One dripping tap can waste 2,000 litres of water per month. Over one year this is equivalent to 28,000 glasses of water.
Water consumption can be a major operating cost for manufacturers and could be costing companies over 1% of business turnover. Yet by using some simple control measures and inexpensive devices, this can be reduced by as much as 50%. These savings go straight to your bottom line as well as conserving an increasingly scare global resource.
Many people think of water as a free resource, because as individuals we rarely have to account for its usage at home. In reality water is a utility that is paid for twice – once on purchase and once on disposal.
Freshwater resources in the more densely populated and farmed areas are reaching the point of being fully “allocated” so managing water consumption and minimising waste is important. The use of water for manufacturing and industry represents 11% of total demand.
It is estimated that total water use in New Zealand currently equates to two to three times more water per person than in most other OECD countries. (Environment NZ report 2007).
The cost of water varies from region to region. This includes the suppliers’ operating and maintenance costs, water purchase and waste water disposal. Disposal costs for the effluent discharged to sewer will vary depending on the level of waste water treatment provided by the local sewerage utility.
For industry, there are additional operating costs for using and disposing of water.
On site water must be:
In the plastics and chemical sector the biggest use of water is for cooling and steam production. Water is also a major raw material to make plastic products.
Other significant uses include plant and vessel washing, product washing, vacuum pumps and air pollution control. Water is used as a means of transferring material and energy around a processing facility and the loss of this down the drain can be a significant cost to business. .
At many sites the common use of manual hoses to wash down equipment and surfaces is an invitation to use water indiscriminately.
Despite so many varied applications, water is often only metered as it comes onto site for billing purposes. Some plants meter process usage as this may be critical to product quality, and many sites are now aware of the need to meter steam usage for energy efficiency programmes but cooling water flows are rarely measured.
Having a comprehensive metering system helps to locate leaks. Many plastics / chemical plants have developed over a period of years, and underground water mains are very common. Without a regularly updated distribution network diagram and clear metering to enable a full water balance to be constructed and reconciled with the water bill, leaks can go undetected for years. Underground leaks can also have much more serious impact, including possible erosion of foundations and roads and, if the leak becomes a serious burst pipe can result in production losses while the main is excavated and repaired.
Water is in fact the most common solvent used in industry and while this is extremely valuable to industrial processes, it also means that while clean water may come onto a site, it is generally dirty, material laden water that leaves a site as trade waste. Most water used in the plastics / chemical industry is used once only. After use it is simply discharged to drain and either to sewer or an on-site treatment plant but it may be perfectly adequate for re-use in another process or as wash water before discharge.
A "water cascade" can provide opportunities for several cycles of re-use before it becomes too dirty and must be discharged. Yet every time that water is re-used, an equivalent volume of clean water does not have to be bought. By reusing water in the production process, water consumption can be cut by 50%, 70% or even 90%.
Measure water use to establish a baseline water usage against which to measure progress. This will show how and where water is being used and will highlight the those area which use the most water and indicate where any leaks may be undetected.
Ensure that water use calculations include:
Following this, a simple housekeeping programme can be instituted to generate immediate savings, raising staff awareness of the commercial importance of water savings and providing a fund for more capital-intensive measures.
Simple housekeeping measures which have been used in the plastics / chemical industry include:
1. Leak detection programmes
There will be areas where water use is required but where the amount of water used can be decreased.
2. Process water usage improved cleaning procedures
Once the water balance has been completed, it is important to update it regularly so that the impact of any activities is transparent. This naturally leads on to setting targets for production and ancillary use with which progress can be monitored and savings verified.
Sooner or later, however, capital investment will be required. Some of the most common measures taken by the chemical industry include:
The measurement of water usage is essential to highlight trends, abnormalities, the potential for savings and the effect of water minimisation measures.
A number of water-saving measures and practices are common to all businesses. For example, it is good practice to keep drains for foul sewage, stormwater and process effluents separate, so that high sewage or trade effluent charges are not incurred for "cleaner" water flows. Dry methods should be considered prior to those which use water, to minimise water use and effluent generation. When a hose is used to spray equipment or floors, care should be taken that large quantities of solid or soluble materials are not sent to drain if they can first be removed by sweeping or scraping. In staff toilets, the installation of percussion taps or automatic flushing devices for urinals could be considered.
If you have an Environmental Management System at your site, water use and disposal might well be considered a significant impact from your process already. If you haven’t already done so, consider options for reducing water use at your next management review.
If you don’t have an EMS, set yourself or your team a series of key milestones. Against each action, set a date and a responsibility for achieving the action.
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