Lightening the Load and Drifting Ahead — How Georgia Companies Are Conserving Water
As water resources become less available and the cost of doing business increases, companies everywhere are developing innovative process changes in order to conserve resources, protect the environment, and make a profit.
Conserving water in industrial operations makes good sense. Companies are beginning to realize that the cost of discarding wastewater is three to four times the purchase cost of municipal water. 1
Consider the automobile manufacturing industry as an example. More than 100,000 gallons of water are required to manufacture one car.2 A single process change to conserve water would save a company the purchase cost of the water, the cost to treat the wastewater, and the corresponding energy costs involved during their processes.
In the state of Georgia, the military, the textile industry, agriculture, and the service industry are among the largest consumers of water. They simply need ample amounts of clean water to function on a day to day basis. From bathroom faucets and toilets to cooling towers and air washers, water is essential to production.
As with most resources, supply and demand determines current and future trends involved with its cost. The more dependent a company becomes on water, the more significant these trends will become. For some industries, such as the chemical manufacturing industry, water is actually a main ingredient in their product. In their situation, one may think that it would be difficult to reduce water usage while continuing to produce a quality product. However, one Georgia company has found that even though their product must contain water, their company as a whole can reduce their dependence on water with simple process improvements, thereby improving their bottom line while conserving resources.
Case Study: On-site Collection and Reuse – Allied Universal Corporation, a producer of water treatment chemicals, has implemented water conservation practices at their facility in Ranger, Georgia. The facility uses large amounts of water when making chemical “batches” and rinsing the equipment after the batch is made. All leftover liquids from making a batch and rinsing the equipment are collected and reused for the next batch of the same chemical type. Additionally, the facility collects rainwater from their tank storage area to be used in their processes. The rainwater is collected via a dike to a storage tank, then filtered and used as process water. As a result of Allied’s water conservation efforts, approximately 10,000 gallons of water are saved per year and no wastewater is discharged from the facility.
For other industries, such as the enormous carpet and textile industry here in Georgia, water is more than an “ingredient”- it is the “life blood” of the company’s operations. Therefore, even one seemingly insignificant process change can be surprisingly rewarding. The following case study is from a textile company that has made a combination of process changes to maximize their water conservation potential. This company has achieved the model level in P2AD’s Pollution Prevention Partner (P3) program and was awarded the Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention in 1998.
Case Study: Conservation and Reuse – Collins and Aikman Floorcoverings, Inc., located in Dalton, is an international manufacturer and supplier of commercial carpeting in six feet rolls and modular tiles. The company is proud of their development of a high performance floor covering, ER3, with a 100% recycled content backing. Over the last six years, the company’s production has increased by 85% while their total water usage has been reduced by 42% per square yard. Additionally, water usage for dyeing has been reduced by 57% per square yard.
The company has reduced water usage by: utilizing closed-loop systems to recycle process water; purchasing equipment with water saving features; water conservation; and decreased customer demand for traditionally dyed yarns. Six years ago, only half of the yarn used by the company was solution dyed (pigmented during fiber extrusion). Today, solution dyed yarn accounts for nearly 70% of the yarn used by the company. Through concerted water reduction efforts during the last six years, the company has saved over 63 million gallons of water. Collins & Aikman Floorcoverings’ Environmental Resource Conservation Team continues to actively work toward further reductions. Their goal for 1999 is to reduce water usage by 1.5 million gallons while increasing production by 10%.
The state of Georgia’s 13 military bases represent a huge opportunity to test and transfer new water reduction technologies. Recognizing this, P2AD has and will continue to work closely with the military on water use reduction and other pollution prevention issues. One military base that has made tremendous strides in water reduction is Fort Gordon.
Case Study: Centralized Vehicle Wash Facility – In February of 1997 Fort Gordon, located west of Augusta, installed a centralized vehicle wash facility serving all government vehicles on post, including wheeled tactical vehicles. Using their new facility and beginning to phase out their smaller wash racks has made washing the many vehicles on base more convenient and less time consuming, helped with compliance, conserved water, and saved money. The system has eight wash stations with a total capacity of 12,000 gallons per hour. All water located within the facility is cleaned and re-circulated through two basins. This high speed, self-sustaining system has conserved an estimated 1,800,000 gallons per year compared to their other vehicle wash system. By conserving the total amount of water used, the base spends less for the resource and also spends less to treat the wastewater. The combined savings has amounted to an estimated $109,000 per year. It’s no wonder the central wash facility is becoming a common sight at U.S. military bases throughout the world.
An industry that we all, as consumers, directly relate and contribute to, is the hospitality service industry. Because much of the water used by hotels, for instance, is controlled by customers, the likelihood of human error contributing to high water usage (resulting in more wastewater) is elevated. Therefore, it makes sense that many of the water conservation techniques used by this industry are based on diminishing the possibility of more-than-necessary water usage. The more automated, less manual equipment we now see in many hotels and restaurants today is often directly linked to resource conservation. One hotel here in Atlanta that is reaping the benefits of installing a combination of water conservation improvements is the Hyatt Regency.
Case Study: Equipment Improvements – The Hyatt Regency at 265 Peachtree Street has 1267 guest rooms, 15 hospitality suites, and over a million square feet of facility space. In 1992, the hotel began altering their equipment and processes in order to conserve and reuse water. As a member of EPA’s WAVE program3 the hotel has improved water efficiency, reduced energy consumption and increased profitability. In the guest rooms, the Hyatt Regency installed restrictors in showerheads and low-flow aerators in faucets. Considering the number of guest rooms, this simple alteration was able to reduce a significant amount of water usage. In their public restrooms, they installed infrared demand sensors and aquasensors on faucets and urinals. These provide water only when it’s needed, eliminating overflows and water misuse. Additionally, the hotel installed a simple hot water recovery system serving the laundry room. The system collects gray water and filters it, enabling the water to be reused for other needs, such as landscaping. The combined effect of these simple processes and equipment alterations has saved the Hyatt Regency about 13,663,000 gallons per year, resulting in a savings of about $50,416 per year.
These companies and governmental agencies are trend-setters. They realize the inter-company and outer-company benefits of resource conservation. As a result, they are looking to their future and making “beyond compliance” changes, often taking them into uncharted territory.
In W. Jackson Davis’ energy and resource conservation-focused 1979 book entitled The Seventh Year: Industrial Civilization in Transition, he addresses our society’s paths to the future and “seeks to envision the destination that we may better prepare for the journey.”2
The past benefits of industrialism are undeniable-but so also are the costs. I believe that the coming transition will give our species new values and fresh direction,… 2
The author goes on to relay his hope that the coming transition will feed into to a more sustainable, resource-friendly society. Are we in this transition now? I believe that we are. Our case studies show that new values and fresh direction are being developed to more efficiently use our resources. The challenge now involves completing the cycle. The remaining question- to what extent will we build on our momentum?
1R. B. Pojasek, “Water Conservation and Pollution Prevention” Pollution Prevention Review (1992): 495-500.
2W. Jackson Davis, The Seventh Year: Industrial Civilization in Transition (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979).
3WAVE (Water Alliances for Voluntary Efficiency) program contact at EPA: John Flowers, phone 202-260-7288.