Since the world in general, and Australia in particular, is experiencing increasing climate variability, water shortages are inevitable. While we can’t prevent this, the good news is that companies are taking steps to mitigate the impacts on their business. Hydroflux director Andrew Miley talks about what manufacturers can do. This article first appeared in the July 2021 issue of Food & Drink Business.
It is becoming essential for everyone, companies in particular, to be prepared and adapt to a world where water scarcity is the new normal.
One way businesses can improve their climate resilience and weather the coming storm is by implementing proven and effective advanced water treatment programs.
Current advanced water treatment technologies are capable of recycling industrial wastewater to a potable grade, however, it is more than just the technology that enables overall compliance and acceptance for reuse.
Water Risk Guidelines
The Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling: Managing Health and Environmental Risks (Phase 1) (2006) (AGWR) introduced the preventive risk management approach and included health-based targets which are robust and scientifically defensible.
This guidance was based on the Framework described in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2004) (ADWG), which focused on the management and monitoring of risk from source to end use in a structured and systematic manner that assures water safety and reliability, and that the water is suitable for the intended uses.
In a comparable manner to the risk management systems widely used throughout the food industry via application of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, the AGWR Framework provides a structured risk-based approach to recycled water management.
It has 12 elements broken down into 36 components and 85 actions, which when followed precisely, will ensure the consistent and safe supply of recycled water.
The technology and equipment required to convert food and beverage wastewater into potable water is available, and more importantly it is proven.
There are many Australian references in the food and beverage sector, some of which have been operational for well over a decade.
Once functioning, Advanced Water Treatment Plants (AWTPs) simply blend into the overall factory operations and their HACCP systems and become no more of a burden, or risk than any other process that is required to produce product for market.
The technology used in an AWTP is not too dissimilar to those many food and beverage facilities are familiar with.
The first stages of advanced water treatment incorporate conventional primary and secondary biological processes that many food and beverage facilities employ.
The second stage involves membrane filtration and disinfection, which are water treatment processes that engineers and operators working in food and beverage manufacturing understand.
The final stage of an AWTP is product validation, which is not a treatment process as such, but is an integral and important aspect of the AWTP’s risk management system.
Although an AWTP utilises a series of conventional wastewater and water treatment technologies, one of the keys to its success in establishing a suitable and acceptable risk management plan is the implementation of a multi-barrier approach.
As the name suggests, a multi-barrier approach is a system whereby even in the event of failure of one or more process elements, the product water will remain suited for its intended purpose.
The ultimate design of the AWTP is based on a combination of scientific and engineering principals along with comprehensive risk management plan requirements.
All food and beverage businesses will have conducted multiple water reduction reviews and applied several water saving measures by now. Many businesses will have implemented some degree of non-potable water recycling into those programs and many will already operate their low grade water recycling plant under a risk-based management system. However, the number of businesses that have taken the additional steps to generate full potable water from wastewater are few and far between.
The processes required to embark on an AWTP project are not insignificant. The risk management plan will require input from all stakeholders and regulators, and considerable time will be necessary from management and engineering through concept to execution, a process that can take several years. So when is the right time to consider the employment of Advanced Water Treatment?
Most businesses are continuing to invest in the design and implementation of sustainability strategies and programs and they have probably already made significant steps into reducing their carbon footprint. These actions are essential, welcomed by all, and will make the future less bad. However, businesses need to have adaptation plans for climate variability.
There is no doubt that in the future, many parts of Australia will again be impacted by drought. History confirms this, and science and trends suggest the frequency and severity only will get worse.
Converting wastewater back to a potable grade will notably reduce the impact the next drought will have on any business that administers an advanced water recycling program, and will reduce the impact of the drought on others including the local catchment and community.
The driest land: Streamflow falling since ’75
Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet, with 70 per cent of the country arid (average rainfall < 250mm/year) or semi-arid (average rainfall 250-350mm/year) land. As a drought-prone country, Australia has experienced several severe prolonged drought events over the centuries.
These include the Settlement Drought (1790-1793); Sturt’s Drought (1809-1830); Goyder Line Drought (1861-1866); Federation Drought (1895-1903); World War 2 Drought (1939 – 1945); and the Millennium Drought (1997-2009).
Each of these drought events dealt a crushing blow to the agricultural sector, as well as the food and beverage industry.
According to the State of Climate Report, there has been a decrease in streamflow at the majority of streams or rivers monitored across southern Australia since 1975.
Several Australian towns and even capital cities have nearly run out of water during extended dry spells. And as the climate gets hotter and drier and populations continue to grow, it is highly likely that some of these business hubs will run dry and face day zero in future if we don’t act now.
Andrew Miley is a director of Hydroflux and has been instrumental in the development and execution of advanced water treatment programs for many food and beverage businesses across Australia.