Working to improve wastewater re-use
Our water usage is far from a minor issue. In fact, we use as much as 8.2 million litres per day. That’s perhaps not as much of a problem as it sounds, because much of our water consumption takes place in regions where water is plentiful, so no one goes without as a result of our usage.
Re-used water is also a key element in our circular approach to sourcing and production, partly because we use and re-use water from our raw material streams, and partly because we constantly clean and re-purpose other water inputs before releasing them back into nature. In fact, if we weren’t focused on ways to re-use this water, we could use up to three times as much!
As with our energy consumption, our water requirements grow with the increasing complexity of our products. Yet, although water consumption increased by 11 percent in 2019 compared with 2018, we recorded an overall 20 percent improvement in water usage efficiency. The improvement is due to sharpened focus on treating and re-using water extracted from whey during processing, reducing the need to use water drawn from drinking water supplies.
Upgrading treated wastewater at our plants
Our flagship whey processing facility is Danmark Protein, located in West Jutland, Denmark. Here, wastewater is treated using a biological process, and all sludge is sent for biogas production.
During 2019, we drew up plans for a new project to upgrade treated wastewater for re-use. Treated wastewater is currently environmentally approved for discharge into a local stream. However, by removing the chalk content, it is possible to return it to Danmark Protein and Arinco for technical purposes such as cooling.
In this way, we expect to be able to recycle 450,000 litres of wastewater a day. We’re still investigating the ability to recycle the chalk by pressing it into fertiliser pellets.
Arla Foods Ingredients also owns and operates the Portena plant in Argentina. Here, wastewater re-use is already reducing the use of potable water. Up to 100,000 litres of wastewater from the onsite treatment plant is returned to the plant every day for use in cooling towers and boilers, for example. The goal is to increase wastewater re-use at AFISA to 300,000 litres daily. Around 85-90 percent of all water used at the production site is originally drawn from whey.
Developing pioneering technologies, together
Partnering with third parties is part of our mindset – and it’s a core enabler of everything we do, including our ability to minimise our environmental footprint.
For a full five years, we worked closely with five research institutes and 13 companies to develop pioneering technology for cutting food industry use of potable water by 15-30 percent. Initiated by Innovation Fund Denmark, the partnership has now drawn to a close, but we remain focused on optimal use and re-use of water – made even more pressing as a goal considering our expanding production activities.