Kontoor – Saving Water in the Desert;
It’s a lovely sendoff, but a false farewell. The dust cloud remains in the air long after the sun has tucked itself in, tickling the sinus and blanketing the city in black gritty soot. Every vehicle in town looks like it just crossed the finish line at the
Needless to say, water preservation in
But as the project grew in scale, it took on a life of its own and became much more ambitious, eventually reaching the milestone goal last year of zero fresh water used in its laundry process. This month, it became official: Kontoor’s
Now, instead of being a serious drain on
Kontoor’s wastewater plant ‘deserves to be admired and well recognized for the great impact it has on saving water,’ says
Kontoor’s facility is different, she insists. It’s the first she’s seen that ‘bets on the reuse of industrial wastewater.’
That distinction is a great source of pride for the 3,000 Kontoor employees in
‘I feel really proud to be a part of this team. It hasn’t been easy, honestly. But everyone on our team does their part every day so that we can meet our goal,’ says
According to the plant’s audited registry, Kontoor’s
Nobody takes as much pride in the achievement as
‘I feel really proud about my team at the wastewater plant. I tell them: ‘This is for your children because we are saving water for them. This is like a legacy for our community’,’ Nunez says. ‘Kontoor gave me this opportunity. The company is encouraging this mission, and our commitment to the environment. That is huge. They gave us the opportunity to grow.’
‘It’s a lot of chemistry’
When Nunez studied chemistry in university, he thought he would go into the medical research field. He never expected that he would someday work in the denim industry. But after working as a contractor to help Wrangler build its first water treatment plant and laboratory in
Through careful experimentation with bacteria and ‘lots of chemistry,’ Nunez was able to increase water recycling efficiency to 50%. That’s when he got the idea of implementing reverse osmosis to move the needle even further.
‘Reverse osmosis is not new technology, but I couldn’t find any case where it had been done successfully using recycled water in this process,’ Nunez explains. ‘Normally we hear about reverse osmosis using ocean water to produce clean water, but not recycled water from the apparel industry.’
After some trial and error, Nunez and his team were able to make the reverse osmosis technology work, increasing the efficiency of the water recycling to 85%. But water loss and discharge in the laundry process made the goal of 100% recycled water seem unattainable. For several years, the
Then Nunez got the idea of purchasing treated greywater from the government, filtering it through reverse osmosis, and using that to top off Kontoor’s own supply of treated wastewater, eliminating the use of wells and reaching 100% recycled water in the laundry process.
But reaching the milestone was only half the battle. Maintaining the goal of zero fresh water requires constant calculations and adjustments to adequately clean the government-provided wastewater, which is inconsistent in its quality and impurities.
‘Sometimes the greywater we buy from the government comes in really clean, and other times it comes with a lot of suspended solids,’ Nunez says. ‘It’s a problem we have to face every day, examining the quality of the water. Everything is chemistry.’
An ongoing journey
Of the cotton Kontoor uses in its denim, more than half comes from the
‘We’re trying to make this common, normal everyday practice of doing the right thing,’ says
Looking ahead in
Nunez, however, is already working on a solution: a next-gen Mexican molecular modification technology known by the abbreviation MOMO. If the technology is successfully adapted to the
‘I’m really excited to see what we do next,’ Nunez says.
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