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Cleaning product taps into waste

Vesela Todorova

DUBAI // Keeping the UAE's windows and buildings clean of dust comes at a great cost, financially and environmentally.

Most of the enormous amount of water used for the job - an estimated 30,000 litres for one wash of the Etihad Airways building in Abu Dhabi alone - is taken from the mains supply, which means it has been expensively desalinated.

But one company has found a solution by turning effluent from sewage treatment plants into a product that can clean glass and building exteriors.

As more companies question their role in the UAE's outsized carbon footprint, the five-year-old company Clearwater is seeing increased interest in its products.

"The market response has been very positive, with the commitment of the Government and businesses in the UAE to adopt sustainable practices," said Yousif al Lootah, the chief executive of Clearwater.

The company has been hired to wash the UAE's 170 Enoc and Eppco petrol stations. Other clients include Etihad Airways, Cisco and The Gate at the Dubai International Financial Centre.

The company has recently begun to sell its product under the same name for household use. It plans to offer washing services to other airlines.

Clearwater takes water from Dubai's sewage treatment plants, which has already been treated enough to be deemed safe for irrigation.

It treats the water further through reverse osmosis, a common process where water is passed under pressure through a series of membranes. It then passes through two carbon filters, which capture any remaining solids or dissolved minerals.

The company produces 75,000 litres of the water every day at its plant in Al Quoz. Although it is not recommended for drinking because of its lack of minerals, it is safe enough to be drunk, said Peter Manzi, the managing partner of Clearwater.

The lack of minerals is what makes the water an effective and environmentally friendly cleaning agent without the need for soap or other chemicals normally used in industrial cleaning, said Mr Manzi.

"The water is sucking the dirt in because it tries to go back to its natural state," he said.

The product's main green benefit is that it has replaced the use of drinking water, Mr Manzi said. Clearwater washes buildings three times a year, although they would require four washings using mains water.

The process has so far earned approval from a number of water experts.

"Anything you can do to decrease the use of desalinated water is a positive step," said Dr Rachael McDonnell, a visiting scientist in water policy and governance at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

"One of the challenges here at the moment is that only 30 per cent of all desalinated water is utilised in the human use system."

The rest is used for other purposes such gardening, for which lower-grade water could be used, Dr McDonnell said.

Marwan Ghannam, the senior technical director at Hyder Consulting Middle East, said turning treated sewage into a cleaning product was safe and sustainable.

"Buildings need to be washed anyway, so why not use purified treated sewage effluent instead of consume potable-quality water for such an application?" Mr Ghannam asked.

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