Leaders from four trade associations have warned that Defra's Plan for Water could hamper efforts to reduce water consumption in UK homes. Potential bans on power showers and dual flush toilets may have the perverse effect of increasing water use, say spokespeople from the industry bodies.
Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey unveiled the Government's 'Integrated Plan for Water' earlier this month. Activists have criticised the strategy for failing to take a strong enough line with water companies on sewage dumping. Now the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA), British Institute of KBB Installation (BiKBBI), British Toilet Association (BTA) and Unified Water Label Association (UWLA) have criticised its proposed measures aimed at cutting back water consumption.
The Environment Agency has said that the country will face a 4,000million litre daily water shortfall by 2050 unless there are steps to increase supply and reduce demand. The Government wants to reduce daily household consumption from 142 litres per person to 110 litres per person. The Plan for Water states that Defra intends to achieve that reduction by developing "minimum product standards for water efficiency including for showers, taps, and toilets". Widespread coverage of the Ministerial plan launch suggested those standards would mean bans on power showers and dual flush toilets.
Tom Reynolds, chief executive of the BMA, representing suppliers of fixtures and fittings, is unhappy with the proposals. "Manufacturers are innovating ever-more efficient brassware products and leak-proof toilet systems. Bans on specific product ranges will stunt this innovation, as manufacturers must redirect their budgets away from R&D. We know that any ban could result in unintended higher water use; a ban will tempt consumers to tamper with fittings to increase flow or may spend longer under the shower."
The BTA's chief executive, Raymond Martin, has already discussed the proposed ban on dual flush toilets. "Well-maintained dual-flush toilets don't leak. When you have a limescale build-up, the seal can become interrupted and cause a trickle into the pan, but that's true even of single flush toilets. The introduction of dual-flush toilets was to reduce the amount of water used to wash away urine and has been highly successful. They are a water-saving device, so if they need to be improved to engineer out leaks, Government should work with the industry, not simply ban dual-flush outright."
BiKBBI say Defra's approach to regulating water fittings in the same way as electrical appliances, with 'minimum efficiency standards', is ill-advised. "You can have such standards on electrical products because you know you'll be getting 240 volts out of the socket from your energy supplier," says the Institute's chief executive, Damian Walters. "As any installer will tell you, water is very different, with pressure varying widely from area to area. You can't, therefore, say a single fitting will have the same performance in every home. Higher flow fittings are often selected to compensate for poor pressure."
The Plan for Water also indicates Defra will push ahead with its proposal to develop a mandatory UK water efficiency label, another point of contention with the industry. The plumbing sector already has the Unified Water Label. Manufacturers use it in product brochures, and retailers like Ikea display it in stores and online. Reynolds believes that Defra can use what already exists: "We already have a very well-established labelling system, and if Government wants to make this mandatory, we'd be very supportive. However, they seem to want to reinvent the wheel, meaning ubiquitous water labelling will take longer and be much more costly to the taxpayer."
Yvonne Orgill, managing director of the UWLA, agrees. "These proposals will adversely restrict the market, and without education and a robust audit system, they will fail. Government is misguided in spending time and money developing a label when there is a recognised and existing scheme developed by the industry that they could utilise, at much less cost and more effectively."