How Can the Beverage Industry Enhance Water Reclaim & Reuse?September 20, 2018 | BIER
Dwindling water quality. Increasing water scarcity. Lack of water access. These days, if there’s one thing in full supply in the world, it’s water-related challenges.
But solutions to these challenges do exist—and others are in the making. Solutions, however, often come with their own set of barriers. One such quandary is water reclaim and reuse—particularly in the beverage sector.
For more than a decade, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER)—a consortium of leading beverage companies from around the globe—has made sustainable water use and protection a foundational priority. This year, we established a new technical working group centered on technology, and the first focus area is water reclaim and water reuse.
Recently, several of the Technology Working Group members got together for a Q&A session to share their unique perspectives on the water reclaim and reuse challenges inside and outside the beverage sector. Those members include: Julio Torruella of Bacardi Limited, Danielle Kohler of Pernod Richard, and Michael Wilson of Diageo. Below we share their insights:
Technology Isn’t (Necessarily) the Problem
Q: From your perspective, do you think the right water reclaim and reuse technology exists and is readily available to companies?
Julio Torruella (Bacardi Limited): There are several techniques and technologies available—filtration, reverse osmosis, and evaporation, for example, but many are very energy intensive. In Bacardi’s experience, there is no “silver bullet” technology that serves as the perfect answer for spirits producers. Instead, it’s dependent on effluent characteristics, facility size, processes, energy consumption, scale, and so on. Legacy operations with very old facilities can make it difficult to determine which technology should be implemented—especially if they have limited streams segregation. In addition, differences in processes require varying levels of effluent treatment depending on the type of spirits that are produced.
Danielle Kohler (Pernod Richard): Yes. From a technical point of view, many reuse technologies exist to enable us to maintain and/or improve water quality. In my opinion, it’s not typically a technology issue. It is more a question of being able to do it in a cost-effective manner and in a way that will not alter internal and consumer perceptions, marketing, and understanding. When using spring water from a given area is part of your story telling, for instance, it can be quite complicated to consider water reuse or reclaim!
Michael Wilson (Diageo): This is all true. An additional consideration, perhaps, is that as water recovery and reuse technologies become more widely used, the extent of the investment should decrease. Costs should lessen, and technologies and solutions will be more competitive. And as interest and application of recovery becomes more widely used this will stimulate more innovation and advances in water recovery technologies.
At the recent BIER meeting in Copenhagen, two suppliers demonstrated some recent innovations in water recovery technologies. One example from Singapore effectively demonstrated what’s possible with advances in water recovery and reuse facilities operating at a significantly reduced footprint, ~75% less, using these new and emerging technologies. Suppliers are adapting to the needs of society and they’re developing more advanced recovery systems that are becoming more available as their use increases.
The Barriers to Water Reclaim & Reuse
Q: Perception, energy consumption, policy—you’ve all surfaced several big internal and external challenges. Can we dive a little deeper into the internal barriers?
Julio (Bacardi Limited): In the spirits industry, high-strength and high-volume discharges can require more advanced technologies, which boils down to energy intensity. Some technologies are so energy intensive it’s difficult to justify them to make the business case. You’re saving water, but you need to consider the energy and emissions you’re creating by using those technologies.
Solids management—as a result of recycling processes—can be difficult to overcome as well, depending on solids’ characteristics. The first approach is to find a beneficial use, such as recycling, composting, animal feed, or land application for fertilization. But it can be difficult to identify beneficial uses for some locations, which incurs additional costs for disposal, transportation, and more.
Perception is also an issue, as Danielle already mentioned. The internal concerns center on product quality and how consumers may react to recycled, clean water being used in beverages for human consumption.
Danielle (Pernod Richard): To build on that, in my experience, there are typically less barriers when reclaimed water is not used for the product—as long as it’s cost effective, easy to implement, and doesn’t contribute to additional complexity within the process.
Michael (Diageo): One of the main barrier is definitely perception. There’s a general view embedded, that recycled or recovered water maybe is inferior to water from conventional sources, whereas effectively recovered water may even be of higher quality!
The cost of implementation can also be an internal barrier—it’s not an inexpensive undertaking to implement water reclaim processes. Finally, another major barrier is the realization that water recovery is an imperative in certain locations to avoid supply disruptions, as well as demonstrate leadership in water stewardship and evidence of businesses’ strong commitment to communities with clear, tangible interventions.
Q: Now let’s talk external challenges—particularly when it comes to policy and regulation hurdles. What are the biggest challenges there? What steps is your company taking to overcome them?
Julio (Bacardi Limited): Regulations are always a challenge as they’re different from country to country and even region to region. At Bacardi, regulatory hurdles are always considered while identifying opportunities for water reclaim and reuse. “End of pipe” impacts, such as discharges and regulatory effluent standards, can be impactful and are considered prior to implementation. Regulations are considered as part of the feasibility assessments for reuse and recycling initiatives, so we don’t make an investment that will generate a problem downstream.
Danielle (Pernod Richard): Up to now, external factors and regulations have not been real barriers. We take them into account when assessing and defining the most adapted technical solutions for reuse or reclaim. Actually, each time there has been a good reason to implement water reuse and/or reclaim (i.e. when cost for water was high or when the plant was located in a water-stressed area), it has been done without external factors or regulations being insuperable barriers.
Michael (Diageo): External barriers are less of an issue, but they’re occasionally used as a reason to not pursue particular approaches to water reclaim or reuse. Maintaining water quality parameters is always a prerequisite for reuse processes. But, for Diageo at least, external obstacles and regulatory hurdles are not currently significant barriers.
How BIER Is Addressing Water Reclaim & Reuse
Q: You’ve shared some examples of how your companies are tackling water reclaim and reuse barriers. How is the Technology Working Group working to enhance water reclaim and reuse at the industry level? BIER as a whole?
Julio (Bacardi Limited): All BIER members share common problems, many of which cannot be solved individually. By working together, we can solve these shared problems in a non-competitive way and develop solutions for the industry as a whole. If a member already has a solution to a common issue it can be shared to prevent the same hassles/problems for other members.
We’re competitive in the market, but BIER provides a platform to work as a team and try to develop potential solutions for the future. In many cases, if an issue occurs, it will impact the industry, which makes working together even more important.
Danielle (Pernod Richard): I’ve joined BIER only recently through the Water Technology Working Group. This platform will definitely enable Pernod Richard to move faster in the area of water reclaim and reuse. By sharing our experiences, by making our individual expertise available for common knowledge and consumption, and by developing cost-efficient solutions, it will contribute to the spread of water reuse and reclaim awareness and implementation across our companies.
Michael (Diageo): The addition of the Technology Working Group has revitalized technology and water reclaim and reuse as a key element of BIER’s agenda. The examples shared at the Copenhagen meeting were very insightful as a first step in this process. But I believe there are opportunities to demonstrate and showcase other technology suppliers through the BIER forum to demonstrate what’s really possible. BIER’s focus on new technologies is much more expansive than water, but it’s a great first step and is of common interest to companies inside and outside the beverage sector.
Through our collaboration with each other, as well as global organizations such as the CEO Water Mandate, BIER has already made incredible progress on water-related challenges, developing and implementing a water stewardship framework, establishing performance benchmarks and targets, and designing toolkits that have cross-industry applications.
The Technology Working Group is just gearing up and our other workstreams are heads down on other exciting projects. Stay tuned as we continue to release new best practices, tools, and data throughout 2018 and beyond.
The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.