Envisioning a clean water future

 

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.

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

How the Enviroease team can help you

We have a range of services to help you improve the way that water discharges and spills are managed across your company’s operations.

  • Assessment of risks and the effectiveness of current operational control measures
  • Identification of process control improvements
  • Life cycle assessment of products and packaging
  • Compliance audit against legislation, licences and Trade Waste Agreements
  • Water quality testing and analysis by a NATA accredited laboratory
  • Pollution Incident Response Management Plans
  • Spill response training, drill and report

Feel free to call me, Suzy, on 0418 862899 to discuss your particular needs.


References

1 http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/mdg_goals/mdg7/

2 http://www.unep.org/geo/pdfs/geo5/Measuring_progress.pdf

3 https://theconversation.com/cloudy-issue-we-need-to-fix-the-barrier-reefs-murky-waters-39380

4 https://theconversation.com/we-created-a-new-material-from-orange-peel-that-can-clean-up-mercury-pollution-49355

5 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/

6 http://www.marineconservation.org.au/pages/plastic-pollution.html

7 http://www.fauna-flora.org/initiatives/the-good-scrub-guide/

 

Turning the tide of ocean exploitation

A large expansion of marine sanctuaries, stronger enforcement of laws to prevent illegal fishing and better consumer information are the keys to protect marine biodiversity and fish stocks.  Seafood is a food source for 3,000 million people worldwide according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the US (FAO) (6).

In 2012 the Australian government created the largest network of protected marine areas anywhere in the world…. a great step forward but according to the IUCN and UNEP (1) only 1.6% of the world’s oceans have this level of protection and continue to be at risk of overexploitation.  The world’s oceans are the last frontier, a modern day example of Gareth Hardin’s  “tragedy of the commons”.

This is because the greatest risk to global fish stocks today is overfishing. According to another study from the FAO, (2) only 15% of fisheries are considered under or moderately exploited meaning they are able to produce more than their current yields.  The proportion of marine fish stocks that are overexploited or collapsed has increased considerably in recent decades and was valued at up to US$36 billion in 2000 by one study published in the journal Bionature (4).

An international agreement that balances biodiversity protection with sustainable management of seafood resources has the potential to set up the framework for international cooperation on this important issue.  According to one report from UNEP (5), a priority is the removal of unrealistic quotas and government subsidies of US$27,000million/yr that encourage an expansion capacity “by a factor of two relative to the ability of fish to reproduce”.

Ultimately better consumer information and labelling are the keys to successful transformation of the fishing industry. While one research study (3) indicated that in 2007 only 7% of fish products were certified as coming from sustainable fisheries, the number of certifications is now rapidly increasing. Market changes are being driven by some major supermarket chains and branded canned fish producers implementing sourcing policies that favour certified Marine Stewardship Council  labelled seafood.   The Australian Marine Conservation Society is an NGO that provides an on –line sustainable seafood guide and an phone “app”. These can be accessed at: http://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/Sustainable-Seafood-Guide-australia.asp?active_page_id=695

Greenpeace have produced a guide to the canned fish products currently on Australian supermarket shelves. Access the guide at: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/oceans/Take-action/canned-tuna-guide/

There are two simple questions to ask….  Firstly “Where does this fish come from?” and secondly “How has it been caught?”

Stronger labelling and an informed and enlightened public that is in possession of the facts have the potential to turn the tide 0f ocean exploitation.

 

References:

1)  IUCN and UNEP-WCMC (2011) The World Database on Protected areas  http://www.wdpaorg

(2)  FAO (2010) The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (2010), Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome

(3) Jacquet, J. et al Conserving wild fish in a sea of market-based efforts. Oryx 44(1) 45-56

(4) Srinivasan, U.T et al (2010) Food security implications of global marine catch losses due to overfishing. Journal of Bioeconomics 12, 183 -200

(5) UNEP ( 2011)Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development

and Poverty Eradication – A Synthesis for Policy Makers. United Nations

Environment Programme, St-Martin Bellevue

(6) FAO (2011). Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Food and Agriculture

Organization, Rome   http://www.fao.org/tc/resourcemobilization/ifas/ccrf/en/