Before the water crisis we are now facing, reclaimed water has become a solution not only in regions with low availability or insufficient water resources, but throughout the world
We, the inhabitants of planet Earth, are under the false impression that water is an endless supply. The large blue areas on the globe give us this impression, but such an impression is false. Less than 5% of all water available is suitable for human consumption. Therefore, the use of clean water for industrial processes and even for cleaning homes is frowned upon. According to the UN, of all the fresh water we consume, 70% is still intended for agriculture, especially for irrigation, 22% for industries and 8% for domestic use.
The decline in environmental resources such as water, has encouraged companies to become proactive and responsible for their actions. Therefore, a wide range of industries are turning things around with reuse. This is because investing in industrial reclaimed water represents not only a way of caring for a resource – water is an essential raw material for several processes –, but also a way of reducing costs.
The industry must have grants — a type of Government consent — for water collection and, also, for the effluent — known as liquid waste resulting from industrial processes — to be discharged back into the environment. This second process is particularly expensive for industries. By reusing water in the process, the company transforms the effluent, saves money and plays its part in the conscious use of the resource.
A recent survey by the Professor of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP), Ivanildo Hespanhol, with 2,311 medium and large-sized companies in São Paulo, points out that the daily cost of water consumption, without reuse, is about R$ 1 million. Hespanhol estimates it is possible to reuse about 60% of the total water consumed by a company without the need of investing too much. That is, the total water costs of these 2,311 companies would drop to about R$ 400,000 per day. Hespanhol believes that about 20% to 30% of the companies in Brazil, in some way, practice reuse.
In Rio de Janeiro, Law 7599/17 requires that industries with over 100 employees located in the State install water treatment/reuse equipment. The industries that do not comply with the requirement cannot be contracted, sign agreements or similar instruments, or receive benefits or incentives from the State of Rio de Janeiro. It is clear that food and beverage manufacturers, for example, face legal restrictions on recycling: reclaimed water cannot be used as an input. However, for other sectors of the industry where water is rarely used as a raw material, but is used more in processes, reclaimed water is really indicated. As a result, primary water sources are spared and are no longer used in public supply or in domestic uses that do not require drinking water.
What is reclaimed water all about?
Originating in Ancient Greece, reclaimed water is the treated effluent after being submitted to chemical, physical and biological processes. The entire process consists of reusing water that was previously used for other purposes – or even for the same purposes.
The water will receive a treatment that must be carried out according to the purpose of its use — or reuse. Practices on water use and reuse are more specifically applied in industries and irrigation; however, there are initiatives for domestic reuse in several parts of the world. In the long run, technologies will be developed so that reclaimed water takes a prime position in human consumption and gives our fresh drinking water reserves a break, which have become depleted.
In Tel Aviv, Israel, 100% of all water is reused for irrigation in the desert (treated water runs along 100 km pipeline to the site) and for bathing and toilet flushing. In the Republic of Namibia, domestic sewage is only treated for potable purposes – with good quality water for drinking and cooking food. Meanwhile, industrial sewage is collected and treated separately, and then, it is returned to the industries. In Japan, industries only use reclaimed water, but it is also widely used for urban irrigation. Brazil already relies on a dual piping system, one for reclaimed water and the other for drinking water.
In addition to increasing drinking water availability, reclaimed water also contributes to reducing sewage discharge into nature. Hence, it is a way that would significantly reduce water pollution in chronically polluted places in Brazil, such as the Pinheiros River, in the State Capital, and Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro.
Water for direct and indirect reuse
Reusing practices reduce the demand on water sources, since there is less need for withdrawing water from natural sources. It can occur in two ways: directly and indirectly.
In direct reuse, water treatment is made with the effluent itself that would be dumped into the environment. In indirect reuse, water is taken from a contaminated source, at a lower place (in the downstream, also called ebb tide, low tide), where the effluents were discharged. That is, after being dumped into the rivers, water is collected and used in the reuse treatment.
Reclaimed water means sustainability
Reclaimed water can have several levels of quality, in general, the one which is developed from recycling the effluent and is used by the industry is of lower quality compared to drinking water, and therefore is not directly used for consumption. This, in fact, is one of the problems for widely adopting reclaimed water in Brazil: there is no law regulating the different qualities of reclaimed water and its most indicated uses.
However, it can be widely used in power generation, equipment cooling, car washing, irrigation for farm fields, firefighting, street cleaning and watering gardens. Not all these activities need drinking water. Water reuse promotes the sustainable use of water resources, reduces the amount of sewage discharged, and increases the availability of drinking water.
In the expert’s opinion, we still adopt a prehistoric and irrational system so far, which precariously solves the problem of water supply in a region; to the detriment of the area that provides it. “The culture of importing water from increasingly distant basins to meet demand growth dates back more than 2,000 years,” teaches Hespanhol. The Romans, who practiced intensive use of water supplies for their homes and their spas, drew water from nearby springs. As these became insufficient or polluted by the sewers, the Romans would search for the second nearest source, and so on.
This practice gave rise to the construction of the great Roman aqueducts, and there are still some ruins in several parts of the world. This system in today’s society, however, should have been replaced by now.
What can you do?
All industries, construction companies, city halls, businesses and shipping companies can buy reclaimed water, if it is available. Contact the local supply company in your town and get informed. At home, you can create a rainwater harvesting system, which is another way of saving water and money.
Content published in March 15, 2018
What Braskem is doing about it?
Since its creation in 2002, Braskem invests in several initiatives focused on water economy and reuse. Over this period, the company has invested over BRL 250 million in projects dedicated to water efficiency. Today, Braskem is one of the least water-consuming chemical industries in the world – about six times less water than the global average, according to data by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). Amongst the main actions, one highlight is the Aquapolo project. Created in 2010 by Ambiental Odebrecht (currently Ambiental BRK), in partnership with Sabesp in the ABC Paulista region, it’s the biggest enterprise for the production of industrial reuse water in South America and the planet’s fifth biggest. Another initiative is the Água Viva project, a partnership between Braskem and Cetrel in the Industrial Hub of Camaçari (state of Bahia), which reduces the company’s water demand by 4 to 7 billion liters per year. Since 2017, Braskem remains in the “A-List” of CDP WATER and has become a global reference in the management of water resources and in contributing for the transition to a sustainable economy.