The Life RECYCLO Project: Recycling Wastewater from Laundries
From 2021 to 2024, the Life RECYCLO project aims to offer a recycling solution for wastewater from laundries.
The European laundry sector uses 42 million m3 of water every year. This is a significant figure, especially considering that global warming is having a drastic effect on this precious resource. The Life RECYCLO project was developed in an attempt to tackle this issue. Introduced in September 2021 by Treewater, it is part of the European Commission’s LIFE programme, which funds initiatives in favour of the environment and the climate. It aims to set up a treatment and recycling system for wastewater from laundries in order to then reuse it.
The European Commission predicts that there will be a 50% increase in water shortages across Europe by 2030. Drought has already been affecting southern Europe for several years and is now beginning to reach higher latitudes. One of the solutions for these shortages could be the reuse of wastewater, but this is still not widely practised across Europe. And it is those countries most affected by drought that use it the most: 8% of reuse in Spain, compared with less than 1% in France. The Life RECYCLO project is therefore being rolled out in three European countries, whose experience of water shortages differs: Spain, which already suffers from shortages; France, which is beginning to experience shortages; and Luxembourg, which is not yet affected by water shortage.
Recycling wastewater from laundries
Today, there are approximately 11,000 laundries across Europe. Their wastewater usually ends up in the public sewage system and is seldom reused. Washing laundry leads to the emission of micro-pollutants such as phthalates (DEHP, DEP, etc.), phenols, heavy metals, solvents and surfactants. And wastewater treatment plants are rarely equipped to deal with these particular molecules, which then end up being released into our natural environment. Even at low concentrations, these pollutants directly affect the aquatic environment, ecosystems and ultimately our health. A number of these substances are endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and mutagens. Pilot of the advanced oxidation system of life recyclo – © Life RECYCLO
The Life RECYCLO project seeks to treat the micro-pollutants in laundry wastewater so that it can be reused in the laundry process. The RECYCLO process uses a advanced oxidation system, which combines hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light. The UV light transforms the hydrogen peroxide into hydroxyl radicals, which then break down the pollutants. The UV rays also disinfect the water at the same time. This process aims to reduce the consumption of drinking water used in laundries by 50 to 80%, but also to eliminate 90% of the pollutants discharged when washing laundry. This process presents a number of advantages, as it produces very little treatment residue and directly degrades organic pollutants, as opposed to other technologies that only remove them.
Following a successful initial trial in a laundry in the county of the Gard – the Blanchisserie Saint-Jean – this patented system continues its development. The aim of this project then, is to finalise its industrialisation and to test its reproducibility, by improving the Recyclo technology’s TRL (Technology Readiness Level) from TRL 5 to 7. It will then be implemented in two other laundries: la Fundacio Mas Xirgu in Spain and Klin SARL in Luxembourg. The installation at the Blanchisserie Saint-Jean will, for its part, be transformed into an in-situ laboratory to prepare the process for new emerging pollutions, such as micro- and nano-plastics. Treewater, a spin-off of the INSA Lyon’s DEEP laboratory, and the Catalan Institute for Water Research in Gerona, will then carry out analyses to examine the efficiency of the process. Pop’Sciences of the Université de Lyon is in charge of disseminating the results and project communication.
The long-term objectives of this project are threefold. First of all, it involves developing an economically reliable and eco-friendly procedure: by making the reuse of water accessible to small and medium-sized laundries; by reducing the water bill of laundries by 30%; and by obtaining an ecoresponsible label. It will then be necessary to anticipate European regulations on reuse and the discharging of micro-pollutants: by developing a mobile skid to test the recycling of effluents in other industrial sectors; and by demonstrating the effective elimination of other emerging pollutants (e.g. micro-/nano-plastics). Finally, the project aims to promote best practices in water management: by sharing content to guide the decisions of industrial stakeholders and political decision makers; by raising awareness among the public and industry players; by disseminating the results to various stakeholders in other economic sectors; and by establishing a network around the project.
The first year of the project has been devoted to laboratory tests. Wastewater from each laundry has been analysed and characterised. The effluents are in fact unique to each laundry, depending on the products used by the company and the provenance of the laundry washed. So the treatment design needs to be tailored to each laundry.
A three-stage treatment process was thus defined: a pre-treatment phase by coagulation-flocculation, the advanced oxidation phase and a final adsorption stage using activated carbon. These three steps were then tested in the laboratory with the effluents from the three laundries, and the treatment was conclusive: it removed more than 90% of the organic pollutants (DEHP, PBDE, nonylphenols, etc.). However, some elements require further investigation: the containment of installations, the long-term performance of recycling and the adaptation to certain specific compounds to be treated (such as salts).
Alongside these technical trials, a social survey was also conducted among laundries and their customers to assess their perception of wastewater reuse in this context. Conducted by Pop’Sciences of the Université de Lyon, this survey showed that all the participants were aware of the need to preserve water. Furthermore, for both laundry managers and their customers, the environmental impact of the laundry sector is perceived as negative. The majority of those interviewed were interested in recycling water for laundry, and the promises of the RECYCLO process were considered satisfactory. The only possible obstacles to the use of such a process are the need for proof of its effectiveness and the potential cost of installation.
Results of Life RECYCLO survey : Ranking of factors that can motivate the implementation of a water treatment and recycling process like Life Recyclo, according to the results of the Life RECYCLO survey – © Life RECYCLO
The next step in the project is to build prototypes for each of the three laundries. The first prototype will be deployed in early 2023 in the Spanish laundry. The other two prototypes will be installed over the course of 2023. They will then be closely monitored and analysed until 2024.
In order to meet you and discuss this project, the Treewater team will be present at the Global Industry Exhibition in Lyon from 7 to 10 March 2023. Find out more about RECYCLO on the project website, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Paul MORETTI, Engineer, and Project Coordinator – “Life Recyclo – Treewater” (E: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Samantha DIZIER, Communication Officer – “Life Recyclo – Université de Lyon” (E: email@example.com)