Industry and Freshwater – part one

Published December 11th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

"The 21st Century might well be characterized by increasing competition for finite fresh water resources. Continuing today’s unsustainable practices will tend to increase the number and the severity of future  

droughts and shortages... ".  



Industry currently accounts for approximately 20 percent of the total fresh water used by mankind. The percentage varies from region to region. As world population increases and living standards rise, there will be increasing competition for the world’s finite fresh water resources.  


If all sectors of society move towards more sustainable use of water, most future needs could be met. This paper outlines what many creative and innovative companies have already done to reduce water use, to use water more efficiently, and to improve the quality of water discharged by industry.  


The paper presents a series of case studies. These identify lessons learned and can serve as a benchmark for best practice by industry.  


Many other examples (22 as of this date) can be found in a report on Industry, Fresh Water and Sustainable Development jointly prepared by UNEP and WBCSD. (this report will be published in the 1st quarter of 1998)Collectively, industry has technology and management skills which potentially can make a major contribution towards managing the world’s fresh water resources sustainably.  


Industry is only one stakeholder in this complex issue. It is moreover not even the largest user of fresh water. In partnerships with governments, farmers, and civil society, industry can make major contributions to addressing and solving water problems in the new century.  


1. Increasing demand for water: 

Increasing demands for water are occurring from 4 key areas which in aggregate are exerting unsustainable pressures both in developed and developing countries: 

human needs for safe drinking water and proper sanitation;  

agriculture needs for expanded production to meet population growth;  


environmental needs to protect ecosystems, endangered species; 

biodiversity, watersheds and other unique areas of special interest; 

industrial needs to provide more goods and services for a growing population. 


1.1 Human needs: 

The major factor influencing the demand for fresh water is the world’s changing patterns of population growth, distribution, and wealth.  


The world’s population is expected to increase from 5.3 billion in 1990, to between 8 and 10 billion people in 2050, with 90 percent of future population growth occurring in the developing countries.  


A very large percentage of this growth will occur in megacities with acute water and sanitation problems. The World Bank estimates that over 1 billion individuals lack access to clean water and 2 billion do not have even rudimentary access to basic sanitation today. 


Industry has identified a number of areas where it could play an active role, including the research and development of efficient new infrastructure for urban water supply and new technology for the re-use of urban waste water. 


1.2 Agriculture needs: 

Agriculture is the largest water user sector, accounting for over two thirds of current global fresh water use.  


Agriculture is also the largest polluter of water in most developed and developing countries as a result of pollution from poor land management practices including unwise use of pesticides and fertilizers, inefficiencies in irrigation, unrealistically low subsidized water costs which encourage wasteful practices.  


In the agricultural sector the issue is often one of "non-point" sources where it is difficult to identify the source and exact discharge points of the pollution.  


Agro-industry and the trade associations have already initiated many corrective programs. This is an area industry considers to be key for the evolution of new government water policy. 


Industry can help by promoting best practice in environmental management, including fertilizer and pesticide usage.  


In addition, industry research and development in the area of better irrigation technology is strongly supported. However, the issue of economic pricing of water, especially in the agricultural sector, is recognized as a key area for priority government attention. 


1.3 Environmental needs: 

The allocation of water for environmental needs is a growing area of investigation and policy development. The environment requires water of sufficient quality and quantity to maintain a diverse array of ecosystems and biodiversity.  


Moreover, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the environment is not just a sectoral user of water, but provides a fundamental role in maintaining the quality and supply of the world’s water resource for use by other sectors.  


One classic example is forested watershed protection. Poorly planned clear-cutting of forests on steep slopes has led to disastrous soil erosion and flooding.  


The short term economic gains have led to dramatic social and disaster relief costs far outweighing the benefits. 


Possible roles for industry, include the support of catchment management networks amongst stakeholders in a watershed to promote effective environmental management of water and land resources.  


In the natural resource sectors of mining, forest products, paper, and oil and gas extraction have special interest in managing and restoring the lands they use.  


The chemical and fertilizer sectors also have an important role to play in protecting environmental amenities and life supporting ecosystems. Additionally, the continued education of industry in water management practices is recommended. 


1.4 Industry: Currently, industrial use of water accounts for approximately 20 percent of global fresh water consumption (this figure varies widely from region to region).  


