Blog 22 Mar 2022 

Cleaning up with wastewater management solutions

We’re in the midst of a global water pollution crisis, which threatens biodiversity, contaminates the food chain and causes disease and mortality.

Robert Mitchell

Robert Mitchell

Senior Research Scientist - Nanomaterials

Only 1% of the planet’s freshwater sources are easily accessible and by 2025, over half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2017 435 million people were taking water from unprotected wells and springs and 144 million people were collecting untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. 

Agriculture is one of the worst culprits for water pollution, with fertilisers, pesticides, and animal waste from farms and livestock operations ending up in our waterways. Agriculture is also the biggest consumer of freshwater, using 70% of global resources. 

However, damage to our waterways and ecosystems is not limited to one industry. Textile production is estimated to be responsible for around 20% of the world’s clean water pollution from dyes and finishing products. The washing of synthetic materials releases approximately 0.5 million tons of microfibres into the ocean each year as well. In fact, the fashion industry is a huge contributor to waste in general, producing over 92 million tonnes of waste per year. It’s clear that there is a monumental problem to solve. 

But what can be done?

It is crucial that there is cross-industry collaboration to develop sustainable wastewater management solutions that allow the recycling and reuse of precious freshwater, and to develop new technologies for treating and decontaminating polluted water resources. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, includes Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. However, The National Farmers’ Union has previously warned that investment in key technology to help reduce pollution is inaccessible to many.” 

An aerial photo showing a tractor driving across a field of crops

So, are the resources available?

We’re hopeful. Just this month, the Government announced a £39.8 billion R&D budget for 2022 – 2025 to help stimulate innovation to tackle major challenges faced by the UK and the world and drive capability in key technologies. 

At CPI, we’re playing our part in developing sustainable and cost-effective wastewater management solutions that will have far-reaching impacts. 

This is why, in 2021, we announced our participation in Waste2Fresh, a multinational project to improve the sustainability of textile manufacturing. The project aims to deliver a smart, innovative system to recycle wastewater from textile manufacturing processes that could help solve major global industrial and environmental challenges. 

In this multinational consortium of 17 industrial and academic partners, we play a key role in bringing together the technology providers and textile manufacturing companies across Europe while also providing expertise in process engineering (from plant design to installation and operation) and scale-up of water treatment catalysts. 

CPI Enterprises, the investor engagement and ventures arm of CPI, has also made its first investment into Qualus, a cleantech start-up helping tanneries around the world reduce the environmental impact of their leather production. 

Qualus’ patented Sfere technology cuts the use of water by up to 40% and chemicals by up to 15% in leather tanning and re-tanning, all without affecting the quality of the leather produced. This technology lowers the environmental footprint of leather production, while reducing costs and maintaining leather quality. 

Tanneries face market and regulatory pressure to reduce pollution. The Qualus Sfere Management System works with the standard equipment used in most tanneries, which means it can be easily implemented. When adopted, it will help the global leather industry to overcome challenges relating to cost and product quality, whilst reducing the large volumes of effluent for treatment. 

A photo showing rolled up leather, of different colours - blue, brown and black, on a shelf

The problem of wastewater is bigger than the textile industry, but it's a good start

At CPI, we support innovative projects and businesses by leveraging our world-class expertise and assets to help deliver cleantech products that transform the way industries work. We help businesses to scale-up more quickly and efficiently, which accelerates the rate at which these products get to market. 

By partnering with academia, government, investors and businesses, we support them to explore how their innovations can work outside of their current marketplace and be applied in other industries. For example, the technology for textile wastewater remediation developed as part of Waste2Fresh can also be applied to wastewater from plastics processing, which is another area where we’re trying to improve sustainability through the development of biopolymers. Taken further, the potential of this technology is far-reaching, and in the future, could even be applied in agriculture.

As more regulation is introduced to help achieve ambitious climate targets, there will be many more opportunities to create lasting impact for a sustainable world. Ultimately, at CPI, we exist to act as a conduit for knowledge and translate learnings across industries. 

If you’d like to find out more about how we’re supporting wastewater management technologies, reach out to me below. 

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Robert Mitchell

Robert Mitchell

Senior Research Scientist - Nanomaterials


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