In the final article in our series on quality control standards in UAE commercial laundry, we look at the controversial issue of water usage and environmental impact. For the UAE to fulfil its potential as a world leader in quality, innovation and environmental responsibility, the industry urgently requires quality standards and guidelines in wastewater recycling.
Commercial laundries use huge volumes of water. With modern technology, much of this can be reclaimed, cleaned and recycled. In a ‘water stressed’ region such as the UAE, there are clear environmental benefits from doing so. Unfortunately, progress in this area has been very limited. Only a handful of operators have invested in water recycling equipment, mainly large blue chip operators. In an increasingly competitive, price conscious market, most operators simply cannot afford the investment required in recycling equipment and/or are unsure of the commercial return on investment (ROI).
Government intervention and support may be required to stimulate more rapid progress. This would empower commercial laundry operators to make a more valuable contribution to wider green objectives.
Water conservation has become a major global issue. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), more than half the world’s population will face fresh water shortage by 2025. Currently, one in five people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. This should prompt all of us to consider alternative solutions to the unmanaged use of fresh water supplies. But, does anyone care?
In the UAE, we have the highest per capita consumption of water in the world after the US and Canada. Luxury lifestyles combined with lack of resident conservation measures have resulted in high levels of water usage and waste. Our many green parks and abundance of palm trees can often give the impression that water is plentiful.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We live in a desert environment where water is scarce. Rapid economic development and population growth is placing tremendous pressure upon the authorities to draw millions of litres of freshwater daily from groundwater and desalination sources. In Abu Dhabi, for example, water use increased by approximately 43 per cent between 2011 and 2016. DEWA (the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) has stated that one of the main challenges we face is ‘not to waste water’. We are officially a ‘water stressed’ region according to the United Nations.
With the municipality doing everything in its power to encourage people to conserve water, the commercial laundry sector also has a key role to play. An opportunity exists for the UAE to become a world leader in commercial laundry wastewater recycling.
UAE launderers are amongst the biggest users of water in the region. On a conservative estimate, a busy commercial laundry could use 100,000 litres of water per day, equivalent to over 36 m litres per year. Most of this is sloshed down the drain after use. With a few exceptions, and by grossly over-simplifying the process involved, commercial laundries basically take clean water, dirty it, then throw it away!
Water used in commercial laundries becomes heavily polluted. The most common contaminants are FOG (fats, oils and greases) and TSS (total suspended solids). Both have major negative impacts on the environment threatening human, animal and plant life.
So, why has such limited progress been made? Why have only a handful of laundry operators invested in water recycling technology?
While it can be done, dirty laundry water is not easy to re-claim. A large initial capital expenditure is required combined with a long term view on ROI. The wastewater generated from industrial washers contains sand and grit, lint, free and emulsified oil and grease, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The treatment of these waste streams involves multiple stages. Lint removal is accomplished through screening, grit removal requires sedimentation, oils and greases are de-emulsified, coagulated and flocculated through chemical conditioning, solubilised metals are precipitated by pH adjustment, and VOCs can be removed with activated carbon treatment.
In the absence of a strong business case, and operating in a highly competitive, price conscious market, investing in recycling equipment is often seen by laundry operators as an unnecessary expense with unclear ROI. The technology involved is also very complex with a range of options available including new technologies such as Reverse Osmosis, Ultra-filtration and Nano-filtration. One of the most effective technologies, however, has been around for a long time - the use of a Dissolved Air Floatation Unit (DAF Unit).
Not so long ago, discharging untreated wastewater from industrial processes into rivers and lakes would have been considered okay. We were not as concerned with the long-term consequences of pollution or with the possibility of severe water shortages. Neither did we have the technology available to recycle used water.
The situation is completely different today, so what can be done to accelerate progress? Perhaps the government has an important role to play? Does the recent announcement of Dubai’s 10X vision provide an opportunity i.e. Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for Dubai to be 10 years ahead of all other cities with out-of-the-box future oriented exponential thinking?
With government support, there is an opportunity to establish Dubai as a world class centre of excellence in wastewater recycling for commercial laundry. By doing so, we save water, save money, help the environment, enhance Dubai’s social credibility and stay ten years ahead of the global competition.
On the other hand, perhaps it is the case that no-one in the industry really cares; because if they did, there would be no need for this article.