But, demand for water is growing quickly in industry (along with population and agricultural usage), particularly in rapidly developing countries.  


Significant progress has been made by many companies primarily in OECD countries in the area of water conservation.  


This trend will continue to grow and, in the face of increasing demand from downstream users for a greater share of water, industry must continue to adjust and develop its water management strategies.  


Industry has a much larger role to play than just protecting its access to water. Industry can also bring the technological capability to move water, treat water and manage water supplies.  


The development of water technology and strategies for providing clean drinking water and removing wastes is one area where industry is intimately connected to improving the living conditions of populations in developing countries.  


Industry has an opportunity to participate in providing sustainable solutions for water management, not only for itself but for its neighbours, local farmers and ecosystems as well. 


2 Water Supply: 

In aggregate terms the world is not running out of fresh water. The world’s natural water cycle is constantly renewing supplies. Large quantities of water are lifted from the seas by evaporation and then precipitated onto land surfaces as ice, snow or rain.  


Continental precipitation supplies 45,000 cubic kilometres of new fresh water every year – e. g. enough to inundate all of Europe under 2.3 meters of water. Ice and snow melt from mountains to release fresh water to our rivers, streams lakes, and to recharge underground streams and aquifers.  


Many arid areas are, however, already suffering from continuous shortages; droughts affect other regions sporadically; aquifers are being drawn down more rapidly than nature replaces water; salt water intrusion makes much fresh water undrinkable;  


pollution from many sources reduces useable supplies; random climate events like El Nino acerbate drought in some regions and generate excess rain, storms and flooding in others.  


Even in nations where water has traditionally been abundant, such as England, extensive periods of drought have threatened to disrupt normal water supply recently.  


Thus there is evidence that water shortages are occurring more frequently, in more locations, and all sectors of society need to prepare themselves for a new era of recurring fresh water crises.  


Action taken now could reduce the number of these local and regional crises. Many observers believe that fresh water could be a limiting factor in future development.  


Sustainable development demands that we use our finite freshwater resources more intelligently and efficiently. 


Most use of water is not absolutely consumptive. Instead, it is constantly being recycled by nature.  


When the farmer irrigates his crops a good portion returns immediately to nearby water sources, and the amount fixed in crops is eventually recycled back to nature.  


When the factory uses water or an individual takes a bath most of the water eventually returns to nature.  


Increasingly the issue has become not whether water is recycled but rather how soon, where, and in what condition is the water returned for another user.  


Along many rivers water is used and reused multiple times before it flows back to the sea. 


Finally technology is available to convert saline water into fresh water, albeit still at high cost. Thus like most resources, we are not in danger of running out.  


But unless water resources are harnessed more sustainably, we shall all have to pay ever higher prices to deliver the desirable commodity – small comfort for the poor unable to pay more for water. 


3 Water Quality: 

Water quality is inextricably intertwined with fresh water usage. The most sensitive water issue for many industry sectors is water quality.  


While the limitations of the future supply of water for industry is a growing concern, industry is still sometimes perceived by the public as the worst polluter of water.  


Although there are many serious examples of point source industrial pollution in the world, pollution control regulations and water charges have generally ensured the trend towards industry compliance with ever stringent limitations on discharges to public waters.  


The reality is that pollution from agriculture and urban waste water are by far the larger problems - in terms of absolute levels of pollution, the geographical extent of the pollution problem and in the relative difficulty of controlling these non-industrial sources of pollution.  


When individuals, farmers or industry use water, they invariably add unwanted substances to the discharge water. Beginning around 1970 public and political forces within most OECD countries began to demand improved water quality. 


Since that date there has been a virtual revolution in the way society and industry regard water. It began with command and control regulatory "end-of-pipe" retrofit technology at existing industrial facilities.  


It was followed by massive programs to upgrade existing and install new sewers and public wastewater treatment facilities. These public facilities treated both individual discharges and discharges from smaller and medium sized companies.  


The revolution continued with discharge permit requirements for new or modernized plant and equipment.  


Initially there were acrimonious debates about the level of discharge controls and the timeframes for compliance. Soon everyone learned that pollution prevention, especially when building new facilities, was eminently more cost effective than cleaning up dirty water after the fact.  


