Water and Industry

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It is only a trick of the human mind that could allow us to think of water and industry as disconnected. On the one hand, there is scarcely a product produced by industry that doesn’t either incorporate water in its construction, cool or heat engines, cleanse or deliver materials. On the other hand, it is from industry that we derive a wide range of products that allow humans to access, cleanse, transport and deliver water.

Water and industry have grown up side by side, broadly advancing economic and social progress, aiding in creation of products and then transporting these products over waterways to sites far and wide. In our modern world, we are witnessing export of industrial capacity to the developing world on a large scale to achieve a comparative cost advantage. Such transfers carry many advantages for local populations. But less visible is the additional burden on already stressed water supplies.

Not only may quantity of water be impacted, but also quality. From a quantity perspective, industry is not nearly the consumer of energy that agriculture is, being responsible for roughly 22% of water use worldwide versus 70% for agriculture. Its lower use is a reflection of the fact that industry only infrequently consumes or permanently extracts water from the system. Most of the water used is not incorporated into product, but utilized indirectly and then returned as wastewater into sewage systems or directly into a waterway.

Industry requires quality water for most manufacturing, but may return water in a degraded state at the other end of the process. The volume of water can be considerable. So while not consumed in quantity, industry can alter large volumes of water, and if directly discharged into waterways, this water can have a significant negative health impact on surface and ground reserves. If discharge into sewage lines, the clean-up often falls on governmental treatment plants, and becomes a cost of development versus a cost to industry, where the water degradation occurred.

The amount of water accessed by industry varies widely by geography. In 2001 higher income countries’ industry used 59% of the water, while agriculture consumed just 30%, with 11% going to domestic uses. In middle income countries, industry consumed 13%, agriculture 74%, and domestic 12%. In lower income countries, just 8% was industrial, 87% agricultural and 5% domestic. Even within this last category, certain sub-areas were outliers. For example, South Asia utilized just 2% of its water in association with industry, 93% for agriculture, and just 4% for domestic use. (Table 5.1)

A wide range of financial incentives as well as contractual arrangements have begun to shape the amount of water supplied, and industries demand for that water. There has been movement toward front end consideration of economic versus environmental objectives and incentives. Consideration of investment in new technologies as well as processes internally that could increase water efficiency and decrease demand are now more frequently brought into play. Advanced planning also provides the opportunity to consider pollutant loads and alternate discharge routes, either by capture or reuse of excess raw materials.

Emissions of organic water pollutants vary by industry. Those industries with an organic product lead the pack. In low income countries, the food and beverage industries, generate 54% of organic pollution, followed by textiles (15%), paper and pulp (10%), chemicals (7%), metal (7%) and wood (5%). Around the globe, industries are usually established near human settlements. This provides a workforce whose local communities could be enhanced by strong health advocacy, and an improved infrastructure with the potential to challenge poor practices with well thought-out reforms.

More developed nations are farther along in the planning process. Such planning considers conflicting needs and demands for resources. Abstractions of water are more strictly controlled and water is fully valued economically. Often to be licensed one must demonstrate a plan to maximize, sustain and protect natural resources. Thus industrial progress in developed countries has driven water savings in response to governmentally mandated integrated water management. They then have transferred a portion of the knowledge and industrial capacity to their plants in the developing world.

Where industries tended to grow up around water based communities in the developed nations, many of the new manufacturing sites in impoverished markets are situated not to advantage water but rather to access lower labor costs, tax advantages, and ease of export shipment. Responsibility for water development often exists in a different silo than industrial development. So industry comes in without full local understanding of its water impact, and then delivers a secondary blow by instigating local urbanization with increased domestic water consumption, as the workforce follows the jobs.

A portion of the new industries still seek water sites, especially on rivers. The rivers generally cross national boundaries. Lack of regulations on contaminants and pollutant loads up stream impact resources downstream. Lack of dedicated or underpowered municipal treatment facilities are frequently a source of problems. Such issues, understood and properly addressed, can yield long term benefits. In January 2000, a dam on the Szamos River in Romania released tons of cyanide contaminated sludge in the Szamos and Tisza Rivers, and from there to the Danube and Black Sea, with both human and environmental impacts. In response, the UNIDO initiated a pilot project that began with a formal risk assessment, addressed gaps in early monitoring, developed preventive measures, improved cross-sector communication, developed emergency response preparedness, and developed long-term leadership and policy recommendations.

Addressing knowledge gaps can yield significant improvements. Clearly, in some cases, leaders desire for improved economic performance makes them reluctant to balance long-term resource needs against industry short-term success. At other times, problems arise from the use of inefficient or inappropriate technologies, or lack of technical expertise in the enterprise. Managers may be fundamentally unaware how water is being used and for what purpose. Measurement of consumption may not be part of the process at all, so management becomes inconsequential. Improving skill levels and education regarding the joint economic and environmental advantages of process re-engineering and incorporation of modern technologies may have a greater impact directed at owners and workers than at public officials. Wasting raw materials is after all, a waste. Why throw out dyes used for textiles, if you can recapture them. And along the way you can reduce oxygen demand of the water.

One area of growing concern is the location of industry in coastal zones. Such zones are especially vulnerable since they are the receiving points of converging river basins, and are at the interface of sea and fresh water. UNIDO has embraced dealing with the pollutants at sources up stream as the best strategy for control. But there are a wide range of local coastal issues beyond toxic discharge including over fishing, sediment flow from land mismanagement, coral mining, canalizing wetlands, aquifer salination, and sand filling to name a few. Coastal governance is complex. On site fishery ministries, tourism ministries, and environmental ministries are driven by different priorities and agendas. Inland sprawl seems a world apart from coastal wetlands, and jurisdictional disputes are commonplace.

Traditional concepts, such as polluter pays, seem reasonable – but the reality is that they only act where pollution is obvious and provable, resolution is often long delayed, cross-jurisdiction feuding is common, technical assistance is often lacking, and legal access to involved parties may be obstructed. For these reasons and more, proper planning and positive engagement of industry, with a focus on quantity of water used, quality of water returned, and overall corporate citizenship and involvement in integrated water management plans are increasingly embraced. The goal? According to UNIDO, “consensus between community, industry, and government actors, early on in planning and investment processes. Within industry, a progressive package of environmentally sensitive improvements needs to be incorporated into production management and combined with the raising of technical capabilities at all levels.”

When approached this way, UNIDO has documented significant progress. For example they have worked with 30 tanneries in 9 African nations since 1988 on waste management and cleaner leather making technologies. One action, the use of high exhaustion chrome tanning technology reduced the amount of chrome in effluent by 90% and covered costs since less chrome was required to create product. Another experiment with the Zimbabwe Bata Shoe Company used an anaerobic digester of sludge, converting the output to zero solid waste and creating an energy source in the process. Work with the Thien Huong Food Company in Viet Nam resulted in 62 cleaner production options, with 24 put into practice. One year later, waste water release was down 68% and organic waste output down 35%. Every dollar invested saved 10 dollars in production. Positive collaboration aims then at decreases in industry emissions, more efficient production and better product quality.

What of the future? Needs for water and industry are now better defined. We need verifiable statistics, more reliable consumption indicators, improved industrial efficiency, water re-use, recycling indicators, water quality measures, and implementation of smartest technology. On the regional level, we need better, more representative governance, multinational river basin and transboundry agreements, acceptance of water management by industry as a priority, proactive definition of risk and threats, and emphasis on sustainability. And locally, we need engagement of industry in economics and environment, voluntary consensus, careful data collection, and clean efficient production.