We keep hearing that most of the salt in our diet comes not from home cooking, but processed foods.
The number of delivery trucks on the highway should remind us that the fuel we consume amounts to more than what we pump into our own gas tanks.
We should not be surprised therefore that the water we use indirectly dwarfs our direct use. In other words, much of our water usage is hidden or embedded in the products we use.
Embedded water and our food supply
Much of that embedded water comes from our food supply. For example, 1799 gallons of water are embedded in a single pound of ground beef. Cattle drink water. Farmers must also irrigate the feed the cattle eat.
The entire industrial process from the slaughterhouse to the grocery store requires water. National Geographic has provided details of the embedded water in beef and many other products, mostly but not entirely agricultural crops.
Individuals can control their embedded salt intake by cooking at home, using fresh ingredients to replace industrial food. Individuals can similarly control embedded water usage by understanding how much is used to make various products and choosing to purchase things with a smaller “water footprint.”
Embedded water and workplace sustainability
Mostly, however, reducing water usage is up to businesses. I certainly hope that my readership includes owners of small businesses or other people who have a part in deciding water usage at a corporate level. It’s a matter of workplace sustainability.
The Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance and Technology has published a case study of how four companies reduced their water usage and, of course, saved money in the process.
Rohm and Hass
This specialty chemical products division of Dow Corporation, ships some products in reusable totes that it must wash with deionized water upon return before it can fill them with new chemicals.
Formerly, the company used that water only once. The company instituted a system for reusing that water. It cost $25,000 to install and saves $20,000 (2 million gallons of water) annually. In other words, the project paid for itself in 15 months.
Rohm and Hass is now preparing two similar projects projected to reduce water by another 3 million gallons a year.
Massachusetts Container Corporation
Massachusetts Container Corporation sells corrugated boxes among other products. It prints the boxes, using various colors of ink, and must wash the equipment. They put inexpensive meters on their hoses and encouraged employees to use less water.
The company saved even more water from a simple change in planning the order of printing jobs. They began to schedule all printings using the same color to be run together and sequenced the daily print schedule from the lightest to the darkest colors.
That means that they need to wash their equipment less frequently. They now use not only less water, but less chemicals. They also decided to replace all the old toilets (which used 3.6 gallons per flush) with new ones that only use 1.6 gallons per flush. The company spent only about $7,000 on equipment and reduced their annual water usage by 75%.
With annual cost savings of $3,600 the project will pay for itself in less than two years. The company is also exploring the storage and use of rainwater, and reusing wastewater.
Boston Marlborough Courtyard by Marriott Hotel
After a water audit, one of three washing machines used at the hotel broke down. The estimated cost of repair was $13,000. As a result of the audit, the hotel had already determined that a new machine would cost $17,000 and save about 200,000 gallons of water every year.
They spent the extra $4,000 for the new machine and expect to save $2-3,000 a year from that choice alone. The payback time will be less than three years.
Claremont Flock Corporation
Flock is fibers made from textile byproducts and custom cut and dyed for specific applications. Employees must clean the fibers before making them into flock. Then they must rinse the flock once it is complete.
Replacing the nozzles on the hoses with high-pressure low-volume nozzles cost only $300. But it reduced water from 27 gallons per minute to 8 gallons of water per minute. That step alone eliminated 9 million gallons of water use. It cut the company’s total water use almost in half, for an estimated annual savings of $130,000. The company saved the cost of the new nozzles in just a couple of days!
All these savings came with simple, off-the-shelf equipment and required no redesign of existing systems or workflows. They affect only a portion of the total water usage at each company.
For example, the report does not describe the 200 guest rooms at the hotel. It may be new enough that they already have low-flow toilets and showerheads. But imagine the savings from replacing 400 old water hogs with modern equipment.
Government initiatives against embedded water
Three of these projects took place on the initiative of Massachusetts’ government when the city of Marlborough ran out of wastewater treatment capacity.
In the fourth instance, the company approached the government for expert advice. Not all government is dysfunctional!
Meanwhile, with or without the assistance or involvement of some level of government, reducing waste will always reduce costs. And reducing the waste of finite resources helps us all.
Photo credit: source of water recyling logo unknown
Water broom, Public domain, from Energy star article on efficient water use in food service facilities.