Reuse Water within a Business

Compiled by:
Molly Danielsson (MDML, cewas – international centre for water management services), Dorothee Spuhler (seecon international gmbh)

Executive Summary

Water re-use options for industry include water cooling towers, reusing process water for washing, industrial fire protection, production line needs, and pH adjustment. Process water can be reused for more purposes if decentralised treatment systems are installed to treat the water to the level required for reuse. This factsheet will discuss both reuse opportunities and treatment options for further reuse.

In Out

Precipitation, Freshwater, Drinking Water, Blackwater,Greywater, Fertigation Water, Treated Water

Blackwater, Greywater, Fertigation Water, Treated Water, Energy


After agriculture, industry is the largest user of water for development, consuming 5-10% of global water withdrawals (UNESCO 2009). The largest industrial consumers of water are thermal power, iron and steel, paper production, textiles, and petrochemical (GAO et al. 2008).

Reusing water within businesses allows firms to reduce their wastewater discharge to water bodies, reducing the negative impact on surrounding communities and environment. Water reuse can potentially reduce costs in areas where the price of acquiring freshwater is high or water supplies are unreliable. Water can potentially be reused many times, making reuse one of the most significant ways to reduce water consumption. Reducing water consumption also increases the industrial productivity of the product in terms of water used per value of industrial output (GROBICKI 2008).

The cost of adding new pumps, plumbing and treating water for reuse should be compared to the costs of freshwater acquisition (GROBICKI 2008), see also water pricing or water purification. The most common ways to reuse water are for heating and cooling purposes. Reusing process water for internal processes and site irrigation are other options.

Options for Reusing Water in Industries

Cooling towers are one of the most common water technologies in use by industry nowadays. For instance, up to 90% of intake water is used as cooling water in electric power plants or oil refineries. Water is also used in various industries for the generation of steam for manufacturing processes. Cooling water and water from heating is easy to treat, therefore it is easy to reuse. Moreover, rainwater or process water can be used to supplement freshwater for cooling towers and steam generators or boilers. If cooling water cannot be re-circulated, this water can be reused in other processes such as cleaning.

A lot of water is also used in washing processes to remove residues or contaminants from products or manufacturing equipment. Recycling of washing water is also very common but an appropriate treatment system for such a process must be established (see also wastewater treatment).

Process water can be reused for more purposes if decentralised treatment systems are installed to treat the water to the level required for reuse. For process water reuse, internal processes should be re-examined to match water quality to use requirements. Often the water used in industry is high quality, but not all processes require high quality water.

Opportunities for Reusing Process Water

  • Transportation of materials
  • Air purifiers
  • Washing floors
  • Sanitary fixtures (toilet flushing, etc.)
  • Irrigation
  • Running polishing and calibrating equipment
  • Process rinse water
  • Crate and pallet washing
  • Hardstand and vehicle washing
  • Industrial fire protection
  • pH adjustment
  • Dust suppression
  • Dying and finishing textiles

Possible treatment options for water reuse include: waste stabilisation ponds, aerated ponds, trickling filters, vertical flow constructed wetlands, hybrid constructed wetlands, free surface constructed wetlands and horizontal flow constructed wetlands.

Treatment options where biogas can be produced using anaerobic digestion: UASB reactors, biogas settlers or large scale anaerobic digesters.

Advanced (more high-tech options): activated sludge, MBRs, advanced oxidation processes, ozonation, activated carbon.


Water reuse can be incorporated into almost any type of industry.


  • Reusing water reduces operating costs and the impact the industries’ productive activities has on the surrounding environment and communities
  • User behaviour changes are free of charge and can potentially be the most cost effective way to reduce water use within a business


  • Increased energy consumption might happen from replacing evaporative wet cooling systems with an air-cooled system
  • There might be a possible increase in wastewater contaminant concentrations if water usage is reduced
  • Increased maintenance requirements and equipment costs may occur depending on the project
  • Water quality may drop below a critical level if treatment is not adequate posing a risk of damage to technical installations, equipment and products

References Library

GAO, L.; ZONGGUO, W.; BIN, D.; CHAO, Z.; JINING, C. (2008): An analysis of industrial water conservation potential and selection of key technologies based on the IWCPA model. In: Resources, Conservation & Recycling 52, 1141-1152.

GROBICKI, A. (n.y.): The Future of Water Use in Industry. Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health. Geneva: World Health Organization. URL [Accessed: 19.10.2012].

UNESCO (Editor) (2009): Chapter 7: Evolution of Water Use. Water in a Changing World. (= The United Nations World Water Development Report 3). UNESCO and Earthscan. URL [Accessed: 19.11.2012].

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

MCYINTRE, J.P. (2006): Industrial Water Reuse and Wastewater Minimization. Trevose: GeWater. URL [Accessed: 23.07.2010].

This document explains how to reuse water and wastewater in Industry.

Case Studies Library

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SHAIKH, M. A. (2009): Water conservation in textile industry. Karachi: SFDAC. URL [Accessed: 09.08.2010].

This document explains how you can save water in textile industry. It contains good strategies how to conserve water in different process steps.

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UNEP (Editor) (2007): Water Utilisation in African Beverage Industries: Current Practices and Prospects. Nairobi: UNEP, Division of Technology, Industry & Economics. URL [Accessed: 09.08.2010].

This document explains how you can save water in beverage industry. It contains good strategies how to conserve water in different process steps.

Awareness Raising Material Library

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SASI GROUP (Editor) (2006): Industrial Water Use. Sheffield: SASI Group. URL [Accessed: 09.08.2010].

This document illustrates the water use in industry around the world.

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UNEP (Editor) (2002): Freshwater use by sector at the beginning of the 2000s. The Hague: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), GRID-Arendal. URL [Accessed: 29.07.2010].