18 March 2018 | When the pouring rain, hail or snow is spoiling everyone’s day, our Environment Manager Ronny Deroef is delighted. We recently invested in a large-scale installation that collects this heavenly gift. With the free rainwater, the sky high machinery receives an environmentally friendly wash, which saves 3 million liters of drinking water. Also a significant inspiration for World Water Day on 22 March.
"I have a job that didn’t exist before. In the past, it was not necessary to take special initiatives for the environment. Of course, we had healthier air and cleaner water, that was obvious. When working as a security advisor, I started to realize….. Society and the government have been alerting us for a long time how hard people are hurting the environment. And because I was already taking on a social task in terms of safety, I believed that the environment deserved more attention. The nice thing about this company is that you get the chance and support to take initiatives like this. It has to be your nature and I think it’s great that our management made the decision to fully commit to the environment."
Steam halls with rainwater
"Reducing our CO2 emissions is one thing, but I think we should also protect the local environment. We want to minimize our effect on the soil, the air and the water. Many years ago, we asked ourselves: we use drinkable tap water to clean our straddle carriers, while at the same time many other countries have problems to get clean water. Ethically, it didn’t feel right. The cleaning water does not need to be drinkable and the rainwater is completely free.”
"Ten years ago, we started collecting rainwater for the first time. When we noticed that it was working, we studied how we could maximize this water collection at our three terminals (Europa Terminal en Noordzee Terminal on the right bank and MPET left bank at the Deurganckdock) and use it in the steam area. This is a very high ‘hall’, where our vehicles of 16 meters high can be washed. A kind of manual car wash without brushes. The cleaning takes place with a high-pressure cleaner with very high temperature, which allows us to completely steam clean the machines. Nowadays, only with rainwater. "
3 million liters of drinking water saved each year.
"We know that it rains an average of 850 liters per square meter, per year, in our region. So we calculated the total surface of our rooftops. We have compared these parameters with the number of cleaning cycles that our 350 machines need. We came to the conclusion that we have to provide 60,000 liters of collection capacity for each of our two right bank terminals and 120,000 liters for the left bank terminal. Thus, in total we can collect 240 000 liters of rainwater, and bridge the dryer months. On an annual basis, we save three million liters of potable water. "
"Together with our technical services, we looked at how we could construct this rainwater collection system. We took care of the licenses and the purchase and I followed the technical requirements. Here, on the left bank, we connected six wells of more than 20,000 liters underground. All the drainpipes of our maintenance buildings end up in these wells. When the water pours into the buffers, we slightly purify it in order to remove sand and leaves. Afterwards, we use if for the steam cleaning and recover it in other underground tanks. That water is collected and purified again, and discharged elsewhere. So in fact, we are giving it back clean to mother nature."
Environmentally friendly statement
"This strong investment does not yield financial profit. An accountant would not be happy with the depreciation costs. It is not profitable. We only do this for the environment. As a company, we also want to make a statement that we want to make a difference and operate in a more sustainable way.
"The remaining water consumption at a container terminal is not too high. In addition to the repair and maintenance of our vehicles, we use it to do the dishes, the sanitary and the shower. The sanitary part also depends on the sky water system. You know, there is no sewage connection in the port area, so we must guarantee the sanitation of our waste water ourselves. That means that our buildings are all connected to our own water purification plant underground."
Long live the rain
"With this installation we have little to no problems. If a block or a malfunction would occur somewhere, the supplier will immediately receive a cell phone signal. They let us know where the fault has been reported and whether they can come or not. Because you can’t just come in and enter the port area at all times (laughs). But before something could go wrong, they are already here."
"With the recent freezing cold weather, we also had to pay attention as pipes could freeze. Last year was also a dry year with only 500 liters per square meter. It is not allowed to refill with water from the river Scheldt. First of all because it should be purified and secondly, because it is not allowed to pump water from the docks. You have to apply for an environmental license. That’s why I was delighted with the large amount of rain over the past few months, being one of the few to be happy when it’s raining (laughs). I cannot do the rain dance yet, but who knows, maybe I should start practicing! "
"After all, in Flanders, we don’ have large amounts of water either. Was it last summer that it was no longer allowed to spray the gardens in the area of the Westhoek? We are with more and more people, and thus, we need more and more water, while it is not an unlimited resource. That is also a reason why I attach so much importance to water. Without water, there would be no work here. We are part of an international port group and it is water that connects our companies."
"Now that everything is installed, I only have to check whether everything continues to work well, or not. Every year, a sample must be taken and the installation must get serviced. Then, I look into the results and determine whether an adjustment, an extension for example, should be performed. In the meantime, we have taken some major steps. Since January 2017, all our electrical installations are running on 100% green energy from the wind farms from the Belgian coast. Also this choice is financially less profitable, but our CO2 emissions are decreasing drastically. We have purchased 10 electric vehicles and charging points at the Europa Terminal. This year, we will roll out further to Noordzee Terminal and next year, to the Deurganckdock on the left bank. The budgets are already available.”
"Our green image will possibly play a role for shipping companies to choose for us, although the quality of our services is much more decisive. I myself get satisfaction from the way in which the environment is interwoven in our company. I really enjoy my job. In addition to an ecological and sustainable aspect, I can also use my electromechanical training for the technical aspects. And the legal aspects comes with the licenses. It is varied and above all very useful work. And useful work is the highest good you can achieve in society (laughs). That's why I like it."