What was the rationale behind launching this CSR initiative?
In January 2015, the World Economic Forum announced that water crisis is the number one global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation), and the eighth global risk based on likelihood (likelihood of occurring within 10 years). In India, water shortage is already becoming a severe challenge. Home to 16 percent of the world’s population, India contains only 4 percent of the world’s water resources.. Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that India will exhaust its fresh water by 2050 at the current rate of consumption. Still, people around the world flush toilets and urinals with potable water, and it is estimated that up to 20 percent of the world’s available drinking water is flushed down the drain.
We at McDonald’s realise that water is a critical input for the agricultural systems that grow and support the food served at our restaurants. With the goal of sustainable water conservation and an eye to relieving the overburdened waste disposal system in the country, we undertook a study of our restaurants to determine how we could contribute to saving water in the country.
We found that water used in washrooms was the biggest contributor to waste in our restaurants. An average toilet was observed to use between 4 to 10 liters of water for every flush, while a stuck flush valve could waste around 64,000 liters of water per year. Even one small steady leak in a pipe could waste up to 2,27,125 liters of water every year. By replacing the water based waste disposal system with a waterless urinal, we found that we could save over 1,51,000 liters of water per urinal every year. Multiplied by the number of urinals in each one of our 202 restaurants in West and South India (as of December 31, 2014), where the initiative is to be extended, the potential impact on water conservation is tremendous.
Please share some more details about this technology. What’s the cost involved?
McDonald’s is incorporating two kinds of waterless urinal systems in its restaurants. The first utilises a combination of chemical cleaners comprised of odour-digesting non-pathogenic bacteria and enzymes, polymerised fragrance systems and an automatic spray dispensing system, which keep the urinals clean and hygienic without the need for a water connection.
The second is a cost effective mechanical solution designed by IIT Delhi which can be retrofitted into existing urinals. Patented as Zerodor, the non-chemical device operates like a valve to efficiently seal the drainage channel when not in use, hence repressing odour, ensuring hygiene and even enabling the efficient collection of urine for productive use in agricultural and industrial processes.
Both technologies are low-cost, low-maintenance and can be adapted to existing urinals after switching off the water supply. Zerodor in particular can be cleaned and maintained within a few minutes and does not require any replacements or recurring expenditure.
What are the other benefits of this technology?
In addition to significantly contributing to the sustainable conservation of water, the initiative helps reduce the load on sewage systems in the city, which are already overburdened due to poor waste management and lack of recycling facilities.
Technologies such as Zerodor enable the collection of urine separately from water and other waste which can then be put to productive use in agricultural and industrial processes. This separation also helps reduce the high nitrates and phosphorous levels found in sewage. By replacing damp urinals which foster microbes, the new system reduces risk of infections and air-borne diseases.
The new methods avert common problems associated with water based cleaning systems. For instance, the use of hard water for flushing leads to scale formation that causes blockages in drains, an issue that cannot arise with waterless systems.
Waterless urinals prove to be dry, clean and convenient, as well very efficient at odour suppression.
In the next phase, which outlets are you planning to cover under this initiative?
Currently we have initiated the new technology in 30 restaurants in West India, but eventually all our restaurants in West and South India will have one of the products implemented in a phased manner.
Have you implemented any other water saving initiative under the company’s CSR plan?
Upon researching where water is utilised at McDonald’s, we identified four principle areas where water is consumed in significant quantities, providing focus for our water conservation efforts. These are Irrigation, Public & Staff utilities, Washrooms and Beverage systems.
Apart from the waterless urinal initiative, we are currently working on a holistic water stewardship strategy for our system.
McDonald’s has long been working with farmers to implement water saving technologies in farms, including watershed management, micro-irrigation systems and crop protection programmes, and these farm initiatives have resulted in saving 13 million litres of water.
In addition, McDonald’s has worked with local governments to extend the subsidy benefits on drip irrigation to small and marginal farmers. Suppliers like Vista have also encouraged grower consolidators to earmark 25 percent of their annual farm investments toward incorporating more micro-irrigation.
The results have been phenomenal – vegetable production area using drip and sprinkler irrigation has increased from 5 percent to 40 percent, over the years.
Our current goal is to align our water stewardship and efficiency efforts across restaurants and supply chain to more effectively prioritise our areas of focus in 2015 and beyond.