant of freshwater and marine systems: an interview with Elise Granek,PhD, Journal of Caffeine Research,

MICROPLEX® JS Jump-Starts Summer Camp Wastewater Treatment Plant

Each year a summer camp in Utah becomes inundated with campers. The camp’s wastewater treatment plant goes dormant during the winter months with only occasional flows. The biomass becomes very inactive and in years past became overloaded and upset when the high organic load arrived at the plant at the beginning of the camping season. After battling with the plant year after year to get it to accommodate the high spring load and function correctly, the operator looked for a way to jump-start the system.

After consulting with staff from Probiotic Solutions®, the operator decided to inoculate the system with the broad-spectrum microbial product MicroPlex® JS to quickly seed the plant for the higher loading.

Through use of MicroPlex® JS, the plant quickly acclimatized to the higher load and met the system’s permit requirements. In addition, the operator is very happy with the results of the inoculation with MicroPlex® JS and how the plant continues to function during the camp’s open season. He plans to continue to use MicroPlex® JS at the start of each year.

Click here to download a PDF of the  full case study.

Probiotic Solutions® MicroPlex® JS is a concentrated microbial product that is shipped as a two-part solution that is mixed with water prior to administration. The mix is added into the influent line to inoculate the system and feed on a daily basis for 30 days. Shock doses are added at the commencement of the inoculation period. For more information, go to

Toilet–to–Tap—Taking the Ick Out of Wastewater Recycling

Drinking water at a water treatment facility

The UN warns that by 2030, over half the world will be water-stressed, affecting food production and increasing exposure to waterborne disease. There is enormous potential in directly recycled wastewater. Unfortunately, attempts at wastewater recycling have historically been shot down by  the public.1 Thus, most treated wastewater is dumped into oceans and other water sources, becoming wasted water.2

Ironically, at the same time, we’ve been consuming indirectly recycled wastewater all along. Many municipalities treat their wastewater and release it into the natural waterways. The same waterways where they get their potable water. “De facto reuse” happens when a water treatment plant unintentionally obtains unregulated recycled wastewater because it’s located downstream from a wastewater plant. Regrettably, when wastewater recycling is a goal set by necessity, it is met with public disgust and distrust.2

For the Dogs

Although recycled wastewater is crystal clear, the thought of drinking it is more appalling to some than the reality of lead or radium in our tap water. In fact, public reactions from those who were offered free bottles of “toilet-to-tap” water varied from “eww,” to the suggestion that toilet water is for dogs.3  In Toowoomba, Australia, Citizens Against Drinking Sewage, successfully crushed proposals to use recycled water by citing health hazards and emotional sensitivities.1

In some states, like Arizona, regulations prohibit recycled water for potable use or for being used where people may have bodily contact, like recreational parks or pools. Some claim outdated regulations put consumers at risk for contamination.4

President of the World Water Council, Benedito Braga, disagrees: “Standards are stricter because of the novelty of the technology and process….The quality from sewage is very good or better than the tap water in any city in the developed world.”1

Experts agree that the stigma is unwarranted. The chemicals and pathogens found in tap water and recycled water are similar, and sometimes lower in recycled water.2

Dr. Carol Nemeroff of University of South Maine studied public perception of recycled water:

“The disgust comes from intuitive concepts of contagion…if you can see sparkling fresh, clear water, and taste it, that helps to overcome the concept … the contagion type thinking decreases with familiarity…if you’re desperate you’ll override anything for survival.”1

Astronauts Do It

Wastewater recycling is taking place:

  • One of the first systems was put into practice in 1968 in Namibia as an answer to drought and water-borne disease.1
  • Toilet-to-tap is in practice in water-stressed areas such as Australia, California, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore.5
  • American astronauts have been distilling their urine (and moisture from sweat, breath, and shower water) since 2009.6

How It’s Done

Wastewater goes through a primary treatment:

  • Screens catch and remove large debris from incoming wastewater (influent).
  • Smaller debris is removed in grit tanks.
  • Fats, oils, and other floating debris is skimmed from the top.
  • Small heavy particles sink to the bottom as sludge from which the water is separated. 7

Then wastewater goes through a secondary treatment:

  • The water is mixed with air and living bacteria that break down organic contaminants in the wastewater.
  • Wastewater goes through multiple phases of filtration and quality checks.
  • Decontamination—chlorination, ozone, UV light, and/or peroxide—kills any remaining pathogens.
  • Reverse osmosis forces H2O molecules through pores in a membrane so small that they can only fit molecules through.
  • The outgoing wastewater (effluent) is crystal clear.7,8

Exceeding Regulations

Reclaimed water for both Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County, California, undergo microfiltration, reverse osmosis, intense ultra violet light treatment, a hydrogen peroxide treatment, as well as frequent quality checks. Orange County Water District and Orange County Sanitation District in California officials say their “ultra-purified recycled water exceeds all state and federal quality standards.”5

Wastewater can be recycled for potable use either directly into the water supply or indirectly into an environmental buffer before it is returned to the potable water supply.9 However, because the general population rejects the idea of drinking wastewater, most wastewater is indirectly recycled into natural reservoirs prior to mixing it with natural water sources—a hugely unnecessary step to placate the public. Indirect recycling is actually a counter-intuitive measure that re-contaminates purified water and drives up the cost and the energy required to treat potable water.1

But How Does It Taste?

The ultimate taste test, performed by University of California, Riverside, showed that testers had no preference for bottled water over recycled water. Three types of water tested were groundwater-based tap water, indirectly recycled water, and bottled water. The study compared the personality traits of water testers as either “open to experience” or “anxious” about the experience. Those anxious about the experience preferred bottled and recycled water over the mineral-rich tap water. Those open to the experience liked all three samples the same.10

Non-Potable Reuse

Because the public is so wary about consuming wastewater, it is fortunately being reclaimed for following non-potable uses:

  • Industrial coolingRecycle Water
  • Industrial processing
  • Crop irrigation
  • Landscape irrigation
  • Golf course irrigation
  • Public parks
  • Dust control
  • Toilet flushing
  • Breweries
  • Wineries
  • Construction
  • Concrete mixing
  • Artificial lakes

All Water Is Recycled

One way or another, all water is recycled. Unfortunately, dumping treated wastewater into our oceans won’t solve the global water crisis in the long run. Direct wastewater recycling through a water treatment plant removes the middle (wo)man—Mother Nature—speeding up the water cycle. It is therefore water quality, and not water source, that is of utmost importance.


  1. CNN: From toilet to tap: getting a taste for drinking recycled waste water, Kieron Monks, November 17, 2015.
  2. New York TImes: Wasting the wastewater, Dylan Walsh, January 24, 2012.
  3. NBC Los Angeles: ‘Toilet to tap’ water put to the taste test, by City News Service, June 22, 2017.
  4. From Toilet to Tap, Dr. Mercola, June 13, 2018.
  5. The Mercury News: toilet to tap? some in drought-prone california say it’s time, Devika G. Bansal, July 5, 2017.
  6. How recycled astronaut pee boosts chances for future deep-space travel, Samantha Mathewson, November 16, 2016.
  7. Journey Through the Pipes – What Happens to Wastewater? Angela Lucci, December 4, 2018.
  8. SAMCO: What is a wastewater treatment system and how does it work? December 24, 2016.
  9. Mother Nature Network: How ‘toilet to tap’ water is made. Robin Shreeves, March 21, 2018.
  10. UCR Today: Toilet-to-tap: gross to think about, but how does it taste? J.D. Warren, March 13, 2018.
  11. EPA: Water reuse and recycling: community and environmental benefits,

Bargaining for Clean Water: Why Dean Kamen Invented the Coca-Cola Freestyle

The Coke Freestyle

The technology Kamen used to develop the Freestyle Coca-Cola soda fountain is similar to that in his prescription pumps.1

When Kamen asked Coke for help distributing his water purifier, Coke challenged Kamen to develop a better soda fountain first.

Dean Kamen, Inventor of Medical Technology

The inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen is known in the scientific community for developing medical equipment. His inventions include a wearable prescription pump for insulin and chemotherapy, a microdosing prescription pump for infants, and a home dialysis machine.When Kamen realized his dialysis machine required too much distilled water and energy for home use, he developed a system to purify tap water that would run on less power than a hairdryer.