When governments established performance standards rather than specifying technology standards, industry found creative ways to use less water, to recycle or reuse wastewater, to move towards zero discharge or closed loop systems and to find ways to reduce or eliminate the pollution before it contacts the water.  


4 Eco-Efficiency and Cleaner Production: 

As we approach the 21st Century, water quality for industry means moving towards "Eco-Efficiency and Cleaner Production", concepts championed by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. (WBCSD)  


Both UNEP and WBCSD are convinced that "eco-efficiency and cleaner production" are crucial elements in both water quality and quantity issues.  


As industry finds new innovative ways to prevent waste, to produce more with less and to discharge less wastewater, there is an inevitable decrease in water consumption by industry.  


Each unit of production requires less water, and the water that is returned to the natural cycle is cleaner and more appropriate for reuse. This "eco-efficiency" is an inherent component of sustainable development.  


WBCSD has developed and been a strong advocate of eco-efficiency, a concept which implies that industry must be concerned not only with economic performance but with ecological performance as well. 


5 Case Studies: 

The following sample cases demonstrate how some industries have contributed to an on-going revolution in water management. 


Case 1. Millar Western - A Zero-Effluent Pulp Mill – Canada: 

The most challenging environmental problem for pulp mills involves polluted effluent discharged into natural water systems.  


When Millar Western decided to build a new pulp mill at Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan in western Canada, the company faced an unusually difficult situation. The area was blessed with high quality aspen pulpwood, access to power, good transportation and a quality work force.  


But one piece of the puzzle needed to be found. The Beaver River, the only water source available, had an extremely low flow and in winter the entire river froze.  


The river was virtually a pristine water body which it was judged could not accept effluents from a pulp factory no matter how clean. 


So the company made a strategic decision to try to close the loop and go for zero effluent discharge. Water recycling is extensively practiced in the pulp and paper industry.  


But the degree to which water systems can be closed is always limited by the build-up of contaminants in the system.  


The bleached chemi-thermomechanical pulp (BCTMP) used by Millar Western allowed organic extractives and inorganic salts to enter the wastewater at the rate of 200 kilograms per ton of pulp.  


In order to recycle wastewater, these residues must be removed. The company chose the evaporation process. Every drop of wastewater is collected and solids removed by sedimentation and floatation.  


The clarified liquid is then evaporated to produce clean distillate which can be recycled back into mill processes. 

The solid residue is then concentrated and burned in a recovery boiler.  


The inorganic fraction, 84 percent sodium carbonate, is solidified into ingots and stored at a secure land fill.  


The company is currently working with research organizations to find ways to convert the salt into caustic soda or peroxide which could then be recycled back into the mill. 


Millar Western and its consultant, NLK Consultants Inc., chose the evaporative process in 1992. Just 24 months later the plant came on line and within budget.  


Four months later the plant was producing high quality pulp at an average rate of 710 tons per day, in excess of design capacity of 680 tons per day.  


Now five years later, production and quality have never been affected by the zero effluent treatment system.  


Company officials say that reliability of their treatment system exceeds that of biological control systems and that operating costs are competitive with conventional treatment. 


The company takes pride in never having to worry about upgrading their effluent control systems to meet new legislative requirements.  


As Peter Knorr, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer , says, "It’s kind of hard to beat a zero effluent discharge rate!" Now NLK and Millar Western are exploring modifications to the process to permit its use in kraft pulping and other non-pulp industrial applications. 


Lessons Learned: 

Dedicated management, supported by competent consultants and outstanding staff enabled one company to make a breakthrough and reduce effluents to zero. 


Such innovation may give the company a competitive advantage or even create new market opportunities. 


The low flow Beaver River remains pristine despite the siting of a major industrial facility. 


Case 1a. The Technology Component - Parkson Corporation’s Contribution to the Zero Effluent Mill - CANADA 

Before Millar Western recycled its biologically treated wastewater, there was an additional step before the water was reused.  


The water, up to 3 million gallons per day, is filtered through Parkson’s DynaSand® Filter to remove any remaining suspended solids before membrane filtration and evaporation. The DynaSand®, originally developed by the Axel Johnson Institute, is uniquely suitable for this application as it is continuously self-cleaning, delivering recycled water without interruption 24 hours per day. 


Originally published on - 30 January 1998. 

Source: Source: icc-wbo. org  

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