How eWater could become the solar panels of our polluted environment

eWater Systems

eWater has notched up some influential clients in its 15 years, including more than 160 hospitals in NSW Health. But its potential is to be in every commercial kitchen and every office (or building), says its chief executive Dawn O’ Neil.

Dawn O’Neil and founder Phil Gregory have been on a long mission to convince Australians that electrolysed water can clean and disinfect without the impact of the toxic chemicals on our environment.

Early this year they notched up probably the most impressive win you could hope for to convince the non-believers that their “on tap” equipment – using just water, salt and an electrolysis process – works to the highest Therapeutic Goods Administration standards.

The company signed a deal to supply more 160 kitchens in New South Wales hospitals with eWater.

The agreement will remove more than 2 million litres of chemicals and “hundreds of thousands of single use plastic packs” across NSW Health and the broader environment.

eWater has removed over half a billion litres of toxic chemicals and almost 125 million plastic containers from landfill to date”

Medical director of NSW Health’s climate and risk net zero unit, Dr Kate Charlesworth, said the technology was a “meaningful change” that would replace the need to rely on cleaning chemicals that can be harmful to the environment.

It’s hard to think of a better endorsement. But it’s not the first. Among eWater’s other early wins are big names like chefs Neil Perry and Matt Stone. There’s already about 20 Victorian hospitals using the system and conversations are under way for other state hospitals and many large companies for environmental cleaning as well as food preparation.

Other clients in the corporate sphere include the International Convention Centre in Sydney, Australian Parliament House, Melbourne Park, Royal Children’s Hospital, the Brisbane Convention Centre, Google and Deloitte.

Savings on costs as well as the environment

The drivers are not just environmental concerns, Dawn says, but the savings that can run to “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” for places such as the ICC.

Once you’ve installed the system a litre of eWater costs less than a cent to produce.

Dawn says eWater has removed over half a billion litres of toxic chemicals and almost 125 million plastic containers from landfill to date and this is just the start of what we could do with more support from business and government.

Multiply the average cost of chemical cleaners by those numbers and you can see why this is a company that’s feeling optimistic about its prospects.

With such powerful endorsements and great results it might come as a surprise to the uninitiated that the technology isn’t exactly new. It’s been around for a “long time” – and commercialised in Japan and Estonia in particular after World War II.

“Those two countries really adopted this early,”Dawn says. “Electrolysed water units in Japan are everywhere. They’re in almost every kitchen around the country.”

So how did that happen?

Quite frankly, Dawn says, they didn’t go down the “pathway of consumables” and “packaged goods” that the west did.

The chemical cleaning industry has dug deep with skull and crossbones

“We were convinced by chemical companies that unless [a cleaning product] had a skull and crossbones and bright colours and bubbles, that it couldn’t possibly work. Whereas the Japanese, I think, have a quite a different attitude.”

They use electrolysed water for cleaning fish and preparing food because it doesn’t affect the taste, she adds.

The technology though goes back even further, to 1834 when Michael Faraday working as an assistant to Humphrey Davey, discovered two laws of electrolysis.

So commercialisation can take a long time. Solar adoption has been on a similar journey, she points out.

Dawn says her partner Phil Gregory started the company after a career in advertising including as a director of Clemengers, which probably gave him an advantage in persuasion and marketing strategy.

The vision is that electrolysed water could be just everywhere – in every home, and every office in every facility

An important decision he made at the start was to go after the very hardest client first. It turned out to be a large public hospital in Melbourne.

“You can imagine the amount of vetting, microbiology testing and rigour that went into that,” Dawn says.

Dawn’s own background is in the mental health sector, in particular as chief executive of Beyond Blue and Lifeline, roles that contributed to her AM (Member of the Order of Australia) in recognition of her part in getting people and governments behind mental health with funding and bringing it out from the closet.

She would like to see the same happen with the cleaning and chemical industry.

It’s urgent and clear to see “when you start to dig into the harm we’re doing not only to biodiversity with chemical use, but also to our own health,” she says

“There’s a wonderful researcher, Dr Shanna Swan, who has done ground breaking work. She has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that our fertility as a human race is declining at a frightening rate about 1 per cent per annum. And that can be largely attributed to environmental factors, such as chemicals, chemical use, and it’s not just in our homes, it’s in our workplaces; it’s everywhere, including pesticides.

“Every home and every business has a cupboard full of chemicals that we spray around and don’t really think about the consequences of what that might be doing to our health and the broader biodiversity.

“So we’ve got a big job to do to educate the population around this pollution we contributing to.”

And businesses such as hers are “tiny compared to the forces we’re up against,”

Government is trying to introduce stronger containment laws, she says, “but really, the chemical companies are largely self regulated. ”Ingredients are kept a secret. So that most of the general population, even if they wanted to find out don’t know what ingredients are in the products they’re using.”

The vision is that electrolysed water could be “just everywhere – in every home, and every office in every facility.”

In fact, she says, this could do for the environment and chemical pollution what solar panels have done for renewable energy and coal fired power stations.