Podcast: "Three Peas in a Pod - The impact of wastewater on the food and beverage industry"

1st June 2021

In this industrial water podcast, Louisa Mafeld interviews Gary Lohse about food and beverage industry wastewater. 

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Read the transcript

Hello listeners and welcome to Hydro International’s first industrial podcast. We call this one "Food, Beverage and Wastewater: Three Peas in a Pod - the impact of wastewater on the food and beverage industry."

I’m here with my colleague Gary Lohse who has over 25 years of experience in the water and wastewater industry working for a number of firms. He is currently the Industrial Sales Manager for North America here at Hydro International. My name is Louisa Mafeld and I’m the Industrial Business Development Manager and Gary’s counterpart in the industrial team based here in the UK.

Louisa: The term "Food & Beverage" is a very broad term, but exactly what sub-industries are included in Food and Beverage industry?

Gary: The Food and Beverage Industry, often called "F&B" for short, is a very encompassing industry which is part of what makes it challenging but also very interesting to work in.

Typically, F&B includes all companies involved in the processing, packaging and distribution of food materials which includes fresh, prepared and packaged foods as well as alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. Some of the industries typically included in Food and Beverage are dairy, meat processing, breweries, wineries, fruits and vegetables, distilleries, and many other industries.

In both the United States and in the UK, these industries are organized by Standard Industrial Classification Code, or SIC Code, which are four-digit codes that categorize the industries that companies belong to based on their business activities. For example, meat packing plants are 2011, while dairy products are 2020. In North America, the six-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is also used to categorize industries. 

What makes it interesting is that each separate industry segment has varying processes with equally varying wastewater characteristics.

Let’s go back to basics. There’s a lot of acronyms that pop up when referring to different wastewater parameters; as a starting point, can you please define and talk me through some of these acronyms and give them some context in terms of both waste and stormwater applications?

Sure, there are many acronyms that are important in wastewater and stormwater application, but I will highlight a few of the more significant ones.

TSS, or "Total Suspended Solids", is a key parameter for wastewater in general and refers to the portion of particulate matter that remains in suspension in water. These particles can be either organic and inorganic in nature and are typically larger than 2 microns in diameter. Suspended solids can clog fish gills, either killing them or reducing their growth rate, they can also reduce light penetration which reduces the ability of algae to produce food and oxygen. Total suspended solids are a significant factor in observing water clarity so the more solids present in the water, the less clear the water will be. Some examples of TSS may be inert particles from floor drains, dirt from product washings or leftover food particles from the manufacturing processes. Water companies and utilities often charge an additional fee called a surcharge for the discharge of an excessive amounts of suspended solids into the sewer.

BOD, or "Biochemical Oxygen Demand", is also an important parameter which represents the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic organisms to break down the organic material present in a given water sample at a certain temperature over a specific time period. It is often used as an index of the degree of organic pollution in water and can be either non-soluble caused by particles of organic material or soluble caused by alcohol, sugar or similar chemicals.  For example, beer and cider have very high BOD concentrations and would typically require some type of treatment prior to discharge directly into a surface water body or a municipal sewer or stiff penalties or surcharges would result.  

COD, or "Chemical Oxygen Demand", is a measurement of the oxygen required to oxidize soluble and particulate organic matter in water. COD is closely related to BOD or Biochemical Oxygen Demand, with the difference being that BOD is a test of the level of organic matter that can be biologically oxidised while COD is a test of the amount of organic matter that can be chemically oxidised.  COD is normally higher than BOD since COD includes BOD and more organic compounds can be chemically oxidised than biologically oxidised.

FOG, or "Fats, Oil and Grease", is particularly relevant to many segments of the F&B industry. FOG is often a by-product of food processing of vegetable oils, meats and dairy products. FOG can often be the source of foul odours in process environments and blockages caused by FOG can reduce capacity of pipes and wastewater equipment. When heated, liquid FOG can easily enter sinks and drains, but when it cools it solidifies, blocking and damaging sewer pipes. Once congealed, FOG deposits on the surface of settling tanks, digesters, pipes, pumps and sensors causing maintenance issues upstream and downstream.

ROI, or "Return on Investment", is a measure of the cost effectiveness of a particular industrial project. Typically, an ROI of 2-3 years is required to move a project forward in the Food and Beverage industry unless it involves an expansion or new regulations.

The Mogden Formula isn’t really an acronym but it is a cool name. We don’t use the Mogden formula much in the States but isn’t that a way to estimate surcharges for industrial discharges that’s used in the UK?

