By Suzanne Orme
There have been large improvements in the quality of the world’s water resources over the last 25 years. Since 1990, 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation. The UN estimate that 91% of the global population uses an improved drinking water source, compared to 76% in 1990.1 That’s the good news. Now for the challenges.
Agricultural and coastal development and inadequate sanitation near river catchments still cause significant amounts of sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides to be washed into the world’s seas.
Nitrate concentrations continue to climb and recently the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported 169 coastal dead zones across the globe with only 13 recovering and 415 coastal areas suffering a reduction in dissolved oxygen.2 The association with coral bleaching and polluted run off is well known.3
In 2012, 288 million tons of plastic were manufactured globally and 8 million tonnes of this was dumped into the world’s oceans.5 Almost 90% of the marine debris found on Sydney’s beaches is plastic, mostly bottles, caps and straws.6
Ocean plastic has been found in the deep sea and buried in Arctic ice. It has been ingested with dire consequences by some 700 species of marine wildlife. The plastic doesn’t break down completely and some of it ends up in the seafood we eat.
A clear role for business
As 80% of marine pollution comes directly from sources on land 2, improved practices by factories, farms, transport operations, mines, construction sites, oil and gas facilities and power generation plants can make a significant difference to the state of the world’s oceans, rivers and ground water quality. To contribute to cleaner oceans, businesses can adopt the following steps.
1 Develop an understanding of water quality issues relevant to each facility
Identify all types of effluent and pollution leaving the company’s operations as surface or groundwater in a typical year. Record the total number and volume of significants spills, their location, volume and the specific contaminant. Find out the total water discharged by quality and destination and whether these were planned or unplanned; the water treated or untreated and the amount that was used by another organisation, meaning it was diverted from release into the environment.
2 Determine the level of associated threats, risks and impacts
Consider potential risks associated with the effluent and pollutant discharges you’ve identified. These may include fines, legal costs, loss of licence to operate, clean up costs, negative media, harm to flora and fauna, human health impacts and economic impacts on farms and fisheries.
3 Seek out ways to achieve zero water pollution leaving the facility
Go through a process of identifying and assessing improvement ideas. Aim to eliminate the discharge of oils/fuel, chemicals, sediment and solid waste into stormwater drains or areas where rivers and groundwater could be adversely affected. 100% of runoff should meet ANZECC water quality guidelines for the concentration of nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, acidity, dissolved oxygen, salinity and turbidity. Investigate whether there are ways to treat waste water for re-use in another process. If there is an EPA licence or trade waste agreement (TWA) set an objective that all water quality samples will meet the required parameters.
4 Use your company’s influence to have a positive impact elsewhere
There may be opportunities to improve water quality by undertaking remedial works outside the company’s operations. Some performance indicators around this might be:
- The number of or Km2 of local creeks or rivers rehabilitated
- The no. of, kilolitres or percentage of spills cleaned up and the specific contamination eliminated
- Kilolitres and percentage of total sewage or effluent treated for re-use by another organisation
- The Kg or number of pieces of litter cleaned up from local streams, river or beaches, for example on “Clean Up Australia Day”
Your company may be able to improve water quality indirectly through the purchase of resources, provision of products and services, R & D processes and supply chain collaboration. For example, researchers at Flinders University have developed a new polymer that cleans up mercury from waterways, soil and groundwater using waste sulphur from the petroleum industry and waste limonene from the citrus industry. 4
Health and Beauty multinationals, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble are phasing out the use of microplastic ingredients in their facial scrubs and other cosmetic and toiletry products. 7
We have a range of services to help you improve the way that water discharges and spills are managed across your company’s operations.
Feel free to call me, Suzy, on 0418 862899 to discuss your particular needs.