The Un-Soda Stream: The Machine That Turns Coke Into Water

A project from Dutch artist Helmut Smits questions why it's so easy to buy a sugary drink when clean H2O doesn't come out of the tap.

(Photo: Courtesy

Nov 11, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

In too many parts of the world drinking what comes out of the tap can make people seriously sick or kill them—assuming there is even a faucet to turn on. But if the nearly 1 billion people around the globe who lack access to clean H2O have the cash to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, the sugary, caramel-colored carbonated drink is probably theirs for the asking.

If you think it’s pretty ridiculous that unhealthy soda is easily available to the masses but a glass of crystal-clear water is not, you’re not alone. The contradiction is what’s behind Netherlands-based artist Helmut Smits’ latest project: a device that took a sample of Coca-Cola and purified it until it turned back into clean, drinkable water.

Smits teamed up with University of Amsterdam graduate student Martien Würdemann on the effort, which the duo dubbed “The Real Thing.” The play on the Coca-Cola slogan represents Smits’ views on soda and water. When he looked at Coca-Cola, he “saw dirty brown water, so it was logical to filter it back into clean drinking water, just as we do with all our waste water," Smits told Dezeen.

So how does it work? The machine, which made its debut this month at Dutch Design Week, uses a simple distillation process. The Coca-Cola is boiled and purified until it reverts back to H2O. It's a machine that could come in handy in plenty of places. In January, officials in India shuttered a Coca-Cola plant for sucking up too much groundwater. Mexico, where child obesity rates are soaring, is known as a nation where a Coke is safer to drink than tap water.

Even though the experiment was a success, Smits doesn’t plan to mass-produce the apparatus.

“I’m not planning on turning all the Coke in the world back into water,” said Smits. “It’s more to let people think about how we humans create the world around us and ask questions.”