Rethink water: reduce, recycle and recover resources

The bottom line is important for any company. Efficient use of resources is essential in any sector, but the increasing costs of water and wastewater management mean that an inadequate water strategy can lead to businesses effectively pouring money down the drain.

When it comes to water, there is a perception that sewer discharge costs nothing and there is little you can do with wastewater once it has been treated and cleaned in line with industry regulations. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Delivery of mains water costs £1 per cubic metre, and typically twice as much to discharge the equivalent volume1. Companies looking to increase profit while generating positive publicity can start by analysing the total cost and environmental impact of their water usage, and implement solutions to reduce consumption.

Responsibilities and regulations

There are considerable costs associated with water processing – whether it’s before or after use – and making the best use of this paid for resource can make a significant difference to profit margins. All industries have a responsibility to ensure that their trade effluent meets regulatory requirements, and companies should be encouraged to look beyond these statutory requirements to see how, once they’ve paid for it and treated it, water can be used and reused to best effect before disposal. This can not only reduce overall consumption and waste costs, it can also potentially provide valuable by‑products for use in other areas of the business.

Restrictions

There are currently no restrictions for most customers on the amount of water that can be drawn from the network or returned to the drain; you simply pay for the amount you use or discharge. However, we are now beginning to see the emergence of limits for industrial water use to try and manage demand. Although there are currently only financial penalties for excess use, if demand continues to exceed supply, we may see a situation in the future where water supplies are simply cut off once water limits are reached. This would have a far more significant impact, leading to temporary shutdown of manufacturing processes and significantly harming profitability.

Reduce

Reducing water consumption is the most direct way to save money, and regular water monitoring can help highlight leaks or unexplained water usage in your facility. If your trade activities primarily occur during the day time, for example, you should expect to see your water consumption almost zero overnight. Real-time monitoring and automated control offers a more robust approach, and companies can work with a water technology supplier, such as Veolia, to implement data-driven, water saving solutions. Immediate access to up-to-date figures drives efficient operating conditions, maximising equipment lifecycles, reducing maintenance and demonstrating regulatory compliance.

Reuse and recycle

Reusing and recycling wastewater can offer even more significant savings, due to the high cost of discharging wastewater. In many cases, specific wastewater treatment technology is needed before it can be reused in industrial processes. Water recovery systems involving filtration, reverse osmosis (RO) and clarification steps prevent thousands of cubic metres of wastewater entering the sewage system, reducing initial water consumption and offering significant financial savings. Recycling is vital in water intensive processes, such as renal dialysis, which typically uses around 22,000 litres of ultra‑pure water annually per patient. Reject water from the RO system can be recovered in a separate process, with the permeate quality often significantly better than mains water. In the pharmaceutical industry, Veolia installed a recovery RO system adjacent to a client’s two production RO units, enabling over 50 % of the RO concentrate to be recycled and reused, with annual cost savings of £32,000.

Recover resources

Wastewater can be a very valuable resource, particularly in the food and beverage industry. For example, wastewater from dairies and distilleries could be passed through an anaerobic bioreactor to produce biogas, which could be returned to the grid or back to the facility to supply energy – up to 80 % of the electrical needs of some distilleries. A second by-product, biomass, could also be repurposed as fuel, or used as land fertiliser on farms.

Return on investment

This type of innovative water use can have a significant impact on production costs, but requires a new way of thinking and an investment in new technologies and equipment to gain the benefits. For many sectors, the perceived ‘slow’ return on investment (ROI) can be a stumbling block, as many boards of directors and shareholders demand an ROI within the same financial cycle. However, by looking at water treatment and recycling as a slightly longer term investment – generally achieving an ROI over two years – companies can help to safeguard their future water supplies and reduce their environmental impact for many years to come.

Rethinking the approach to water management

It is hard to deny the strong business and environmental arguments for changing our approach to water management. Ignoring our water consumption is no longer a viable option, and industries can benefit from implementing technology to deliver water and energy savings, as well as reaping financial benefits.

The time has come to rethink water.

  1. https://affinityforbusiness.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Thames-1617.pdf

Contact us and speak to an expert to find out how can transform wastewater costs into savings.