Yes Gary, you’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s commonly used here in the UK, in fact by all of the regional water companies to determine trade effluent charges for any food and beverage company. The name originates from Mogden Water Works in Isleworth, London who developed the formula. The complex formula produces a cost per cubic metre, and takes into account a range of variables including the levels of contamination and strength of the effluent. The variables include: TSS, COD, the primary treatment charge as well as the cost to dispose of the primary sewage, biological treatment charge and extra charges if the water is discharged into the ocean. It’s a fairly complex formula but once it’s broken down into its individual components, can be calculated fairly easy.

We’ve actually used this formula to create a trade effluent calculator for UK users on our website. There, we do the complicated parts for you and simply as for your water company, flow rate and then you can either enter your own specific TSS and COD rates or you can select your industry and we’ll input some typical approximated values for you. A lot of our existing customers have used this as a starting point to see what savings they may be able to achieve.

Now that we have defined what they are, how might TSS, BOD, COD and FOG levels differ between F&B applications?

One of the challenges from a professional standpoint of treating wastewater from the Food and Beverage Industry is that no two wastewaters are exactly the same and therefore treatment plants also vary widely.  The type and method of treatment for each wastewater will depend on the strength and characteristics of the wastewater. Dairy wastewater is typically very high in BOD but is also often very high in FOG which means some type of pre-treatment to remove the FOG such as dissolved air flotation is often required at the head of the plant.

Even within the meat processing industry itself, the quality of the wastewater can vary significantly, depending on the type of processing and preparation that is being done at the particular facility. Although in many cases meat processing wastewater is also high in FOG, it can also be high in large diameter suspended solids that require screening as a form of pre-treatment.

Breweries also have a wide variety of wastewater depending where the wastewater has originated within the brewery.  Brewery washdown water, on one hand, is fairly low in BOD and easy to treat. Spent yeast and trub are extremely high in BOD and yeast can sometimes interfere with a biological wastewater treatment process so it is often side-streamed and disposed of separately. In many cases, side streaming of wastewater can provide an effective method of treating a concentrated wastewater with smaller equipment.

Wineries that own vineyards are unique in that most of their wastewater comes during the 2-3 month “crush” season when most of the grapes are harvested, crushed and the skins, seeds and by-products removed. However, wineries that purchase grapes or grape juice often produce wastewater almost all year round and do not have a defined “crush” season.

The vegetable preparation industry can also produce a widely variable wastewater, not only from facility to facility but even within a single facility depending on the particular production process being run at the time.  A simple vegetable washing wastewater may just require grit removal while wastewater from a frozen carrot preparation plant might also contain pieces of carrot peels and stems and be very high in TSS and BOD and therefore require fine screening as well.

Citrus processing can be anything from washing, drying and preparing the outside skin of the fruit to slicing and pulping the fruit for use in other processes. Juice and soda processing facilities can be high in TSS and soluble BOD especially if they have a “can crush” facility and might require MicroScreening followed by a biological treatment process if the BOD needs to be reduced to very low levels.

Rice processing is generally dry and does not produce large amounts of wastewater unless it is a minute-rice processing facility which boils the rice kernels and then will typically produce large amounts of high BOD wastewater from the cooking water. 

In general, the wastewater treatment required will depend on several factors including: influent wastewater quality, effluent quality required, and the cost of non-treatment.

OK, so if I am an owner of a F&B facility, why do I care about wastewater, especially if I discharge to the local municipality? Isn’t wastewater their problem?

Yes and no. The F&B facility owner is clearly responsible for meeting the specific discharge requirements by operating and maintaining a wastewater treatment plant if they have a permit to discharge wastewater to a surface body of water in their name.  However, even if an F&B facility is discharging to the local wastewater treatment plant, they may be required to pay a significant surcharge based on total flow, total suspended solids, BOD and sometimes COD and pH.  This often means that the F&B facility has to pre-treat its wastewater to remove the majority of these parameters prior to discharge to the municipal sewer.  In either case, there could also be significant fines or surcharges for specific violations.

In additional to the financial cost of treatment and regulations, many F&B corporations have made environmental stewardship a part of their brand by committing to the UN Sustainability Goals for 2030.  Since one of the UN Sustainability goals involves being a good steward of water, many F&B Corporations are including their contributions to water stewardship on their website.

Where do regulations come into play? Again, I thought the municipality was the one who worries about this.

Water discharge regulations usually start at the federal level, then trickle down to a state and local level.  Although the government set the regulations, it is the food and beverage facility that must implement modifications as necessary to meet them. 

