Paul Pickford

Paul Pickford is director of innovation, product and marketing at Aqualisa. With a masters in engineering, Pickford’s award-winning designs include the development of Aqualisa’s digital shower. He has more than 30 years’ experience of product design at major brands, as well as expertise in marketing, branding and quality assurance

The UK water shortage: how we can future-proof homes and the industry

Posted 14th Jun 2019

The water crisis will have a huge impact on the UK, and the way appliance manufacturers respond could have a crucial impact. The Environment Agency has warned that the UK could run out of water in 25 years’ time. For businesses and consumers alike, this is a concerning prediction.

The water shortage is a looming threat which could potentially unravel our economy and have a knock-on effect on every component of daily life. According to a UN global report, 70% of yearly water use goes to agriculture, 10% is used within homes, and 20% is spent by industry. Without efforts to make water consumption more efficient, the shortage will lead to restrictions that could severely impact manufacture, food production, lifestyle, and more.

The causes
Here in the UK, one of the biggest contributors to our water shortage is actually water waste. Unlike younger countries, the legacy infrastructure we have inherited from the Victorian era is degrading with age. Water regulator Ofwat has reported that every day over 3 billion litres is lost – just from leakage.

For the regional water companies, replacing damaged pipework is such an enormous and costly undertaking, that in some cases, accepting this water loss is, unfortunately, the more cost-effective, and least disruptive option.

As the impact of climate change versus the accelerating population growth increases the pressure on this vital resource, the Environment Agency Chief recently described the impending crisis as “the jaws of death”. So what can be done to conserve water, and improve efficiency?

Efficiency and conservation
One thing is for certain: to make a difference to the predicted water shortage figures, we need to implement better systems and products for managing water use, both in industry and in households. For appliance manufacturers, the responsibility to improve efficiency is crucial for the survival of their businesses. This will need to be applied in two ways.

First, within the realm of production, we must assess the water usage from the manufacture of products along with other industries. Are we using water ethically in terms of sourcing this resource, and can we eliminate environmental damage from the wastewater we produce? Investing in systems that recycle wastewater for reuse within manufacture is a more ecologically conscious solution that will also be of financial benefit in the long-term with the reduction of energy bills.

Second, in terms of product design, saving water is set to become more than a trend for the environmentally conscious consumer. With the potential for water restrictions due to water shortage – as we have seen in places like California and Cape Town – more efficient products for water consumption will be a necessity to minimise disruption to consumers’ daily lives. Focusing on innovation in this area will answer this developing demand and ensure our future success.

Market solutions
Energy efficient products are already becoming popular within many sectors of the household product industry, and water conservation is gaining higher national awareness. However, for many consumers, this effort begins with behavioural adaptations, such as opting to take shorter showers and turning the tap off when brushing their teeth. Although this is a positive response to the issue, tackling the larger usage culprits of bathing and flushing toilets with efficient product solutions will make a bigger impact.

It is estimated that the average UK citizen uses 150 litres of water a day. As the majority of older toilet systems use around 30% of this total, this is an area where there is room for improvement. The more modern dual-flush toilet offers an eco option, but new designs for cistern functions are better yet. The Hippo is a simple and inexpensive gadget that can be added to the cistern to siphon off a proportion of water from the tank, saving 3 litres per flush.

For taps, water restricting nozzles use aeration to lessen the usage. This technology is also being utilized for shower heads. For new shower installations, digital systems embracing smart-tech are a great option. At Aqualisa, all of our digital models now feature an Eco Mode capable of reducing use by 30%, and we have incorporated proximity sensors to our Q products that automatically restricts flow as a person steps away to shampoo or shave.

The future
Beyond conserving water by cutting down on use, recycling is likely to become a big trend to get the most out of limited water resources. For future product design planning, looking towards technology that can clean and filter grey water back into the supply for washing will provide homes with the highest economy. Diverting used water for gardening is another concept for consideration where applicable.

For an effective level of change to be achieved in the UK to divert the course towards crisis, an evolution in attitude and ideology is required. Currently, we are lucky enough to take the availability of clean water for granted, which is counteracting the need for accountability to avoid unnecessary waste.

A rise in the availability of efficient products and launching campaigns to raise awareness of this issue can contribute to minimising negligent waste due to lack of education. As appliance manufacturers, we have the ability to enact these changes, protecting the consumer and our businesses from the alarming consequences we are being warned of by experts.

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