Whenever the subject of water and the environment are discussed “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is brought to mind:
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
For even back in 1798 when that poem was published mankind understood the true value of fresh water. The critical facts about the world’s water supply have barely changed since that period. Although water covers 71% of the Earth's surface; of this, 97.5% is the salty water of the oceans. This means that only 2.5% is fresh water. Most of this is locked up in the Antarctic ice sheet. The remaining freshwater is found in glaciers, lakes, rivers, wetlands, the soil, aquifers and atmosphere. Due to the water cycle, fresh water supply is continually replenished by precipitation. However, there is still a limited amount available and that necessitates management of this resource.
Awareness of the global importance of preserving water for the eco-system has only recently emerged. This is because during the 20th century more than half the world’s wetlands have been lost and their valuable environmental impact severely diminished. Increasing urbanization has caused pollution of clean water supplies. There are considerable areas of the world that still does not have access to clean, safe water.
Greater emphasis must now be placed on the improved management of fresh water supplies. There have been recent climate changes within Europe that has demonstrated the need for such management practices to be adopted in countries that have not experienced such shortages before. Restrictions have been imposed such as a ban on the use of hose-pipes only to be followed by severe storms; flooding and contamination of the water supply and the beaches. When periods of drought occur agricultural activities will draw water from rivers and aquifers putting greater stresses on a limited resource. Human migration and world population increase also has the effect of placing stress on the availability of high quality water.
This change in the climatic conditions requires the water suppliers and the authorities to install flood protection measures. Also, capital expenditure will be needed to construct desalinisation plants where necessary. While such plants are to be expected in the Middle East where rainfall is minimal; even in countries such as the UK water companies have to construct them as can be seen in the photograph of the Beckton plant in East London. This is part of the need for sustainability of a vital resource.
As with any commodity such swings in availability and capital expenditure will have a dramatic effect on unit cost. Desalinisation incurs a substantial use of energy. Suddenly the cost of an everyday commodity will become a significant factor in the price of print. Alternatively, consider what Benjamin Franklin said in the 18th century: “When the well's dry, we know the worth of water.”
What action should the printer take?
Probably the most important fact to note is that the loss of water supply would affect all printers small or large. It may lead to lack of drinking water, toilet facilities, cooling systems on equipment, washing of equipment such as screens. While it may not be possible for all screen and digital printers to save enough water to avoid restrictions in supply at times of shortages there are actions that they can take that would help and possibly more importantly reduce their costs.
There are a number of practical suggestions relating to the reduction of water consumption contained within the FESPA Planet Friendly Guide. For those who have not used the Guide; which is available free of charge for members of FESPA Associations, the range of topics covered include: avoidance of silver entering the sewage system; volume reduction in sanitary systems, screen preparation and reclamation; means of using “grey water;” reduction in sewage treatment charges and for larger printers methods for recycling water. All the methods described have been verified by the European Commission’s Research Centre in Seville.
Sustainability is about stopping the wastage or misuse of a vital commodity that is necessary for the furtherance of mankind. It was even understood as early as the 4th century BC by Heraclitus of Ephesus who said: “You could not step twice into the same rivers; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”