The BASF wastewater treatment plant at the Ludwigshafen site in Germany is one of the largest in Europe. Around 86 million cubic meters of production wastewater are treated here every year, plus around 18 million cubic meters of wastewater from surrounding communities. In recent years, we have continuously increased the energy efficiency and effectiveness of the plant.
Water is of fundamental importance in chemical production. It is used as a coolant, solvent and cleaning agent, and to make our products. Waterways are used to transport goods. At the same time, water is a scarce commodity in an increasing number of regions. That is why we promote the responsible use of this resource with sustainable water management.
At a glance
cubic meters total water abstraction
of water demand covered by reuse
- Responsible use is a core part of our strategy
- Sustainable water management introduced at 61.6% of relevant sites
- Top rating of “A” in the annual CDP assessment
Strategy and governance
The responsible use of water as a resource is a core element of our Responsible Care Management System and our risk management, as well as an important part of our commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is also reflected in our position paper on water protection, which we published in 2021.
Our global standards and requirements for water are defined in Group-wide guidelines. Among other things, these stipulate that water protection concepts must be implemented at all production sites. The guidelines also cover aspects such as process and transportation safety in order to prevent production and transportation-related product spillages into water bodies as far as possible. Our sites and Group companies are responsible for implementing and complying with internal guidelines and legal requirements. The Environmental Protection, Health, Safety and Quality unit in the Corporate Center conducts regular audits to monitor this. BASF’s global network of experts shares information, insights and best practices around the responsible use of water on an ongoing basis.
Introducing and implementing sustainable water management has been a cornerstone of our strategy for many years now. Our focus here is on our Verbund sites and on production sites in water stress areas.1 The aim is to protect water as a resource, to use it as efficiently as possible through recirculation, and to continuously reduce wastewater and emissions. We consider the quantitative, qualitative and social aspects of water use.
We pursue our goal by applying the European Water Stewardship standard, which rests on four principles: sustainable water abstraction, maintaining good water quality, preserving conservation areas, and ensuring continuous improvement processes.
We advocate the responsible use of water as a resource along the entire value chain. We audit supplier compliance with environmental standards in our regular supplier assessments. Where improvement is necessary, we support suppliers in developing and implementing appropriate measures, such as the correct handling of wastewater. In addition, we are involved in a wide range of initiatives to promote sustainability in the supply chain. For example, efficient water use is a core part of the Pragati project to improve sustainability in castor bean farming.
We offer our customers solutions that help purify water and use it more efficiently, and minimize pollution. These include high-performance plastics to produce ultrafiltration membranes, intermediates to produce flocculants for water treatment, or seeds with higher drought and heat tolerance.
We work with numerous partners along the value chain and from civil society to protect water as a resource. For instance, BASF is a member of the Alliance for Water Stewardship, a global multi-stakeholder organization that promotes the responsible use of water. In addition, we are involved in networks to effectively prevent plastic waste from entering water bodies.
We report transparently and comprehensively on water. For instance, we again provided detailed answers to the 2022 water questionnaire from the nonprofit organization CDP. BASF again achieved Leadership status with a top rating of “A” in the final assessment. CDP evaluates how transparently companies report on their water management activities and how they reduce risks such as water scarcity. The assessment also considers the extent to which product developments can also contribute to sustainable water management at the customers of the evaluated companies.
1We define water stress areas as regions in which more than 40% of available water is used by industry, households and agriculture. Our definition is based on the Water Risk Atlas (Aqueduct 3.0) published by the World Resources Institute. For more information, see wri.org/aqueduct.
Global target and measures
Our goal is to introduce sustainable water management at our Verbund sites and at all production sites in water stress areas by 2030, covering 89% of BASF’s total water abstraction. We achieved 61.6% of our target in 2022 (2021: 53.5%).1 Sustainable water management was introduced at seven further sites in 2022 (2021: 7).
As part of sustainable water management, our sites regularly assess the water situation in the catchment area. This raises awareness of potential risks and impacts for the population such as water scarcity. Based on the assessments conducted until the end of 2022, we did not identify any activities with a significant impact on water availability and quality at any site.
