Benefits of Recycling Wastewater in a Context of Drought and Global Water Scarcity

Since the beginning of the last century, water consumption worldwide has increased exponentially, from around 500 billion m³ to more than 4 trillion m³ in 2014, mainly due to the evolution towards more resource intensive in many industries.

Ian Hart is Business Development Director of adi Projects, a division of UK engineering firm adi Group

And if that figure isn’t worrying enough, the damaging effects of droughts – which have recently been felt again across the UK – should give us some insight into why responsible water use should be one of our priorities.

Reducing water stress is essential due to the inevitable increase in demand due to global population growth, and some nations are more at risk than others, with some no longer able to rely on a stable water supply.

According to the UN, the world is heading towards a global water crisis, which will cause global water demand to exceed supply by 40% by 2030. With such an alarming estimate, it is essential to identify the main factors contributing to this growing crisis. .

Can food manufacturers tell the difference?

Currently, the food industry is responsible for over 70% of total freshwater use, which means that implementing dedicated water saving procedures would have a huge impact on this figure.

Reducing water stress is already a core part of initiatives such as WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2030, which aims to empower the food and beverage sector to achieve global environmental goals through collaborative action.

Companies like PepsiCo have embraced water-saving and wastewater-recycling processes for over a decade with amazing results, reducing water use by 26% while saving $80 million in costs operating.

Meanwhile, food and drink production giant Nestlé has in recent years focused specifically on wastewater treatment, having built facilities for this purpose at all factories in the Central African region. and West and beyond.

As a result, the company has reduced water consumption by 10% at its Tema factory in Ghana, and is saving 16,500 t of water per month (equivalent to 500,000 liters per day) at its milk factory in Qingdao, China, with plans to continue to optimize water use in more places.

So what exactly is wastewater recycling?

Wastewater recycling is the process of partially or totally reusing water, essentially helping to create a circular economy – a substantial help in bringing us closer to our environmental goals.

Wastewater can be reused in many different ways, with a plethora of benefits. When companies have the means to set up water recycling processes, not seizing the opportunity is quite simply a waste of money but also of resources.

Companies operating in the food and beverage industry produce a significant amount of liquid waste, called commercial effluent.

Due to the disastrous environmental impact that wastewater can have when not managed properly, there are significant limits on how companies can dispose of it, limiting the type and amount of waste that can be discharged into sewers.

This, coupled with potentially costly financial burdens should something go wrong, should spur manufacturers to find new ways to manage waste.

The food and beverage industry naturally needs large amounts of water to operate, and while there is little that can be done to reduce the amount of water required, manufacturers should aim to becoming more resilient, and wastewater recycling has the ability to make a difference.

Although potentially a costly investment for companies in the beginning, water treatment equipment and facilities ultimately provide excellent return on investment, as companies such as PepsiCo have proven.

Given its potential to deliver substantial cost savings and help achieve global environmental goals, why isn’t wastewater recycling still a widespread procedure in the food and beverage industry?

The problem of wastewater recycling

While the UK is well known for its wastewater treatment and recycling, the adoption of these processes on an individual scale presents different challenges, one of which is the negative public perception of wastewater recycling in the manufacture of food products.

Along with the lack of availability of equipment and high prices discouraging business owners, there is a general reluctance to implement these processes due to potential reputational damage in countries like the UK.

Contamination concerns are at the forefront of consumer and manufacturer concerns, and although treating water that will then come into direct contact with food is more problematic, wastewater can also be used for a variety of other purposes. .

Wastewater can be reused in factories for specific indoor uses such as toilet flushing, equipment cleaning, and many industrial processes that do not require complicated decontamination processes.

Although it is not yet possible to implement wastewater recycling as part of standard procedures, there are many ways for companies to optimize their water use and play a part in achieving environmental objectives.

*Ian Hart is Business Development Director of adi Projects, a division of UK engineering firm adi Group

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