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The environmental benefits of good water management

By: Pete Cranney on May 13, 2024

The Environmental Benefits of Good Water Management

Historically relegated to the role of waste disposal drains, waterways have borne the brunt of hazardous discharges, including a range of pollutants such as asbestos, heavy metals and oils. With the UK taking legislative strides through The Water Industry Act 1991 and The Water Resources Act 1991, a framework was established to mitigate such practices. Despite these efforts, a global challenge persists, with the UN reporting that 80% of the world’s wastewater remains untreated simply flowing back to choke the very rivers giving life to the population.

Industrial Water Contamination in the UK

Even within the advanced regulatory landscape of the UK, instances of both legal and illegal discharges of sewage and industrial pollutants into waterways persist, posing substantial risks to public health and environmental integrity. This stark reality was underscored in 2020 when water firms were documented discharging raw sewage into English and Welsh rivers over 400,000 times.

Environmental Benefits of Wastewater Treatment

The repercussions of such practices extend beyond environmental harm. Significant health risks to humans, detrimental impacts on agriculture through contaminated irrigation water, and the destruction of aquatic life are major impacts. Furthermore, 25% of severe water incidents in England and Wales are attributable to industrial wastewater and sewage, underscoring the urgent need for improved water management practices.

For this reason the legislative demands are expected to increase and so companies may have the threat of financial fines and enforcement as the main driver, which could cause some to wrongly opt for a quick solution rather than the best solution.

What is Good Water Management?

Good water management embodies the principles of optimisation and sustainability, aiming for a net-zero water footprint. This entails minimising water use and waste, while maximising the reuse and recycling of water through innovative treatment processes. The cost for reusing water can be substantially less than the cost for disposal of trade effluent, and the additional purchase of potable water.

Wastewater treatment: recycling water for reuse

Wastewater treatment involves four key stages:

Primary treatment - The first stage of the water treatment process separates suspended solids (SS) from wastewater. Then, between 70% and 90% of these materials are removed through flocculation, coagulation, settling, and flotation processes. At this stage, chemical reagents are introduced, depending on the degree of purification required.

Secondary treatment - These advanced biological treatment methods use bacteria to eliminate dissolved pollutants contained in wastewater, including carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus pollutants. Sometimes, biological treatment methods also use chemical reagents.

Tertiary treatment - This final stage looks to remove any remaining dissolved solids from purified water and disinfected wastewater so the treated water can be reused.

Choosing the right chemicals is also key to controlling odour throughout the process, which can lessen the environmental impact of implementing an on-site recycling solution. To find out your responsibilities on effluent discharge, read our blog.

Sludge treatment - The materials and pollutants removed during treatment become sludge, which has the potential to be commercially reused using a treatment called anaerobic digestion, heating the sludge to encourage the bacteria to eat it. This creates biogas that can be turned into heat and used to generate electricity. Alternatively, the sludge can be dried into blocks (or ‘cakes’) which are then burned to generate heat.

Financial Benefits and Consumer Goodwill

Historically, organisations faced a stark choice in water management: opting for cost-effectiveness often meant compromising on the efficiency and thoroughness of water treatment, while prioritising comprehensive treatment could inflate operational costs.

Developments in chemical and mechanical removal techniques, combined with the digital transformation of water management systems, now allow for more automated and remote access control. These innovations have bridged the gap between cost and efficiency, demonstrating that effective water management can also be value for money.

Adopting these cutting-edge solutions not only reduces the financial burden of water treatment but also enhances a company's standing among environmentally conscious consumers.

Carbon Reductions and Sustainability Benefits

The implementation of sustainable water management practices offers significant carbon reduction benefits. By reducing reliance on energy-intensive water treatment processes and promoting the reuse of treated water, organisations can significantly lower their carbon footprint. Furthermore, the move towards net-zero water buildings exemplifies a commitment

to preserving both the quantity and quality of natural water resources, contributing to broader environmental sustainability goals.

Innovations in Waste Management and Revenue Generation

The traditional approach to waste disposal often involved spreading waste, a method that, while straightforward, presented numerous environmental and logistical challenges. This practice has seen a revolutionary overhaul with changes in legislation blending with efficient dewatering technologies, such as dewatering screw presses.

A screw press applies pressure to the sludge, squeezing the water out via a filtration system and is simple, sustainable and cost-effective. The separated liquid continues through the plant’s treatment process, and can be discharged into the public sewer, in line with trade effluent rules, or recycled and reused. The compression of sludge known as dry cake, can be safely stacked and transported by lorry to an anaerobic digester where it is used to produce biogas and biofertiliser.

By converting waste, where it becomes a source of revenue rather than an expense, organisations not only mitigate their environmental footprint but also transform what was once a disposal cost into a potential income stream.

The Path Forward

With water treatment specialists providing a plan of how to negotiate the journey towards effective water management maximising both technological innovation and a commitment to sustainability, organisations can follow the most appropriate solutions tailored to their specific needs. This partnership can ensure compliance with environmental regulations, achieve financial savings, enhance consumer perception, contribute to carbon reduction, and promote sustainability.

In embracing advanced water management practices, organisations not only safeguard the environment but also position themselves as leaders in the transition towards a more sustainable and equitable future. Engaging with the right specialists can provide the necessary support to navigate this complex landscape, ultimately benefiting both the planet and the bottom line.

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Topics: Wastewater Treatment

Pete Cranney

Written by Pete Cranney

Pete Cranney has worked for Atana (now part of WCSEE) since 2003 and has experience across every part of the business. Specialising in food & drink manufacturing, Pete can recommend the most practical and cost-effective treatment processes, designing onsite solutions that achieve strict discharge consents. In previous roles, Pete has managed full treatment plants for clients such as PepsiCo and Kraft Heinz. He has also led on laboratory testing of client samples. In process design, Pete provides clients with the most effective blends of chemical and mechanical treatments to ensure their sites offer full environmental protection 24/7.

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