SUSTAINABLE WATER USAGE IN MANUFACTURING

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KASONDE CHITUTA and MULENGA MWANSA

WATER shortages have been experienced in Southern Africa on account of climate change induced weather variability and changes. A study by Fauchereau et al in 2003 found that the occurrence of the El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon has exacerbated weather variability, and therefore caused water shortages in most Southern African countries. Furthermore, according to the 2018 Zambia Country Climate Risk Assessment Report, mean annual rainfall has decreased by an average rate of 1.9mm per month, (2.3%) per decade since 1960.

These water shortages have also kindled a debate in the Zambian manufacturing sector on how sustainable use of resources such as water can be sustainably used in the industrial production processes. Over the past few years, Zambia’s manufacturing sector has been exploring different sustainable ways of manufacturing, in order to mitigate some of the effects of climate change and sustain the environment. Sustainable manufacturing may be defined as; the creation of manufactured products using non-polluting, energy and natural resources conserving, and economically sound and safe processes.

 Sustainable manufacturing is not only beneficial to the manufacturing sector, but also relevant in different sectors of the economy like the environment and wildlife. Sustainable use of water in the manufacturing sector poses a unique challenge because aside from water being used for production, it is used by other economic sectors as well.

An Agriculture-Water-Energy nexus exists, and all the three sector have competing needs for limited sources of water. Therefore, water must be used in a way that reduces the environmental impact and preserves natural resources. With water now described as a finite resource by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), ways on how to use water more sustainably are being promoted in all economic sectors.

Thus, recycling water in the manufacturing sector aligns with the sustainable development goal (SDG) number 6, target 3, which intends to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally by 2030. Several examples exist that show why water must be sustainably used.

 In 2018 for instance, the City of Cape Town was approaching “Day Zero”, – a day without water-, which was a drought induced phenomenon that would have left about 3.7 million people without water. In a study done in 2020 by Eid and Oyslebo, on the collective responses to the 2018 water shortage in Cape Town, the inherent dual nature of the water insufficiency and the water mismanagement discourse came across as a significant factor to “Day Zero”, showing why the focus on sustainability on water usage, especially by sectors with large proportions of freshwater withdrawals remains cardinal.

The three tenets of sustainability, which are usually referred to as the three R’s, which are reduce, reuse and recycle, play a key role in promoting sustainability of water resources. In the manufacturing sector, the critical tenet often neglected is recycling of water.

 According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the manufacturing sector accounted for 19% of all global water withdrawals in 2010 and was only second to the Agriculture sector which accounts for about 70%. Due to the linkages between manufacturing and agriculture in Zambia, on account of a large agro processing sector, the manufacturing sector might even account for a larger proportion than is seen in the global scenario.

Recycled water in the manufacturing sector can be used for various industrial purposes and has the potential to reduce water bills, whilst also protecting water sources by reducing freshwater withdrawals. An example is an Indian town called Chennai, where industries use recycled water for industrial purposes such as cooling and cleaning and are restricted from withdrawing fresh water. A further illustration of water recycling is the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, by Unilever International, which has reduced the volume of the company uses in their manufacturing sites by 49% per tonne of production, by recycling water. Water sustainability should by all means be embodied in everyday manufacturing by all sector players, in order to avoid events such as the “Day Zero” in Cape Town. In this manner, not only will manufacturers be preserving water sources, but they will also significantly reduce the water bills.

To encourage water sustainability, the Government should put in place incentives for manufacturers who use water sustainably in production processes. A lot is being done on sustainable use of water in agriculture but extending incentives to manufacturing will ensure that the second largest water withdrawer, is also playing a role in water sustainability. More importantly, the private sector should fund and carry out research on water sustainability and recycling in the manufacturing sector, so as to establish a sustainability baseline for the sect

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