Increasing Pressure on Companies to Discharge Wastewater More Efficiently
The food and beverage processing industry is one of the largest consumers of water in the UK, using around 190 million m³ of water per year.
Water is a crucial component of many food and beverage products. As well as being used as an ingredient, food and beverage processing facilities require high volumes of water for activities such as washing, clean-in-place (CIP) operations, processing, boiling and cooling purposes.
For each of these applications, the resulting wastewater or liquid waste needs to be treated properly, in order to comply with stringent regulations. If companies fail to abide by these regulations, the fines can be staggering.
This blog article looks at the wastewater treatment challenges facing food and beverage manufacturers and how liquid product recovery (pigging) can help reduce wastewater treatment and disposal costs.
Food and Beverage Wastewater Difficult and Costly to Manage
Food and beverage processing plants generate a significant amount of wastewater, due to the high volumes of water used.
It’s imperative that wastewater is treated before it is released into the environment in order to prevent any harm or risk to the environment and human health.
Wastewater derived from food and beverage processing operations often has very high concentrations of Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), and Fats, Oils, & Greases (FOG). Not only do these high pollutant loadings increase the cost of treatment, but they can also be extremely difficult to manage.
Wastewater Charges Impacting the Bottom Line
Food and beverage manufacturers have the choice of paying trade effluent prices or treating their own wastewater.
The simplest, but not necessarily the most cost-effective or sustainable option is to send wastewater to a local municipal treatment plant, usually after chemical treatment. Companies that opt for this must usually pay a “trade effluent charge”. This charge is determined by a number of factors including effluent volume and quality.
Essentially, the more wastewater there is, and the higher the strength, the greater the cost for food and beverage companies. Trade effluent charges can be extremely hefty and can have a very significant impact on the bottom line.
Municipalities Impose a Surcharge on Food and Beverage Processors
Due to the high strength of food and beverage wastewater, this means more energy, chemicals, manpower, capacity and so on are required to treat it. Therefore, sending waste to a municipal treatment plant isn’t exactly the most sustainable option.
The wastewater must be treated before discharge to levels that will not harm receiving waters because of the excess nutrients and oxygen demand, or will not cause irreversible damage to publicly owned treatment works when discharged to sewers.
So, municipalities impose a surcharge on processors to offset these costs. Surcharge costs continue to rise year on year as wastewater infrastructure deteriorates, water scarcity intensifies, and energy prices increase. These costs form a significant part of companies operating costs and are placing a heavy burden on food and beverage processing operations hindering their competitiveness, profitability, and growth.
Food and Beverage Companies Pressured to Treat Their Own Water and Wastewater
Because of the increasing costs, stricter environmental legislation, water scarcity and rising social awareness on water footprint of food and beverage processing operations, manufacturers are investing in on-site wastewater treatment operations. This involves treating wastewater at the processing plant itself.
For many large food and beverage manufacturing plants, this is a favourable option and can save a considerable amount of money. However, for smaller and medium-sized operations, it isn’t always feasible. After all, installing wastewater treatment solutions can be extremely expensive, therefore it’s often easier and more cost-effective to pay the surcharge.
Wastewater Still a Major Expense
Although on-site wastewater treatment is often cheaper than paying the surcharge for larger food and beverage operations, it is still a major expense.
Some wastewater treatment systems are complex to set-up, use and maintain, and require specialist, highly trained operators to use them. So, there’s the labour costs to consider for operation and maintenance. Other costs associated with wastewater discharge include the amount of wastewater that is discharged and the amount of waste that is within the water. There are also the costs of power, chemicals, sludge disposal and so on.
So, even though they aren’t paying trade effluent prices, the costs associated with wastewater discharge can still be significant for food and beverage manufacturers.
Reducing Water and Wastewater in the Food and Beverage Industry
With such high volumes of water used in the industry and the cost of water and wastewater disposal constantly increasing, manufacturers are looking for technologies to reduce their water usage and lower their disposal costs.
Product recovery (‘pigging’) is a technology that is in wide use in the food and beverage industry. Pigging is an extremely effective way to lower water consumption, reduce wastewater treatment costs and reduce the environmental impact of food and beverage processing operations.
As an example, HPS implemented a pigging system for a winery in Australia. The HPS system is saving them 2.6 megalitres of water, wine savings of 40,000 litres as well as a 40% reduction in BOD load over a vintage period. You can find out more in our case studies on pigging systems for beverages.
How Does Pigging Save Water?
Because the HPS pipeline pig removes practically all of the residual product from the pipeline prior to a flush, it reduces the need for long and continuous pipeline flushes. The pig typically recovers up to 99.5% of product from full pipelines.
Because of the high recovery rates of the pig, this is sometimes enough to eliminate the need to flush completely. Even if a water flush and CIP process are still required, their length and intensity (and the amount of water used) are significantly less due to pigging. In this way, by minimising water usage, this, in turn, reduces the amount of wastewater generated and the subsequent disposal costs.
Pigging also provides the potential to recycle flush water. In some processes such as distilling, pigging is used to reclaim the flush water and reuse it as cooling water.
Other Benefits of Pigging
Because pigging reduces waste and saves so much water, it not only lowers your water bill and disposal costs, but it also reduces your energy use and bills.
Pigging also reduces labour costs and lowers the use of cleaning agents and chemicals as it ensures quicker and less intensive cleaning. What’s more, pigging also saves on the direct cost of these products, as well as the related transport costs. The savings associated with installing a pigging system can be immense.
Other benefits of pigging include higher yields, increased production capacity, improved efficiency, faster changeovers, plus much more.