Strategic Wastewater Management in the Beverage Industry

The food and beverage industry, like many others, makes use of a substantial amount of water during the manufacturing process.  It is estimated that an average of 3.5 – 5 litres of water is used per litre of  beverage production.

Municipal water quality and availability is not guaranteed. For many operations the risk of water shortages and poor water quality is costly due to resultant operational shutdowns which in turn negatively affect the business’s bottom line. Not only is the beverage industry vulnerable to continued water scarcity, but escalating water costs, more stringent regulations, and extreme weather events are all real risks and can significantly influence the financial viability of business.  A lack of water has a direct effect on production which in turn leads to significant revenue loss.

Water risks to the beverage industry

The amount of water required to produce beverages accumulates along the value chain. Contributors include the agricultural production of ingredients, water utilised in product processing, and continues through to product packaging and beverage consumption.

Risks associated with the beverage value chain vary. The industrial processing of beverages is susceptible to risks including regulatory (legal non-compliances), reputational (pressures from clients and customers), physical (water availability and quality), and financial risks (costs associated with water consumption and discharge such as water & energy tariffs and infrastructure upgrades). The significance of these risks is largely dependent on the manufacturer’s geographical location which is characterised by differing water availability, local infrastructure, and governing legislation.

Possible  solutions

The key to managing water risk in the beverage industry is to first identify and evaluate site specific risks associated with water supply, utilisation and discharge. Once water related risks have been evaluated, tailored risk and opportunity management solutions can be developed, with opportunities potentially extending beyond wastewater treatment to wastewater recovery and biogas production.

Wastewater recovery

Wastewater recovery is a concept which is becoming increasingly popular. The United Nations Sustainability Report for 2017 was themed around wastewater and highlighted wastewater recovery as one of the key methods to combat water scarcity and assist economic growth. This suggests that the stigma surrounding water recovery is lifting as water recovery becomes an increasing necessity.

The apprehension to using recovered water is founded on the idea that it is below standard.  However,  water recovered through a well-functioning wastewater treatment process is often of an equal or higher quality than that supplied by the local service provider. Measures can also be taken to ensure that the areas utilising recovered water are ring-fenced to avoid contact with product if required.

Water recovery is a solution which allows for industrial processes to become more water efficient and benefits include:

  • Reduced risk to uncontrollable factors
  • Reduced reliance on municipal water supply
  • Reduced water supply costs
  • Reduced water abstraction permit requirements
  • Reduced discharge fees
  • Reduced discharge penalties
  • Control of process & key performance area water quality
  • Environmental benefit

Biogas production

Due to the high sugar content of wastewater within the beverage industry, potential opportunity exists in the generation of biogas through biological wastewater treatment. Biogas can in turn be used in boilers, reducing operational energy expenditures and reliance on external energy suppliers.

How to choose the right strategy for your business

Beverage manufacturers can start by unpacking their water footprint through identifying current water intake, usage and discharge.  This is critical in the process to identify potential opportunities for water efficiencies, savings and reuse.  The next step is to identify opportunities to reduce water use in processes and use wastewater in the business itself.  Water and wastewater solutions experts, Talbot & Talbot’s multidisciplinary team of professionals endeavors to provide solutions to water resource management needs and challenges, from understanding water-related risks and ensuring optimal supply to maximising performance efficiencies, reducing effluent discharge and ensuring environmental compliance. Services extend from assisting clients to identify key water risks and opportunities and develop optimised strategies to manage those, to designing, building and managing water and wastewater treatment and associated water and energy recovery facilities.

(as adapted and featured in Food Review, September 2017)