I opened the Morning Newspaper and on Page 3 read the news that Neha Malini, a famous Bollywood actor – had publicly announced that she would no longer endorse Zero Water Purifier . In an exclusive interview Neha said that she felt endorsing water purifiers for homes is not correct – safe drinking water should be supplied by the municipal corporations in the first place and there should be no need to treat water further at home. She thought that the life cycle impact of a water purifier was worrisome. The newspaper reporter ended the column saying that by turning down the offer from Zero Water Purifiers, Neha sacrificed INR 5 million per year in revenues just based on this principle! And I was impressed.
Wondering what led to this transformation, I called my Professor friend on his mobile phone. He sounded busy but after some pleasantries, when I asked him about Neha Malini’s stand, he said “Oh, this was expected. It’s all due to the session I did last week with Bollywood actors – it was a discourse on products they should NOT endorse as brand ambassadors. And I gave the example of water purifiers and a dose on Life Cycle Assessment. Neha was present during the session. Even Shah Mukh, who was around, is now convinced and will stop campaigning for Safe Water Purifier LLP that he has been supporting for years. See the next Sunday edition of the newspaper for his interview expressing his views”. This was simply stunning.
I met the Professor at our usual café. We ordered coffee with slices of fresh almond cakes. Dipping a slice in my coffee, I asked “Why are you so against home water purifiers Professor?”
Most of the water purifiers in the market today offer 3-stage or 4-stage or even 5-stage water treatment that consist of a filter, activated carbon, membranes for reverse osmosis (RO) and ultraviolet (UV) radiation chamber. The average capacity of the water purifier is 7 to 9 litres and the purifier typically weighs around 10 to 15 Kg. In most purifiers today Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is used. Nearly 50% of the weight of the purifier consists of ABS. The RO membranes and activated carbon are required to be replaced once in a year. Assuming you use the water purifier for 4 to 5 years, you will have these replacements done at least 3 times and in this process, waste-activated carbon and exhausted RO membranes get rejected as wastes. At the end of 4 to 5 years, the entire assembly of water purifier needs to be disposed. All these waste streams and components reach the city landfill as these wastes/materials are NOT collected as part of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) by the manufacturer of the water purifier. There are other issues as well. While the ABS is strong and lightweight material, it is almost impossible to recycle ABS and further it does not biodegrade. Most purifiers are generally not designed for disassembly, take backs and recycling”
Now look at the energy consumption perspective. Operation of the UV chamber in the water purifier requires electrical consumption of close to 10 W. So assuming half a million water purifiers are operating at homes and offices in Greater Mumbai for 1 hour a day, a capacity of 15 MW of power generation is needed at the City’s Thermal Power Plant! This would also mean increased GHG emissions.
This life cycle perspective of water purifiers was new to me. The Professor continued his argument
Don’t you think that it’s important that the municipal corporation understands this implication of water purifiers and makes every effort to provide safe drinking water from our taps? In the United States for instance, the Consumer Confidence Rule requires public water suppliers that serve the same people year round (community water systems) to provide consumer confidence reports (CCR) to their customers. The CCR summarizes information regarding sources used (i.e., rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or aquifers) any detected
contaminants, compliance and educational information. The reports are due to the customers by July 1st of each year. CCRs are available on the web for those interested.
If we have such a system mandated in India, I don’t know how many municipal corporations will have the courage to issue such certificates. In the US and EU, since most of the water supplies are operated by private organizations, CCRs can be imposed. For the water purifier makers, the market lies in the developing world, where there is poor or no assurance on the quality of water supply.”
I knew that the water purifier industry in India was booming. This industry is expected to grow at the rate of 24% over the next 4 years touching a market of INR 60,000 million! More the cases on the supply of foul water or outbreak of water borne diseases, better is the market for this industry.
The Professor had to rush. While settling the bill he said in a hush hush voice “The other day I was at the city water treatment plant and the supervisor said that the supplies of alum and chlorine to the plant were getting erratic. This was a concern for him. However, in a lighter vein, he said that in any case everyone has a water purifier at home, so a little downgrading of water quality occasionally should not really matter”
A wild thought then came to my mind – can we not do away with the central water treatment systems in Indian cities? If the confidence in the water quality of our supplies is anyway low then all of us could continue to use the Zero and Safe Water purifiers. This will not unnecessarily “duplicate” the efforts and save huge amounts of materials (alum, lime, chlorine) and energy.
I thought that Neha Malini and Shah Mukh should then reconsider and take up once again the endorsements of water purifiers! And the Professor should perhaps conduct another session with Bollywood but now with the new perspective. But what about the life cycle costs of the water purifiers? Unless the purifier makers become more responsible in the design or practice take-back, it may not be a good idea to promote water purifiers at home.
Cover image sourced from www.nbcwashington.com
Interesting read on CCR – http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/ccr/index.cfm
Students – You may like to conduct a Life Cycle Analyses of a Home Water Purifier