Toward Better Industrial Water Management

By Dr. Anthony Ma 17 August, 2017

What can factories in China do to reduce water exposure? Hong Kong Productivity Council's Dr Ma expands

Better water usage can save factories 12mn m3 of water (4,800 Olympic swimming pools)
Factories can lose up to RMB2.2mn/yr due to unidentified water loss but a lack of knowledge hinders upgrades
Factories should continually review & improve their water management to stay competitive & reduce water exposure
Dr. Anthony Ma
Author: Dr. Anthony Ma
Anthony Ma, Principal Consultant of the Hong Kong Productivity Council. He has rich experience in water pollution control, water purification, water reclamation and water efficiency consultancy. Specialized in applied researches of different treatment technologies, like selective ion exchange, membrane filtration, chemical oxidation, anaerobic process, compact biological processes and membrane bioreactor to develop innovative solutions and systems.
Read more from Dr. Anthony Ma →

In 2014, the HSBC Water Programme for Industrial Water Management commenced, led by the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC). We have previously sat down with their HKPC’s Anthony Ma to find out about the programme’s aims and actions. Three years on, the programme is now completed – how successful has it been? What are the key takeaways? 

China Water Risk (CWR): Congratulations on the completion of the HKPC led HSBC Water Programme for Industrial Water Management! Can you give us a short overview of the programme and participating factories?

Dr. Anthony Ma (AM)A total of 36 factories from the three target industries, i.e. textile and leather, electronics and metal finishing, in Mainland China have participated in this Programme. Practical ways to manage the water resources in these factories were identified through the general water management assessment conducted for these participating factories. In-depth technical assistance for 6 selected participating factories is another feature of this Programme.

CWR: What would you say are the three biggest successes from the project?

AM: The potential saving of fresh water from production, auxiliary production, other water consumption in production and dormitory was estimated for each factory in this Programme.

4,800 olympic-sized swimming pools of water can be saved if factories rectify deficiencies in water usage

The total water consumption of these 36 assessed factories is 18 million m3 per annum. It is estimated that 67% of the total water consumption, i.e. about 12 million m3 per annum (equivalent to about 4,800 Olympic-sized swimming pool) can be saved if these assessed factories can rectify these deficiencies in their water usage.


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Regarding industrial water pollution, improvement measures in wastewater treatment have been proposed to these participating factories which are discharging approximately 13 million m3 industrial wastewater per annum. If the recommendations can be fully implemented by these factories, it will contribute greatly to reducing the water pollution and safeguarding the water supply for the 57 million people in the Pearl River Delta Region.

Apart from the technical assistance to 36 factories, best practice manuals aiming to share the findings and experience gained from the Programme were published so as to help industries to achieve better water management. These can be found in the full report.


CWR: And what about the three biggest surprises from the project?

AM: Through the Programme, we determined several common deficiencies in three aspects, namely water usage, water pollution and water recycling. I would name one common deficiency from each aspect.

Factories can lose RMB2.2mn/yr due to water loss…

…2/3 of factories did not segregate their wastewater streams

For example, the unidentified water loss in the 36 assessed factories can cost a loss up to RMB 2.2 million per annum.

Further, only 1/3 of the assessed factories segregated their wastewater streams properly but the rest did not. Combined treatment of all wastewater streams with very different characteristics would result in poor treatment performance and efficiency.


About 1/3 of the assessed factories had not yet practised water recycling

At last, about 1/3 of the assessed factories had not yet practised water recycling. In Mainland China, most factories of these water-consuming industries would normally be required to achieve at least 60% water recycling. 60% water recycling will be equivalent to about 11 million m3 water saving per annum and will in turn reduce the wastewater discharge into the environment by the same amount from the 36 assessed factories.

CWR:  Diving now into the factories themselves, what were they mostly concerned about regarding water? Was it the same across all three industries?

The top two concerns of the factories were “high treatment & disposal cost of wastewater” & “excessive water use in production”

AM: As revealed from this Programme, across all three industries, the top two concerns of the factories were “high treatment and disposal cost of wastewater” and “excessive water use in production”.

Therefore, we are not surprised to know that the most popular need of the factories was “water saving in production” and “upgrading of existing wastewater treatment and/or recycling facilities”, as revealed from the Programme.

CWR: As part of the project, factory’s water management and consumption was assessed. Were they largely on track? How did they compare to China’s clean production benchmarks?

AM: Only minor portion of factories can fulfill Level 1 of Cleaner Production Standards in the Mainland, i.e. achieving international advanced level of cleaner production. Another minor portion of factories were able to fulfill Level 2 of Cleaner Production Standards, achieving national advanced level cleaner production. The factories still had lots of room to improve their water consumption.

CWR: Were the factories open to making changes/upgrades? Was cost a hindrance at all?

AM: All of them were open to making certain changes or upgrades. Cost was not the only factor hindering the implementation. Some factory owners had limited knowledge on identifying the suitable improvement measures.

