How better water management can help the meat and poultry industries save money

24th July 2020

The meat and poultry industries use large volumes of water—and supply, treatment and discharge comes at a cost. These industries could save money month on month by addressing the way they manage water.

The meat and poultry industries are highly water intensive. In farms, slaughterhouses, rendering plants and processing facilities huge amounts of water are used for a wide range of processes, including chilling, packaging, washing, cleaning and conveying.

This water comes at a cost, however. The supply, treatment and discharge of water all have an impact on the bottom line.

The problem is that meat and poultry water contains large amounts of both organic and inorganic materials. Washing carcasses, cleaning equipment and facilities, flushing, removing and transporting offal, scrap meat, feathers, fat, bone and hair; these activities result in wastewater that contains high levels of total suspended solids (TSS) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD)—and these materials must be removed before water can be reused or discharged.

 

Too many industrial companies think of water simply as an unavoidable cost of doing business.

Too many industrial companies think of water simply as an unavoidable cost of doing business, but this mindset is limiting. Water is no different than any other type of resource that a business uses—and failure to adopt the same approaches to efficiency and cost-effective use (and reuse) as in other parts of the business will hurt just the same.

Pay for water once, use it many times

Although making changes across a range of practices can help to reduce water use to a degree—vacuuming dry materials rather than sluicing them, for example—businesses need to rethink water if they are serious about realizing significant reductions in use (and, by extension, cost).

Water supply costs money, so companies in the meat and poultry sectors should try to recycle and reuse wherever possible—pay for water once but then use that water as many times as possible.

The only way to achieve this is through better removal of solids in process and waste water.

Removal of solids such as bone, paunch fat and other waste materials does not produce drinkable water by any means, but it can enable businesses to reuse water in their operational specific purposes such as washing of product, cooling and even cleaning.

Cut the cost of treatment

Removal of solids from process water and wastewater also has the benefit of cutting the cost of on-site water treatment.

Effective solids reduction limits the load being sent to downstream treatment equipment, increasing process efficiency while preventing the clogging that makes pumps and aeration systems work harder, which in turn increases electricity and maintenance costs.

Discharge cleaner water and cut surcharge costs

Short of thorough treatment and discharge on site—a process far too costly for most production facilities—it is inevitabile that some water will be discharged, whether to the city or local water courses.

Industrial permits mean that discharging effluent comes at a cost. Effluent surcharges are applied to discharges that reach or exceed certain specific discharge limits, so it is imperative that businesses keep levels of TSS and BOD within permitted limits.

Removing waste materials early in the treatment process, improving the quality of waste passing through to downstream treatment systems and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of those treatment systems generates effluent with lower levels of TSS and BOD—helping businesses to remain within permitted levels and reducing or even eliminating costly effluent surcharges.

 

Removing waste materials early in the treatment process can help businesses to reduce or even eliminate costly effluent surcharges.

Conclusion

The meat production and processing industry is a sector of the economy that faces uniquely intense pressure when it comes to water. Efficient water consumption, usage, treatment and discharge are more challenging and potentially more costly for meat and poultry businesses than in most other areas.

Water is a lever that businesses can pull to improve profitability, and businesses that treat water with the same level of importance as other resources around the business—and address it as a source of efficiency savings—can unlock savings that boost the bottom line and scale with the business.

And as the climate changes and water becomes an ever more precious resource, farms, slaughterhouses and processing plants that recycle and reuse their water are not only making the smart business decision—they are also taking the environmentally sustainable option.

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