Riopele anticipates drought scenarios and recovers 450 million litres of water

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The equivalent of 180 Olympic swimming pools

Climate change is a pressing issue impacting community life. In recent years, Europe in particular has been affected by more intense heatwaves and droughts. Aware of this reality and anticipating prolonged water scarcity scenarios, Riopele has been implementing a series of measures aimed at reducing water consumption, increasing the recycling of effluent from production processes, and recovering rainwater. On average, over the past six years, Riopele has recovered 450 million litres of water per year, the equivalent of 180 Olympic swimming pools.

‘Water has been tied to Riopele's history since its inception. In 1927, a young entrepreneur, José Dias de Oliveira, founded Riopele by setting up two looms for fabric production in a watermill located on the banks of the River Pele. The river's water power was the energy source for operating the looms’, recalls Paulo Machado, Director of the Quality, Environment, and Safety Department.

At Riopele, we consider water to be an essential resource and a valuable asset, but one that does not belong to us. It is this awareness of being guardians of a precious and scarce resource that we embed in our sustainability culture.

To minimise environmental impact, Riopele is implementing various water efficiency measures. Significant work has been done in managing and automating water abstraction, monitoring the captured flow rates and the consumption of production equipment, optimising processes, and replacing chemicals used in production to reduce the pollutant load in the generated effluent.

The company is strengthening preventive maintenance measures in water abstraction and identifying potential leaks and losses throughout the entire water supply circuit to prevent water wastage, in addition to focusing on the reuse of rainwater (approximately 8 million litres annually) and acquiring new, more water-efficient equipment.

Another significant measure in force is the use of sensor and online monitoring systems that assist in managing everything from water abstraction to supply, processes, and wastewater management. Paulo Machado emphasises that these measures have been very effective, as water consumption has significantly reduced over the past two years (an average of 12% per year).

To address the recycling of wastewater, Riopele has a Water Treatment Plant (WTP). ‘At the WTP, effluents are treated using advanced technologies that ensure quality for process water, enabling its safe return to the water cycle’, emphasises Paulo Machado.

In 2023, Riopele recovered 52% of the water from wet production processes. From 2000 to 2023, approximately 8.8 million cubic metres of water were recovered, equivalent to savings of around 2.5 million euros for the company.

As part of its responsible effluent management, Riopele has voluntarily adhered to the ZDHC Wastewater Guidelines. By doing so, the company aims to identify and eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals, following these universally recognised standards for effluent monitoring and control, and demonstrating a commitment to transparency.

Paulo Machado recalls that ‘2023 was a year of severe drought, and for the first time since we connected to the public water network, our industrial process used no public water, demonstrating our commitment to responsible water management. This result has a very significant economic and environmental impact for the company’.

Additionally, ‘customer demands and constant changes in national and international legislation and standards, which may result in challenging environmental targets, the rising costs and fees associated with water consumption, restrictive changes to the current situation regarding the application of Best Available Techniques (BAT), and non-compliance with quality requirements for industrial processes, are other risk factors that are well addressed in the company's management’.

Meanwhile, Riopele is finalising new investments, including the creation of a new water supply line for production processes to improve water quality and eliminate potential contamination sources. Similarly, the purchase of a washing machine for the Finishing Department (expected water consumption reduction of about 30% compared to current equipment) and sensors to characterise water/effluent quality are underway, as well as the conduction of a project study involving different water treatment technologies that foresees increased recovery of effluent from the production process (Lusitanos Project, supported by the PRR).

Also as part of the Recovery and Resilience Programme, the GIATEX Project (Intelligent Water Management) is currently underway, aiming to develop a set of tools that enable the company to reduce specific water consumption and support decision-making regarding the final destination of water.