If they discharge to a municipal sewer, the requirements will be less strict than with an individual discharge permit, but there will still be significant regulations that need to be abided by to continue to discharge wastewater to the sewer.

OK, so what about the operation of the wastewater treatment plant or pre-treatment facility? Who pays to install and operate the wastewater system, and what are the major costs?

Unless there is some type of special consideration, the facility owner is typically entirely responsible for the installation, operation and maintenance of any wastewater treatment required for wastewater from their specific facility. The major costs of operation of a wastewater treatment plant depend on the type of system but can include manpower, energy, sludge disposal, chemicals, etc.

In some cases, government grants, which are available for recycle and renewable energy projects, can lower the capital cost of private wastewater treatment projects as well.

Speaking of lowering costs, how can these be reduced and what kind of cost savings can these reductions translate to?

The secret is to know exactly what has to be removed, the cost of not removing it and providing a system which can meet these requirements while still obtaining an acceptable ROI.  The best solution is not necessarily to install an extremely effective, very expensive treatment system, but to install what you need that can provide an ROI of 2-3 years, which usually means a simple system with minimal chemical usage and operation cost.

I hope I don’t sound too boastful when I say that Hydro is very good at this, and for our US customers we’ve developed an online ROI calculator which can estimate what the ROI for any specific project will be.

For the UK we also have the trade effluent calculator based on the Mogden formula that we mentioned earlier. These are on our website, and we encourage you to take a look at these to get a feel for if your company can save money through investing in new wastewater technologies. Search “Hydro International Mogden Formula” or “Hydro International ROI Calculator” online and you’ll find them easily enough.

Is it ever possible for the cost savings to provide a reasonable ROI?  Most F&B companies like to see 2 years or less.

Absolutely it is! There is almost always a way to remove pollutant from the wastewater and save money doing it, as long as you find a cost-effective treatment solution that is also low in operation and maintenance costs as well.

The Hydro MicroScreen is a perfect example of this. It is a single piece of equipment that is very compact, has a very high flow rate, does a great job of removing TSS and BOD, does not use chemicals, has very low power requirements and is fully automatic so it requires very little operator attention. In most cases, the MicroScreen is going to give a very favorable ROI.

What about stormwater? Does stormwater have to be treated also, even if it is just rainwater that flows across the parking lot?

The minute rain lands on your industrial site, it becomes your issue. And the minute rainwater lands on your site, it becomes stormwater and needs to be treated accordingly. As it flows across your site, it could pick up a variety of pollutants such as TSS, BOD and heavy metals such as zinc, nickel, iron and lead, which are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. In a manner similar to wastewater treatment, what is in the influent and what is allowed to be discharged will play a major role in the treatment required.

Hydro International has an entire product line dedicated to removing various concentrations of these specific parameters. The First Defense removes a TSS while the Downstream Defender removes TSS but also removes FOG and heavy metals. The Up-Flo Filter is specifically designed to remove high levels of heavy metals not achievable with the Downstream Defender. I just read today where a construction company in Glendale is being fined over $2M for illegal stormwater runoff, so stormwater is a very serious issue and the right treatment solution is required to properly manage the situation.

With this in mind, could you give some other examples where Hydro International has helped food and beverage companies to save money and to meet environmental consents?

We have numerous technologies available to reduce surcharges, but the most common is the previously described Hydro MicroScreen.  In numerous occasions, the Hydro MicroScreen has provided an ROI of between 1-2 years, and is particularly effective in situations where a significant portion of the BOD is non-soluble. Additionally, there are multiple screen pore sizes available so the unit can be easily optimized to meet the specific Particle Size Analysis of the wastewater being treated. The unit does especially well in poultry, vegetable processing, and meat processing applications within the Food and Beverage industry.

If you’d like more specific examples and information, you can find numerous case study examples of a variety of sub-segments within the F&B industry on our website.

Well Gary, thanks for taking the time to answer those questions. I hope that the listeners have enjoyed the podcast and that it’s provided a brief but hopefully useful overview for people in the F&B industry who are considering how to reduce their water charges or improve their environmental sustainability.

We know there’s a lot to take in but remember, you don’t have to do it alone. Gary and myself are here to help provide guidance and point you in the right direction. Should you have any questions about anything that we’ve discussed in today’s podcast, you can find a contact us section below the podcast or please feel free to visit Hydro International’s website where you’ll find our telephone numbers and email addresses. We’re always happy to help.

If you’re listening to this from the UK, we’d also like to invite you to visit our stand at the Foodex exhibition taking place in July.

Gary and I will be releasing new content, either in this format or in webinars throughout the year so watch this space.

Thanks again for joining us and have a great day!