And that’s not all it does. Kamen’s water purifier can take any water source and return water safe even for infants to drink.2

How it works

  • Kamen’s water purifier uses vapor compression distillation system.
  • It uses less than one kilowatt of electricity per hour (less electricity than a hairdryer).
  • The purifier uses any water source, no matter how polluted—laundry water, groundwater, seawater, even sewage.
  • It boils and evaporates the source water then condenses and collects clean drinking water.
  • One system purifies up to 850 liters per day, which can provide safe drinking water for around 300 people.2, 3

Water Purification for the World

While he was developing it, Kamen realized his water purifier had world-wide benefits. It could supply clean water for disaster relief and to areas with polluted or low water supply.2

Waterborne Disease: #1 Killer

Kamen believes that 50% of the world’s medical issues can be solved with clean water. He says children are at the highest risk.4 The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees. Water-borne disease kills more than 3.4 million people, mostly children, every year, making it the world’s largest killer.5

This is the result of more than 2 billion people across the world using contaminated water. Approximately 844 million people lack a potable water source, including 159 million people who use surface water for their daily needs. WHO estimates that half the globe will be water-stressed by the year 2025.6

Goliath, Meet Slingshot

Kamen named his water purifier Slingshot as the appropriate weapon for the global water crisis, which he calls Goliath.4

Kamen’s goal to mass distribute Slingshots to thousands of water-polluted/water-stressed rural locations has been slowed by his lack of resources. Unfortunately, his medical connections were little help delivering water purifying systems to rural areas—medical technology is distributed in wealthy areas. So, he turned to Coke for assistance in mass distributing his invention.3

Bargaining: The Freestyle

Coke’s counter-proposal: first build a better soda fountain. This is how the inventor of medical supplies came to develop the Freestyle Coca-Cola soda fountain.2

Expanding the Handshake Deal

By the time Kamen’s soda fountain, the Coca-Cola Freestyle, was put in production, Coke had a new CEO. But Muhtar Kent didn’t drop Kamen’s handshake deal. He expanded on the informal agreement to mass-produce and distribute the water purifier. To get the water purifiers to rural areas, Coke is distributing Slingshots within their Ekocenter.2

Ekocenter Modular Community Market

Coke’s Ekocenter is a solar-powered shipping container that provides low-income rural communities with safe water, internet access, non-perishables, first-aid supplies, and more. Coca-Cola calls their Ekocenter a “modular community market.” It is an opportunity for local (usually female) entrepreneurs, who are trained by Coke.6

Going Far Together

To distribute the Ekocenters, Coke is following the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Coke has pooled resources with 10 other companies to greater impact the world. By December 2017, 150 solar powered Ekocenters had been placed in 8 low-income countries. These Ekocenters can distribute 78.1 million total liters of potable drinking water per year.6

Kamen’s Vision and Future Use

Kamen’s vision involves the distribution of 2,000 units to low-income rural areas.2 Is his vision of clean water distribution different than Coke’s vision? Is the need more immediate? In America, water-polluted urban areas like Reno and Las Vegas; Pittsburg; Milwaukee; Flint, Michigan; Brady, Texas; to name a few, and the water-stressed state of California, which is researching ways to recycle wastewater for potable use, might look into using the Slingshot. Comment below and let us know what future use(s) you envision for Kamen’s Slingshot.

Tune in next week to read Toilet-to-Tap—Taking the Ick Out of Wastewater Recycling.

  1. Coca-Cola Freestyle: The Soda Machine of the Future (+ the Past), By Elina Shatkin, March 1, 2012.
  2. Popular Science, Pure Genius: How Dean Kamen’s Invention Could Bring Clean Water to Millions, by Tom Foster, June 16, 2014.
  3. Coca-Cola Journey™: Sustainability, EKOCENTER & Slingshot Clean Water Partnerships.
  4. WHO Drinking-water Key Facts, February 7, 2018,
  5. Dean Kamen Inventor – Slingshot Water Purifier, By Datun Center, April 17, 2015.
  6. WHO: Waterborne Disease is World’s Leading Killer, by Jessica Berman, October 29, 2009.

World Soil Day is December 5

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations sponsors World Soil Day every December 5 to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and the sustainable management of soil resources. Sponsored every year since 2014, this year’s theme focuses on soil pollution. Here is an excerpt from the World Soil Day Website:

“These days pollution is a worry – and soil is also affected. Soil pollution is a hidden danger that lurks beneath our feet.