Cost was not the only factor hindering implementation… some factory owners were held back by limited knowledge

For example, we conducted an evaluation on a plant upgrade proposal for a textile bleaching and dyeing factory through the in-depth technical assistance of this Programme. We found that the proposed upgrade solution in fact did not match with the future increase in the pollutant loading. We provided some recommendations to the factory, including reviewing the design basis. Recently, the factory owner told us that the design of the upgrade had been modified based on our recommendations.

CWR: All three of the target industries, textiles & leather, electronics and metals finishing are polluting. Given this, what were you overall takeaways around water pollution and wastewater management at these factories? Was this an area that needed improvement? 

AM: It is one of reasons to target these three industries in the Programme. We recommend the factories to start their wastewater management by checking whether they have the common deficiencies we had identified from this Programme.

These include improper wastewater segregation, poor planning and design of wastewater treatment facilities, improper plant operation, no optimization of treatment plant operation resulting in high operational costs, and treatment facilities managed by unqualified third party operators. It is just a start. Continuous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is the core element of an industrial water management.

CWR: Focusing on textiles and leather now. What were the common water issues among these factories? Can you be specific between textile and leather factories. 

AM: Among three target industries, textile and leather industry has the highest average daily water consumption. Around 2,600 m3 of fresh water was consumed daily for each factory in the 13 assessed factories of that industry. Therefore, any unidentified water loss can result in significant “expense”. According to the water management assessment results of the 13 assessed factories, at least 3.0% of these factories’ water consumption can be cut, equivalent to about 250,000 m3 water saving per annum (about 100 Olympic-sized swimming pool), if the unidentified water loss can be rectified.

The textile & leather industry has the highest average daily water consumption yet overlooks water recycling potential

In addition, about half of the assessed textile and leather factories overlooked water recycling potential. There are in fact a lot of areas in a factory where wastewater or properly treated effluent can be used to replace fresh water. For instance, some good quality wastewater generated from a production process, i.e. the final rinse of a production line, can be reused in some non-critical areas, like general washing and toilet flushing.


CWR: Can you share some recommendations and/or actions were taken to improve water management at these factories? 

AM: Due to large fresh water consumption, improvement of water usage is essential to textile and leather industry. For example, some textile factories may ignore the water consumption of their auxiliary systems, like boilers, which could account for approximately 3-12% of their fresh water consumption. Further, since fresh water consumption is relatively large, rectifying unidentified water loss and exploration of water recycling potential would result in significant saving of fresh water consumption.

CWR: What advice would you give textiles and leather factories operating in China now that are looking to reduce their water exposure?

“…This is an important way to maintain sustainable and competitive…”

AM: In order to reduce the water exposure, factories should continually review and improve their water management with respect to the water consumption, the wastewater treatment performance and the water recycling. This can not only ensure compliance with the increasingly stringent environmental regulations but also identify opportunities of reducing the operation costs. This is an important way to maintain sustainable and competitive.

Further Reading

  • 85 Voices: Insights From Chinese Textile Manufacturers – Hear from China’s textile manufacturers on their challenges and what help they need to transition to a clean and circular model. This is an opportunity for the global fashion industry. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor shares key takeaways from our new survey report
  • The Status Of Fashion’s Redesign – Fashion, an industry not often associated with climate change & technological innovation has been redesigning itself to change just that. With growing global focus on the environment China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor takes a look at the status of this redesign
  • Circular Economy: From Theory To Action – As we move outside the ‘safe operating space of our planetary boundaries’, Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Nick Jeffries explores what is a circular economy & implications for water
  • Fashion’s New Cycle – With 12,000 garments entering landfills every hour, the USD3 trillion fashion industry is ripe for a disruptive overhaul. FINCH Designs’s co-founder Heather Kaye shares how this Chinese brand is doing this through their swimwear made from recycled PET
  • A Decade Of Dedication – As Redress turns 10 years old, its founder Dr Christina Dean reflects on the victories achieved in driving circular thinking in fashion including the EcoChic Design Award and TV show Frontline Fashion. Plus, check out their initiatives going forward
  • Industrial Water: Meeting New Standards – Dr. Anthony Ma from Hong Kong Productivity Council introduces HSBC’s new programme to help industries meet water standards and calls for government support to the factories to install pollution control and efficiency improvement facilities that cost millions of RMB
  • Pollution: It Doesn’t Pay to be Naughty – State Council wants to use the enforcement of law & regulation “to force the economy to transform and upgrade”. See how violation cost surges with daily fines, new standards & discharge permit trading in a bid to push China to go clean
  • Integrated Wastewater Treatment In PRD – Guangdong needs RMB39.8bn for wastewater treatment in the 13FYP. Hear from CT Environmental Group’s Liang Xiangjing & Zeng Sasha on how a key wastewater plant can help pollution control in the region as well as benefit its various stakeholders
  • Water Stewardship In Industrial Parks: TEDA Pilot – Industrial parks generate 22.5% of China’s GDP but can this last given water security and pollution concerns? An Chen, from the TEDA Eco Center & Zhenzhen Xu from the Alliance for Water Stewardship show how the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area leads in mitigating these risks