Urgent collective action needed to reduce soil and water pollution and maximise the value of bioresources
Business in the Community (BITC), The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, has today published a report highlighting the need for businesses, especially those that produce, use, or sell chemicals, textiles, tyres, and washing machines, to work together to reduce chemical and plastic pollution of wastewater. This is vital to enable the full use of natural fertilisers in the current cost-of-living crisis, with synthetic fertiliser prices pushing up the price of food, while also reducing water pollution and cutting carbon emissions.
The report, Optimising Bioresources: Reducing Water Pollution, was developed through a number of roundtables, which brought businesses together to investigate a shared problem related to the risk of contamination of soils and water as a result of contamination of wastewater with chemicals and microparticles, and to find a way to address it.
The cause for concern, that led to BITC bringing businesses together to discuss this, is that microplastics and chemicals from household products and other sources, and microparticles, including those from tyres and braking systems, end up in wastewater. Research shows that on average, a British household releases 146 million microplastics, or 1.46kg of microplastics, into wastewater per year through using the washing machine alone. Some contaminants cannot easily be removed, and some cannot be removed at all, which means they end up in soil and water. This may prompt a transition away from using natural fertilisers and lead to their incineration, which has happened in Switzerland. Incineration increases carbon emissions and reduces the use of natural fertiliser.
Incineration also has an impact on consumers, especially harmful during the cost-of-living crisis. The loss of natural fertilisers can lead to an increase in food prices, because of high synthetic fertiliser prices. The price of phosphate rock on the global market rose from $120 per tonne in 2015 to $266 per tonne in 2022. The price of synthetic fertiliser in the UK rose from £281 per tonne in 2021 to £785 per tonne in 2022. In addition, a shift towards incineration would add to water customer costs, as it is estimated by the Biosolids Assurance Scheme to be at least double the cost of conventional wastewater treatment.
The report sets out a series of principles for businesses including a hierarchy of actions – beginning with the best solution but recognising that these may not always be possible – to safeguard the environment and keep costs down. It asks businesses to limit the flow of harmful substances into sewage systems.
Maya DeSouza, Circular Economy Director at Business in the Community said:
“Businesses may not realise that when they make, supply, or buy a whole range of products like chemicals, workwear, tyres, and washing machines, they are making choices that may mean that valuable bioresources have to be treated as waste. Minimising contamination enables a circular approach with full utilisation of organic fertilisers from wastewater. It reduces dependency on expensive synthetic fertilisers, while also safeguarding our soils and water from pollution.
“We are pleased to have brought businesses from different sectors together to explore this problem and consider what they can do. Our report sets out a hierarchy of actions beginning with preventative action including some simple solutions like installing filters in washing machines. We urge all businesses to understand the role they play in reducing pollution in our water and soil and take these recommendations on board.”
Notes to editor
- See BITC’s Optimising Bioresources: Reducing Water Pollution report here
- These figures were provided by a BITC member in the laundry industry
- Price for phosphate rock from 2015 to 2022 with a forecast for 2023 and 2024, published by the Statista Research Department
- Fertiliser Prices – we call for more transparency, published by the National Farmers Union
- Optimising Bioresources: Reducing Water Pollution report, p.10
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