by Rhett Butler, Chairman of the Skyjuice Foundation, and Chairman of the NCEDA Research Advisory Committee
This important global initiative is the first step to change practices and attitudes within the global water industry regarding water utilities management, specifically waste membrane modules.
A newly formed Coalition for Sustainable Membrane Development (CSMD) was formed by a group of forward thinking organisations to pro-actively develop and market/social mechanisms to turn “waste” into a resource that can, as an example, benefit developing communities and reduce the environmental footprint of the world’s membrane industry. Their focus is to coordinate applied research programmes to alleviate the disposal of used membranes generated by the world’s desalination, water recycling and drinking water treatment plants.
Delegates at the conference were advised by the prominent Australian environmental leader, Mr Ian Kiernan AO, of Clean up Australia, that the global water industry ignores the potential environmental backlash caused by huge stockpiles of used membranes, at its peril.
“It is no co-incidence that Singapore and PUB has shown industry leadership in convening an open forum workshop on this very issue. The explosion in membrane based water technologies for water and waste processes is no more evident than here in Singapore. Singapore has successfully harnessed these advanced water separation technologies resulting in enormous strategic benefit to the nation”.
“The accumulation of used or spent membranes of all types, typically more than 10,000 tonnes globally per annum, are sent to landfill and it is now a waste issue in all countries. The sooner the international industry identifies the disposal issue as an opportunity the better,” said Kiernan.
Kiernan founded and chairs Clean up Australia and Clean the World. “I cannot apprehend why this valuable resource is not already being recovered. This waste is a dormant resource awaiting transformation”.
It is an ethical obligation. ”The good news is that proactive and collaborative efforts to tackle this waste issue is an encouraging sign and shows that the water industry has a strong desire to self-manage and move ahead of regulation . Initiatives are already in place but more still needs to be done in the applied research to fully utilise, re-use and recycle these valuable resources”.
Mr Kiernan pointed to examples where this is already underway e.g. the research project currently funded at UNSW and the efforts of the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination, Australia (NCEDA) as forward thinking research initiatives that are required to address the problem.
The potential of used membranes to transform health outcomes in developing communities was highlighted in an inspirational presentation by Mr David Maina from Pureflow Kenya. He stated that the ‘Membranes without Borders’ collaboration using regenerated membranes will result in real and tangible outcomes. His organisation has successfully implemented community based water kiosks in developing countries.
Maina said “the potential availability of recovered and recycled membranes from water plants in developed countries can be readily applied to simple gravity potable water installations in Africa with incredible impact”.
Membrane based technologies provide a superior quality safe water at Maina’s “Maji Safi” kiosks. The transition of these membranes is already being trialled via a managed pool into low cost water plants throughout Kenya and wider Africa.
Maina went on to say “ I see nothing but upside and winners if we can encourage the wider acceptance and uptake by major water industry operators.”
Each recovered ultrafiltration membrane that is typically sent to landfill can be utilised in a small community water kiosk to provide safe water for 500- 1000 people per day. Maina says “this is real social action, the results are immediate and the goodwill is genuinely two ways”