How to ‘future-proof’ your water management

Posted: 23 June 2018 | | No comments yet

Like a fast-moving tide, the management of water is quietly but quickly emerging as a significant risk for the food manufacturing industry in the UK. Companies may be unaware of the ever-increasing water management obligations under the EU Industrial Emissions Directive, which industry experts believe will be maintained in UK law after Brexit. Declan Maguire has some advice.

water management cornichons

The old methods of water management employed by many companies, particularly with regard to wastewater management, simply won’t meet the tougher requirements of these new environmental standards and companies will face fines and potential disciplinary action.

In order to be both compliant with emerging regulatory requirements and cost efficient in the face of increasing pressures on global water resources in coming decades, companies will need to look at how they ‘future-proof’ their water management.

With water technology developing at a rapid pace, the process of managing water in-house will also become progressively inefficient and financially unsustainable. This may lead companies to look to outsource this function.

Outsourcing has been a revolutionary force, leading to exponential growth and efficiencies across all industries. Yet for many companies, water management has stubbornly remained in-house. But there’s no time to waste.

The environmental responsibilities of industry in the UK are set to increase in 2018, with EU regulators currently drafting a series of best practices that will heighten already-stringent obligations in the decade ahead. These new guidance documents will inevitably result in companies needing to raise the bar in the design, construction and operation of their facilities, specifically including water treatment. Industry experts agree that Brexit will likely not affect the relevant legislation in the UK, which it implemented along with other EU member states after the current EU Industrial Emissions Directive came into effect in 2013.

Legal obligations reflect global pressures

Increasingly stringent laws in Europe (and beyond) are being implemented to manage the ever-growing pressures on the world’s water systems. Increasing demand intensity within relatively small areas of the globe will result in the over-harvesting of clean water for the purposes of providing drinking water for domestic use in future years. Meanwhile, industrial and commercial water customers are rightfully demanding better-quality water in order to produce better-quality products.

Increasing levels of urbanisation and industrialisation are also putting greater pressures on waste water recycling, and the intensification of treatment required to avoid potentially harm the increasingly vulnerable ecosystem will also rise.    

With these pressures, the increasing real costs will be passed on to the industry: raw material (water), distribution, recycling, production (water treatment), and redistribution. To date only part of this cost was recovered from industries. Capital investment on water infrastructure and treatment processes due to increased demand will also be passed on to industries. Moreover, the principle of ‘polluter pays’ is already becoming the norm internationally and countries are already considering surcharges on wastewater that will be daunting for industry.

Water management experts

Companies that maintain the status quo and don’t address these emerging issues will find themselves in a financially untenable position, particularly those who are water-intensive industries such as food & beverage, pharmaceuticals, electronics, leisure, alcohol, and manufacturing. The solution lies in innovation, and the most cost-effective and efficient way to innovate in water management is to have experts on hand. We all endeavour to remain ahead of the curve in our chosen core area of expertise, and the water sector is no different.

Outsourcing has been a revolutionary force, leading to exponential growth and efficiencies across all industries. Yet for many companies, water management has stubbornly remained in-house. 

Keeping on top of developments in water infrastructure and technology will becoming increasingly important. Water infrastructure is ageing and there has been a significant investment gap in recent decades.

Companies will have two choices: ignore these inevitable changes in the industrial landscape and invest millions of pounds or euros to upgrade their infrastructure, or take timely action to outsource and bring in sectoral experts in water treatment. Those who take the latter route will benefit from utilising the latest technology and resources provided by their water management partner.

With water becoming more expensive, the impetus to recycle water is increasing. Moreover, raw materials used in production processes often escape in wastewater in large quantities. On average, industrial companies that we have engaged with in the past have been able to reduce their water use and production of waste water by around 40 percent.

But the benefits of recycling water and reducing waste water go far beyond the financial. Pressures on the availability of water and extreme weather events will also lead to increasing water security issues. We have worked with industrial companies to provide water recycling solutions, which have resulted in near self-sufficiency on sites. This also cuts costs in the transportation of water, which in large quantities is more significant than oil, gas and electricity. The obligations to liaise with environmental regulators increases year on year, and it will become critical to have a partner that can lead in this conversation.

Outsourcing also brings with it the benefit of specialist human resources and knowledge on best practices. Then there are the other usual benefits commonly associated with outsourcing such as mitigating risk in the operation of assets, minimising fixed costs, and utilising technical support services.

In the short to medium term, outsourcing your water management will simply be a competitive advantage and an easier way for food manufacturers to ensure compliance with new legal obligations coming into force. But in the long term, with increased pressure on water systems and the need to keep up with technology, it will become a financial necessity.

About the author

Declan Maguire is Operations Director, Celtic Anglian Water & Alpheus Environmental Ltd.

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