Wastewater, the most impacted industries

Wastewater, the most impacted industries

Wastewater is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face today. Around 71% of the earth’s surface is water, of which 97% are oceans. This abundant resource is unusable without costly treatment leaving us with just 3% of freshwater. However, most freshwater is also not accessible, stored in glaciers, the atmosphere and polar ice caps. It is a dire situation, in need of urgent action.

The United Nations recognized this challenge back in 2015, resulting in wastewater treatment being identified as one of the eight targets identified by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6), for the provision of clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. So far, the progress has been slow, with 44% of domestic wastewater not being safely treated. Tracking the progress for industrial wastewater is much more difficult and it is currently impossible to know the full extent. The UNs Progress on Wastewater Treatment – 2021 Update stated, ‘The proportion of industrial wastewater flow treated was 30% and could only be calculated for 14 countries (representing 4% of the global population). There are insufficient data to produce global and regional estimates.’

What is Industrial Wastewater?

There are three types of wastewater: domestic, industrial and storm. Industrial wastewater is a
by-product from the manufacturing of commercial products, such as food & drink, clothing and
the production of things like toys, cars and mobile phones.
Existing legislation requires organizations to manage and remove any organic and inorganic
pollutants to water used in industrial production before discharging the water for re-usage. But
clearly, this isn’t enough, with more than 80% of global municipal and industrial effluent,
thought to be pumped into the environment without being adequately treated.
Regulations need to be enforced better, in both richer and poorer countries, to protect
ecosystems and provide a more sustainable way of living.

Which industries contribute most to Industrial Wastewater?

In  particular,  we’re  talking  about  industrial  laundries.  The  commercial  textiles  industry 
services 15 billion pounds of laundry per year including items like uniforms, bedding and towels,  
generating  substantial  amounts  of  wastewater  that  must  be  treated.  The  textiles industry 
also uses different dyeing processes, producing an estimated 20% of the world’s wastewater.

Chemical Manufacturers
Unsurprisingly, chemicals used to produce petroleum, pharmaceuticals and plastics among others  
release  large  amounts  of  dangerous  pollutants  that  need  wastewater  treatment before being 
discharged into regular biological treatment plants and any water bodies after this.

Metal Manufacturing & Production
The water used for the production and galvanizing of steel, as well as iron, produces toxic 
contaminates that need treatment. A lot of wastewater is also produced by metal finishers that 
produce a sludge of metals that are dissolved in liquid.

Left-over finely ground rock and water from the mining process, known as mining tailings, is a 
costly and environmentally harmful challenge for mining companies. Many organizations create   
tailing   ponds   to   avoid   the   costs   of   wastewater   treatment,   disposal   and 

Oil & Gas Fracking
Hazardous  wastewater  from  shale  gas  drilling,  fracking  and  industrial  chemicals  injected 
into the well to facilitate drilling contain high concentrations of harmful substances. These 
companies must dispose of significant quantities of water, safely.

Power Plants
Most fossil-fuel power stations produce huge amounts of industrial wastewater that contain 
significant  levels  of  metals  such  as  lead,  mercury,  cadmium  and  chromium,  as  well  as 
arsenic, selenium, and nitrogen compounds. Plants that have air pollution controls also tend to 
feed any captured pollutants into the wastewater stream.

Food Processing & Agriculture
Food  processing  and  agriculture  wastewater  have  high  concentrations  of  pesticides, 
insecticides,  animal  waste,  and  fertilizers  that  all  need  safe  management  and  treatment 
before re-usage can be allowed.

Water/Wastewater Treatment Plants
Of course, a by-product of water treatment plants is producing wastewater itself that needs
treating, making these another big contributor to industrial wastewater overall.




Major water pollutants

Dye manufacturing

Copper. colour, salt, sulfides, formaldehydes

Paint manufacturing

Chromium, zinc, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs)


Iron, chromiums, chlorinated compounds, nitrobenzene, alkanes, chloro alkanes, high salt, etc.


Cadmium, nickel, phenolic compounds


Petroleum hydrocarbons, phenolic compounds, nitrobenzene, alkanes, high salt, etc.

Paper and pulp

Organic and chloropenolic compounds, suspended solids, AOX, lignin, tannins, sterols, colours, biocides, etc.

Metal working

Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), ammonium nitrogen, cyanide, phenol, oil and grease


Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), lead, mercury, cadmium, diethylhexyl phthalate


Fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides


Jebin Ahmed, Abhijeet Thakur and Arun Goyal, CHAPTER 1:Industrial Wastewater and Its Toxic Effects, in Biological Treatment of Industrial Wastewater, 2021 https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/chapterhtml/2021/bk9781839162794-00001?isbn=978-1-83916-279-4&sercode=bk


Which industries are most impacted by Wastewater?

The following industries are the biggest consumers of water in their day-to-day operations and
are therefore most impacted by the challenges posed by wastewater.

70% of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture. A large portion of this water is wasted
due to inefficient irrigation processes. This is followed by the farming of grains, fruits,
vegetables and nuts. According to a UNESCO study, shelled almonds and walnuts were named
among the top three most water-intensive foods. Alongside this, almost a third of the water
footprint for agriculture is used for meat production. With a growing worldwide population,
the demand for more food is only increasing and so is its reliance on access to freshwater.

Energy production is another large consumer of freshwater globally. Large amounts of water
are used for the cooling processes of equipment. By 2035, the world’s energy consumption is
expected to increase by 35%, which consequently will increase water requirements by 15%
according to the International Energy Agency. Ultimately, this will impact anyone that needs
electricity, from turning on a light to using a microwave or charging their phone.

All products require water during the production process. A new car for instance consumes
around 148,000 liters to produce. Other manufactured items that consume large amounts of
water include boilers, air conditioning units, washing machines and surface treatments such
as paints. These are domestic products that we all depend on daily.

The apparel industry is one of the most water-intensive industries in the world. A single pair
of jeans requires nearly 7,600 liters of water which is primarily used for the fabric dyeing
process and “wet processing”. 79 billion cubic meters of fresh water is used annually by the
fashion industry mainly due to cotton’s high-water demand.

Alongside the liquids needed for the drink itself, ingredients like barley, sugar, fruit and coffee
also depend on large quantities of water for agricultural use. When you also consider the
bottling process and packaging, it takes 350 liters of water to produce one liter of soda, and
155 liters of fresh water for one pint of beer.

How can we improve industrial wastewater and reduce water

Water shortages will be a major global problem by 2025, increasing the need for rapid and
scalable wastewater treatment. An EPA survey stated a $271 billion investment is required to
improve the wastewater infrastructure over the next 5 years in the United States alone.

So, what can your organization do to help?

  1. Support a circular economy by recovering valuable resources discharged from sludge and
    reusing wastewater as opposed to extracting water from the source.
  2. Innovative technologies can be implemented to identify where water usage can be
    optimised, improve efficiency, and make it easier to manage, for example, sensors and AI.
  3. Build a conscious supply chain by choosing suppliers and partners that use sustainable
    processes and practices. Organizations can also utilize supply chain risk management
    systems to create accountability and transparency.

Stay on top of your wastewater management with CleanChain’s Wastewater module. Learn more
at www.cleanchain.com or contact us on cleanchain.team@adec-innovations.com.

Blog Author

Deana Jardim