According to the United Nations, over 80% of wastewater across the world from our homes and cities flows back into nature without being treated or reused. This in turn pollutes the environment, causes loss of valuable nutrients and poses a risk to public health. By looking at wastewater as a resource, rather than something that simply goes down the drain, residential and resort developers can use wastewater recycling methods to leverage additional value in their developments.
By 2030, global demand for water is expected to increase by 50% owing to population growth and already there is a lack of fresh, potable water in parts of the world making the need for action even greater. Methods and drivers of wastewater reuse and treatment are driven by different factors in different parts of the world. In arid countries, such as on the Arabian Peninsula or sub-Saharan Africa, motivation for reuse is driven primarily as a result of the scarcity of water as a resource. On the other hand, in much of Western Europe, reuse and treatment is borne from a desire to maintain good public health by protecting the cleanliness of potable water sources by preventing the flow of untreated water back into the earth.
Let’s be honest, while we all want to be sensitive to the needs of the environment, when doing so impacts the development bottom line and if there are no incentives or regulations in place to ensure action, quite often the desire to develop in an eco-friendly way can be the first cut that is made to save development cost and improve profitability. By identifying the added value from reuse of wastewater and ensuring that it is leveraged to increase purchase prices, reduce development costs and reduce operating costs, it becomes less likely that wastewater treatment and reuse products will be cut when profitability is questioned. Furthermore, with potable water becoming more and more scarce, water reuse and recycling will no longer simply be a benefit it will soon become a necessity.
So, let’s explore how reusing or treating waste water can help add value to a development project and a development company.
1. Reduced Owner Water Bills
The utilisation of an effective greywater recycling system can reduce the water consumption of an average household or hotel complex substantially. Grey water can be filtered and re-routed for toilet flushing and washing machine use (as well as outside /landscaping maintenance use contemplated below). The average property uses 20 litres of water per person per day just to flush the toilet and around 15 litres per person per day for laundry. Typically, 121 litres of wastewater are used in a home per person per day including toilet and washing machine use. By recycling the grey water for these two purposes only, 29% less potable water is needed in a home. While there are costs to maintain the filtration systems required to clean the greywater, these costs should be covered by the water saving.
For hotel developers, creating a wastewater reuse or recycling system is already relatively typical and can save substantial water, especially considering that patrons of hotels can be inconsiderate in their water usage despite conserve water notifications as they are not ‘paying’ for it.
2. Reduced Landscaping / Garden Maintenance Costs
Greywater can be used for landscaping / garden maintenance and the nutrients in grey water can help flora flourish. Re-routing and reusing grey water for gardening can reduce potable water consumption by 30% to 50%. This means that municipally provided water sources aren’t needed for this purpose giving a cost saving to whoever pays for the water supply, be that the householder or the operating company / developer. Reuse of greywater for landscaping maintenance is particularly beneficial for developers who also manage or operate the developments after construction is complete.
3. Higher Property Selling Prices
When there is money to be saved in future consumption and operation, people are usually willing to pay that little bit more.
The developer can uplift the price of the property by usually three or four times the actual cost of the wastewater system making it almost equivalent to. And what’s more, because the purchaser can leverage a mortgage against the value of the property, they are less likely to be concerned about an uplift in the region of USD 15,000 – 20,000. Obviously, the property needs to be of a certain minimum value for this to be viable. In case of apartment blocks or multi-family set-ups, shared water recycling systems can be put in place to ensure economies of scale.
4. ‘Free’ Ground Water
By implementing water recycling systems it becomes easier to use well water as a water source, particularly for landscaping and garden irrigation as a distribution and storage system will likely be in place. This, like the reused greywater, should be cleaned and tested accordingly as sadly many ground water sources are polluted, but it is effectively water straight from nature – so the cost is purely in its processing.
5. Low Installation Costs
Installing wastewater reuse and recycling systems during the construction process is substantially more cost efficient than having to retrofit a system in a built property. The cost of implementing wastewater reuse and recycling systems during the development process is relatively negligible – we anticipate a typical cost of USD 2,000 – 5,000 for a family home depending upon the system implemented and property size and capacity.
The plumbing work to install a system costs almost nothing more than the plumbing without a wastewater system, and it is only the link to the treatment and storage facilities and the procurement of these treatment and storage facilities which adds to the cost.
6. Safe from Future Regulation
With the increased demand for water owing to population growth, it is likely that reuse of water on a domestic level will become a regulatory requirement in future. It is mainly implemented at municipal level at present but this may change in future with households becoming responsible for reducing their water consumption.
High-income countries treat approximately 70% of the wastewater they generate compared to just 8% in low-income countries (Source: Sato et al, World Water Day Factsheet). This is, in part, owing to governmental targets which are self-imposed, but which may in future become expected by the international community. Developing nations in particular provide excellent opportunities to implement such systems owing to the lacking public infrastructure at present.
7. Benefit from Incentives
A number of governments and local authorities offer incentives for developers and households who implement safe wastewater recycling and reuse systems. The incentive systems are mainly targeted at industry at the moment, but we expect that incentives such as tax credits will be implemented for domestic consumers in the next years as the water resource becomes scarcer and as the cost of wastewater treatment systems reduces. GE are leading the charge to encourage government incentives for water reuse including possible selling back of excess water resource, direct subsidies and even limitation of the availability of potable water per head.
A couple of things that developers should bear in mind if implementing wastewater reuse or recycling systems.
- Storage Risks & Costs: When storing greywater and cleaned blackwater it needs to be filtered and to a minimum level of cleanliness to minimise health hazards and risks. This requires electricity to run filtration and other cleansing systems. To keep the carbon footprint sensible and to further reduce costs, renewable sources should be used for electricity provision.
- Smelly!!! No one wants to feel like they live in a sewage treatment facility. It hardly an appealing selling point. Take this into account when choosing the type and location of your treatment or reuse system using realistic projections of volume and capacity needs.
- Maintenance: By implementing a wastewater reuse or recycling system, you are obligating property owners to maintain it for the future. A decent maintenance system or supplier should be put in place to ensure it continues to be effective and efficient.
- Regulatory Requirements: Different countries and municipalities have different requirements for water storage, quality and so on. Developers must make sure that they check the requirements that they must meet before taking any steps to implement wastewater systems.
The theme for World Water Day 2017 is Wastewater, so why not start thinking about how you can reuse or treat water from your development projects to profit you, your customers and the environment.