Introduction of sustainable water management at our production sites in water stress areas and at our Verbund sites
Another important part of our sustainable water management is the continuous analysis and implementation of measures for improvement. For example, changes in the production process (transesterification process) at the Caojing site in China reduce the need for feedstocks, steam and water. This can save 25% of the wastewater from this process step each year. At the Camaçari site in Brazil, an improvement in the recirculation of cooling water and the reuse of condensate saves around 49,000 cubic meters of water every year. The team received the Bahia Sustainable Industries Award for its successful water management. Depending on the local situation, we also implement measures together with other stakeholders. One example is the Lake Winnipeg Basin Water Stewardship Project in the Canadian province of Manitoba, which was launched in 2022.
1Our water target also continues to take into account the sites that we identified as water stress sites in accordance with Pfister et al. (2009) prior to 2019.
Our water abstraction totaled 1,590 million cubic meters in 2022 (2021: 1,695). This demand was covered for the most part by freshwater such as rivers and lakes (86% of water abstraction). At some sites, we use alternative sources such as treated municipal wastewater, brackish water or seawater. A small part of the water we use reaches our sites as part of raw materials and steam, or is released in our production processes. We abstract most of the water we need for cooling and production ourselves. In 2022, 5% of our total water demand was covered by third parties (2021: 5%).
Water use in 2022 totaled 6,917 million cubic meters (2021: 7,110 million cubic meters). Put in relation to total water abstraction, this means that we use every liter we abstract around four times, or cover 79% of our water demand with reuse. We predominantly use water for cooling purposes (88% of water abstraction), after which we discharge it back to our supply sources with no product contact. We reduce our water abstraction for cooling purposes mainly by using recooling plants. Around 12% of our total water abstraction is used in production plants, for example, for extraction or dissolution processes or for cleaning. Here, too, we reduce our demand for water by recycling wastewater. Most of the water used for production purposes is discharged back to water bodies after being treated in our own or third-party wastewater treatment plants.
The BASF Group’s water consumption describes the amount of water that is not discharged to a water body, meaning that it is no longer available to other users. Consumption is mainly attributable to the evaporation of water in recirculating cooling systems. A smaller amount is from the water contained in our products. Water consumption in 2022 amounted to around 69 million cubic meters (2021: 72 million cubic meters).
In 2022, around 25% of our production sites were located in water stress areas (2021: 25%). These sites accounted for 1% of BASF’s total water abstraction (2021: 1%).1 In water stress areas, we mainly source water from third parties (81%) and largely cover our demand with freshwater. Water consumption in water stress areas accounted for 17% of BASF’s total water consumption in 2022 (2021: 16%) and was primarily attributable to evaporation in cooling processes. Wastewater in water stress areas accounted for less than 1% of BASF’s total wastewater. The share of wastewater from cooling processes in water stress areas is lower than for the BASF Group as a whole. Cooling water is rarely used for once-through cooling here. Instead, it is generally recirculated to reduce water demand. Production wastewater in water stress areas is primarily treated at third-party facilities.
The supply, treatment, transportation and recooling of water is associated with a high energy demand. We are constantly working to optimize our energy consumption and the amount of water we use, and to adapt to the needs of our business and the environment.
1Aqueduct 3.0 was used to identify sites in water stress areas to determine pro rata water abstraction and water consumption.
Emissions to water
Our wastewater is subject to strict controls and we carefully assess the impact of wastewater discharge in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations. Both internal audits and the responsible local authorities regularly assess whether the analyses and safety precautions at our sites comply with internal guidelines and legal requirements. A total of 1,400 million cubic meters of water were discharged from BASF production sites in 2022 (2021: 1,503), including 163 million cubic meters of wastewater from production. Emissions of nitrogen to water amounted to 2,600 metric tons in 2022 (2021: 3,000). Around 10,600 metric tons of organic substances were emitted in wastewater (2021: 12,500). Our wastewater contained 16 metric tons of heavy metals (2021: 17). Phosphorus emissions amounted to 240 metric tons (2021: 340).
Our approach is to reduce wastewater volumes and contaminant loads at the source in our production processes and to reuse wastewater and material flows internally as far as possible. To treat wastewater, we use both central measures in wastewater treatment plants and the selective pretreatment of individual wastewater streams before these are sent to the wastewater treatment plant. We use different methods depending on the type and degree of contamination – including biological processes, chemical oxidation, membrane technologies, precipitation or adsorption. In order to avoid unanticipated emissions and the pollution of surface water or groundwater, we have water protection concepts for our production plants in place. This is mandatory for all production plants as part of our Responsible Care Management System. The wastewater protection plans involve evaluating wastewater in terms of risk and drawing up suitable monitoring approaches. We use audits to check that these measures are being implemented and complied with.