These Food and Beverage Companies Are Redefining Waste

Historically, discussions about water and waste stream management in the food and beverage industry were discussions about profit and loss.

How much will it cost to discharge to the local municipality? How much will it cost to treat it ourselves? How much will it cost to transport it offsite for treatment?

No matter how you sliced it, you were talking about profits exiting your doors.

Not anymore.

These days, leading food and beverage companies — Coca-Cola, Molson Coors and numerous others — are welcoming water and waste stream management.

Here’s why:

  • It’s making them more efficient.
  • It improves their return on investment.
  • It differentiates their company and products.

Done right, water and waste stream management is now a big opportunity that is good for the community, the environment and business, too.

How are leading food and beverage companies seizing on this opportunity?

They are redefining waste by engineering ways to recover and leverage valuable resources. In the process, they are beefing up their bottom line, improving operational sustainability, and gaining market differentiation.

Let’s take a closer look.

Heating a brewery with wastewater

Without high-quality clean water there is no beer. The brewing process also generates significant amounts of wastewater, which is typically pre-treated and discharged to the local municipality, or processed through custom-designed wastewater treatment processes then discharged directly to receiving streams.

What if, instead of sending that wastewater down the drain, you were able to capture the energy within it to heat your facilities?

The Molson Coors Brewing Company is currently using anaerobic digestion technology that will transform wastewater into biogas that can be used to produce heat or electricity for its breweries.

More than providing substantial operational savings, this approach brings major benefits to the world outside the walls of the brewery.

It will:

  • Help protect regional watersheds.
  • Help alleviate the impact of its operations on municipal water treatment facilities.
  • Reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Reduce carbon emissions.

Inside and out, turning waste into energy yields significant benefits.

Water reuse serves as a differentiator

Drop for drop. By 2020, Coca-Cola aims to return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to the amount used to produce its beverages.

How?

Through a network of diverse, locally focused community water projects. These projects, built in collaboration with the local community, governments and other third-party partners, often grow out of source water vulnerability assessments (SVA) the company conducts.

These SVAs establish an inventory of social, environmental and regulatory risks to the water sources supplying the facility and surrounding communities.   

In fact, between 2005 and the end of 2014, Coca-Cola was able to balance an estimated 94 percent of the water used in finished beverages (based on 2014 sales volume).

The result: 153.6 billion liters of water were replenished to communities and nature. These are immense benefits for the planet.  But also good for the Coca-Cola brand.

With 91% of global consumers reporting that they will switch brands to one that supports a social issue, Coca-Cola’s dedication to clean water clearly differentiates them in a highly competitive marketplace.

This trend is rippling throughout the industry

Large international processors aren’t the only ones investing in sustainable water and waste stream solutions. We’re seeing it up and down the food and beverage supply chain.

Smaller and midsized companies are also adopting waste stream management technologies that deliver improved environmental and business results. Minnesota-based Revier Cattle Company is one example.

Fueling a fleet with anaerobic digesters

Revier Cattle Company, a family-owned supplier of prime and choice grade cattle for the beef industry, is planning to turn their waste into fuel for trucks and agricultural equipment.

To accomplish this, they are incorporating tertiary anaerobic digester technology to capture and treat animal waste. The company is planning to tap biogas from the waste and convert it in to compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel for their fleet.

More than a bottom-line decision, Revier is tracking social, economic and environmental impacts with a sustainability scorecard. The scorecard, which is active and evolving, addresses water use, animal waste management and air emissions.

Other agricultural producers are following suit

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies more than 250 farm-based or regional biodigesters that were operational, or under construction in the U.S. as of January 2015. 

Biodigester technology is preventing animal waste from entering local surface and groundwater supplies. Digestion reduces the organic strength of the waste, yet preserves nutrients valuable as fertilizer products, and reduces the volume of waste requiring land application.

Conclusion

Food and beverage companies, both large and small, are redefining their relationship with water and waste. Through well-engineered solutions that include engineering processes like anaerobic digestion, sustainability checklists, and SVAs, companies are transforming waste from loss to essential resource and differentiating their brand in the marketplace.

About the Author

Steve Peterson

Steve Peterson has an extensive background with waste characterization, classification and treatment of industrial wastes. Working with existing and new facilities, his successful projects have included detection and segregation of high strength wastes, pretreatment for solids, organics and fats, oil & grease (FOG) removal, complete treatment systems employing anaerobic and aerobic treatment processes and pH and temperature monitoring and adjustment systems. Contact Steve

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