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Solving the challenges of water usage

18 May 2020

Daniel Parry looks at how tightening restrictions on wastewater discharge will affect food and beverage companies, and what can be done to ensure compliance. 

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While managing the supply of water is a straightforward process for many, food and beverage companies are likely to encounter difficulties such as tighter regulations on water use and the lack of water available as water scarcity becomes a growing issue.   

The food and beverage industry is often dictated by changes in product type and volume at a given site and most processes generate wastewater, which will have highly variable effluent composition, dependent on the activity, working patterns, product wastage and cleaning systems. 

It is vital that raw materials, product and by-product is kept out of the wastewater by controlling product wastage and cleaning processes. These changes can often have a drastic impact on how food and beverage manufacturers operate with big impacts on permit usage, and strict environmental standards. 

A proportion of virtually all of the raw materials and auxiliary chemicals will end up as a waste or in the final effluent, even when reduced by treatment. The Environment Agency sets numeric limits on effluent discharges by considering the type of process involved, the substances discharged, the environmental quality standard (EQS), the cost and the use of the receiving water. The permit will dictate the amount of substances that can be discharged in the effluent. If manufacturers are fined, this will inevitably lead to an additional cost for sites, but it also increases the needs to monitor effluent discharge to protect the site against further fines. 

A secondary issue is the growing scarcity of water. The Environment Agency reports that that total water demand for food and beverage manufacturing only decreases by 28% if sustainable measures are put in place. In contrast total water demand was found to increase by 70% under the uncontrolled demand.

Some factories are already limited to the volume of water they can take from boreholes or mains and this may force them to find alternative methods to gain the water needed. 
There is, however, an increasing variety of solutions to reduce the impact of management difficulties, which can also present opportunities for reducing costs and reusing waste.

Embracing connected technology and new innovations can help. Remote monitoring systems, such as Veolia Water Technologies’ Aquavista, can provide real-time information about the operation of equipment as well as analysis of trends in performance. Wireless monitoring devices are installed on all relevant equipment and the data is fed back securely, aggregated and displayed in real-time to allow operators to quickly identify and address any issues that may affect the quality of the water as well as changes in the characteristics of the wastewater being discharged. It also streamlines the reporting process, allowing simple documentation of compliance with all the relevant standards and regulations.

Environmental impact
Reuse of wastewater offers another possibility for reducing environmental impacts and lowering costs. A large proportion of this wastewater is actually suitable for recovery, treatment and reuse. For example, figures from the Scottish Whisky Association have previously suggested that as much as 73% of the water used by the whisky industry was used for cooling and returned to the environment unchanged except for the temperature. It is possible to implement a system that can recover and reuse this valuable resource. As the cost of discharging the water can be twice as much as the cost of mains supply water, there is a significant financial incentive to investing in processes that will reduce the volume of wastewater discharged to the sewer.

Smaller, additional steps that can be taken include regularly sampling and testing wastewater to ensure it is within the legal limit. Having a positive relationship with the Environmental Agency, or a water provider, can also help ensure that if there are any changes to a permit it is known in advance.

In addition to considering the quality of the supply it is also important to understand how wastewater is managed. Water is a resource that is under increasing pressure and so businesses have both a responsibility and an incentive to recover and reuse as much of the water as possible.

Daniel Parry is Industrial Wastewater sales and proposal manager at Veolia Water Technologies UK.

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