Water management is key as manufacturing costs rise

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Food processors, including Arla’s UK dairies as pictured, use large amounts of water for processing and cleaning
Food processors, including Arla’s UK dairies as pictured, use large amounts of water for processing and cleaning

Related tags Wastewater Anaerobic digestion Recycling

Many food and drink manufacturers are missing out on large potential cost savings by not managing their water use and disposal more effectively, according to environmental services group Veolia, which provides a range of waste, water and energy management services designed to build the circular economy.

Veolia works with a range of UK food and drink companies. This includes dairy Arla in Aylesbury, for which it has provided water and wastewater treatment.

It’s all about reducing water consumption, then recovery and reuse or recycling, said Veolia industrial sales manager Kalpesh Shah.

Certain industries – such as food and drink manufacture – were starting to think in this way, he added. “But this needs to happen on a much wider scale. An inadequate water strategy is only going to hit the bottom line of industry. Reducing water consumption is the easiest way to save money.”

By adopting process automation and recycling and reusing waste water in areas such as boiler feeds, after using technologies such as reverse osmosis or cross-flow membrane filtration to clean it up, the costs of water disposal from food and drink factories are also reduced, added Shah.

Costs of water disposal

This is because the volumes disposed are reduced and the pollution potential, as measured by the waste water’s chemical oxygen demand (COD), is also reduced.

“However, there is some reticence in certain industries, such as food, about reusing waste water,”​ said Shah. But, technologies are now available to significantly improve the quality of waste water to allow it to be reused in food factories. These can overcome those concerns, he claimed.

“We are seeing the emergence of local water authorities starting to impose [wastewater discharge] limits on industry,”​ he said.

While these financial penalties might appear worth incurring now to ensure production is not interrupted, they are expected to rise in the future, making them less easy to swallow, he added.

To gain from the benefits offered, though, companies would need to change the way they thought about water management and accept that return on investments might need to be longer – typically two to four years, he added.

‘A precious resource’

“They can actually safeguard their longer-term water supplies,”​ he said. “Water is not only an asset, it is a precious resource.”

Veolia helped Arla at Aylesbury in 2013 to reduce the huge volumes of water it used each year in its various process and cleaning operations.

As well as its waste water treatment plant, it now passes biomass by-product waste through anaerobic digestion (AD). This produces gas, which is used to generate electricity.

“For this particular facility, we reduced their COD by 99% and created biogas, which they were able to use as an electricity source within their facility,” ​said Shah.

Solid waste produced through the AD plant is given to Arla’s farmers for use as fertiliser, thus helping to contribute to the circular economy.

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