“1/3 of our global soils are already degraded. Yet we risk losing more due to this hidden danger. Soil pollution can be invisible and seems far away but everyone, everywhere is affected. With a growing population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, soil pollution is a worldwide problem which degrades our soils and poisons the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. The entity of the problem is still unknown as not certain data are available on a global scale.

“Soils have a great potential to filter and buffer contaminants, degrading and attenuating the negative effects of pollutants, but this capacity is finite. Most of the pollutants originate from human activities, such as unsustainable farming practices, industrial activities and mining, untreated urban waste, and other non-environmental friendly practices. As technology evolves, scientists are able to identify previously undetected pollutants, but at the same time these technological improvements lead to new contaminants being released into the environment. In the Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals 2, 3, 12, and 15 have targets that commend direct consideration of soil resources, especially soil pollution and degradation in relation to food security.

“It is time to uncover this threatening reality. Combatting soil pollution requires us to join forces and turn determination into action. Be the solution to soil pollution.”

At Bio Huma Netics, Inc., we take soil health seriously. Visit our product Websites to find solutions for improving agricultural soil (Huma Gro® and Fertilgold® Organics) and bioremediation of contaminated soils (Probiotic Solutions®).

The Impact of Commonly Abused and Illicit Drugs in Wastewater Treatment

By Heather Jennings, PE, Senior Project Engineer for Probiotic Solutions®

I was attending a wastewater conference and overheard an operator talking about how a drug bust turned his lagoon orange and almost put him out of compliance with his permit. At another location, I was told that the city I was visiting had been hit by an unexpected source of ammonia that almost “wiped out” their bugs. I asked an operator if it was possible that the influent to his wastewater system might have illicit drugs in it. His reply was to the effect that, although he frequently found drug paraphernalia in his screens, he didn’t know of any illicit drugs being present in his system. So, I started wondering what illicit drug impacts really have on wastewater systems. The following is what I found.

Read the entire article online in the August 2018 issue of Water & Wastes Digest:

Download a PDF version of the article.

Conclusion: Here’s what we can do about it.

Operators and municipalities need to realize that their systems can be significantly impacted by commonly abused and illicit drugs. They should also understand that they are not alone. It is not just a United States problem: other nations are struggling with these same issues. Developing a pretreatment program and enforcing existing programs for industrial and commercial users can be very useful in isolating locations within the collection systems into which chemicals can be dumped. Proactively adding pH meters into branch lines in areas where illegal dumping can occur will provide advance warning to WWTPs. When WWTP upgrades are considered, more sophisticated treatments such as membranes, mixed bed bioreactors, and tertiary treatment can reduce PPCPs and illicit drugs from leaving in the effluent.3 Additional sewer epidemiology lab testing can also be a valuable tool in identifying the locations of contaminant sources.

If pretreatment and upgrades are not possible, developing partnerships and notification protocols with local police departments and drug enforcement agencies may be the single most effective thing that wastewater operators can do to be alerted to potential impacts to wastewater systems and to more quickly and knowledgeably address potential upsets within their systems.

The occurrence and impact of commonly abused and illicit drugs in WWTPs is a problem that is likely to grow. Plant operators must be vigilant and prepared. Although not designed as such, WWTPs are the last line of defense in protecting our water resources from drug pollution.


BIO ENERGIZER® Reduces Sludge at Sugar Refinery Wastewater Treatment Lagoons

Location: Louisiana

A large sugar refinery struggled with elevated BOD and COD values in its wastewater treatment lagoons due to the sugar refinery process. The lagoon wastewater system capacity was 25 million gallons with an influent of 1.25 million gallons per day. The wastewater system also suffered from accumulating sludge as well as significant odor issues. The sugar refinery had a history of periodically being unable to meet its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting requirements.

Probiotic Solutions® BIO ENERGIZER® applied to a sugar refinery wastewater lagoon system over 9 months resulted in reduced accumulated sludge, TSS, and odors, with improved BOD and COD reduction.

Read the full report in English online

Read the full report in Spanish online

Download the full report PDF in English

Download the full report PDF in Spanish


Rural Colorado Town Uses BIO ENERGIZER® to Reduce Wastewater Lagoon Sludge and Save Money

The wastewater treatment plant superintendent for a rural Colorado town of about 500 people noticed that the plant’s three wastewater lagoons were filling with sludge, but he was dealing with budget constraints. The town’s population fluctuates throughout the year, and the varied loading was affecting system performance. In addition, the aeration systems were not keeping up with the oxygen demand in the ponds. The superintendent decided to try a bioremediation approach to sludge reduction, using BIO ENERGIZER®, before embarking on the expensive process of mechanically dredging, hauling, and disposing of the sludge.

