Increased focus on environmental compliance puts food processing under the spotlight

by Dave Walker, commercial director at Detectronic

When the Environment Act was issued at the end of 2021, the UK government made very clear that it is focused on tightening the environmental impact of wastewater and trade effluent thus putting water companies firmly in the limelight. But what does this mean for the food processing industry?

Well, since water companies will have to further improve sewer networks and how they’re used, food processing companies will also find themselves under the spotlight with regards meeting regulatory and environmental compliance.

Increased pressure on food processing firms

Whilst it’s true to say that legislation has long been in place to regulate wastewater within the food processing industry, the Environment Act 2021 undoubtedly places increased pressure on companies over the next 2 to 5 years. The food & drinks industry will be hit harder.

What’s more, when it comes to regulation, the industry is also still subject to ‘BREF’ (Best Available Techniques Reference). The Best Available Techniques are combined in a European document entitled ‘BREF’ (Best Available Techniques Reference Document). These are a series of documents specifically created to regulate different industries as part of the Industrial Emissions Directive. Although the UK has since left the EU, these documents are still at the forefront of ensuring regulatory compliance.

For the food and drinks industry, the BREF was published in December 2019. All affected Food, Drink & Milk installations should comply with a permit to operate in line with the new standards within four years of this, i.e. by the autumn of 2023 at the latest.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: the only way to improve efficiencies and achieve potentially stricter compliance is by monitoring wastewater more rigorously throughout the entire production process. As such, site managers, as well as production teams. need to step up and embrace monitoring as a key element of the day-to-day role.

How to identify (and solve!) issues in the process: monitor, monitor, monitor

We are currently working with several multi-million-pound food processing firms and site managers to identify issues within specific areas of the process, improving knowledge and providing long-term solutions to improve both time and cost efficiencies.

For example, we recently helped a company to identify massive wastage of rapeseed oil. By implementing a 6-week monitoring project, we identified that each week thousands of litres of neat rapeseed oil were heading straight into the sewer network.

Rapeseed oil is an expensive commodity, so the company was literally pouring down the drain. Working with the operations team, we suggested installing screens to prevent the rapeseed oil from entering the sewer thus capturing it for alternative use. We were also able to pinpoint various stages of the process where the rapeseed oil was being lost and the company is now consulting with a specialist machinery on a specific fix for this within the process. Result? A more efficient production process and a significant decrease in rapeseed oil costs!

Cost savings achieved through I&I project

Another client who operates a processing facility based in a historic site with combined sewers approached us to better understand their wastewater consent licence and ensure compliance. Surface water should not be included in a wastewater bill and, following a 4-week Infiltration & Inflow (I&I) project, we calculated the average amount of surface water heading into the sewer network. The client informed the local water company, and the volume was removed from the wastewater bill and will be monitored moving forward to achieve further cost savings.

By implementing fit-for-purpose wastewater monitoring not only will your process meet environmental compliance and regulations, but your entire business will benefit from cost-savings, enhanced operating procedures and improved staff productivity. So, when your company is under the spotlight, make sure it shines for all the right reasons.

 


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