Using BIO ENERGIZER® is now saving the city thousands of dollars in mechanical dredging, hauling, and disposal costs. Lagoon desludging using BIO ENERGIZER® is typically one-fifth to one-tenth of the cost of mechanical dredging and land-applying or land-filling sludge.

Read the full report in English online

Read the full report in Spanish online

Download the full report in English

Download the full report in Spanish

BHN’s Heather Jennings Receives TAPPI Division Leadership & Service Award

Heather Jennings, Senior Project Engineer for Probiotic Solutions® at Bio Huma Netics, Inc. (BHN), was presented the Division Leadership & Service Award by the TAPPI Women in Industry Division at the PaperCon meeting in Ohio on April 16. The Award was presented in recognition of Ms. Jennings’ outstanding leadership and exceptional service. She was a co-founder of the TAPPI Women in Industry Division in 2015 and has been division vice chair since that time. She will assume chairperson duties for the division in 2019.

TAPPI is a not-for-profit, volunteer-led association that is built around a community comprising thousands of member engineers, managers, scientists, academics, suppliers, and others from around the world who are involved in the papermaking industry. TAPPI Divisions grant awards to individuals in recognition of outstanding accomplishments or contributions to the industry’s technology or the TAPPI organization. Each technical division may grant no more than one award for leadership and service per year. More about TAPPI and its Women in Industry Division can be found at

BHN President and CEO Lyndon Smith stated, “I’m very proud of the work Heather has done with TAPPI, particularly in terms of supporting and promoting roles and opportunities for women in industry. She is a wonderful representative of Probiotic Solutions® and BHN to the scientific and engineering community.”

Ms. Jennings has been with BHN since 2015. She has a BS in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and has 15 years of engineering experience.

Probiotic Solutions® is the BHN soil and wastewater bioremediation division that assists industries such as food processing, municipal wastewater, pulp and paper, chemical refineries, and others who use water in their processes to treat and return safe, clean water to the environment.

Bio Huma Netics Appoints New CFO

Bio Huma Netics, Inc. (BHN), President and CEO Lyndon Smith has announced the appointment of Scott Bostwick to the position of Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Bostwick replaces Mike Smith, who is retiring after almost 30 years with the company. BHN produces the Huma Gro®, Huma Gro® Turf, Probiotic Solutions®, and Mesa Verde Humates® product lines.

Mr. Bostwick, an Arizona State University graduate, completed his certified public accountant (CPA) exam in 2007 and, after working in various accounting and finance positions for government and private companies, joined BHN as Senior Director of Accounting in 2014.

Lyndon Smith said, “Mike Smith has been our strong right arm at BHN for nearly 30 years. He provided conservative steady financial guidance through a period of rapid company expansion. With Mike’s insights and contributions sales grew ten-fold, and he has built a solid financial structure that will ensure our success well into the future. This has been especially felt as we launch our new product line, Fertilgold® Organics, in the coming months. I will miss my daily interaction with Mike, but I’m also very confident that Scott has the financial leadership capabilities we need to continue BHN’s growth and success.”

Bostwick said, “Mike Smith has been a terrific mentor and friend to me over the past 4 years, and he has helped me to become well prepared to provide BHN’s financial guidance going forward. Mike has agreed to remain available to BHN on a consultant basis, and it is great to know that he is there for assistance should a need arise. BHN is a great company, and I am excited to be able to take the financial leadership role in continuing a legacy of success.”

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About Bio Huma Netics, Inc.

Founded in 1973, Bio Huma Netics, Inc., (BHN) is a three-generation-family/employee-owned company that is a global leader in providing sustainable solutions to the world’s environmental challenges for agriculture (HUMA GRO®, MESA VERDE HUMATES®); horticulture, turf & ornamentals (HUMA GRO® TURF); and soil & wastewater remediation (PROBIOTIC SOLUTIONS®) through its proprietary Micro Carbon Technology® and its continuously improving and ever expanding product lines. Learn more at

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