What’s in your dairy effluent and 12 ideas to manage it better

ARTICLES What's in your dairy effluent and 12 ideas to manage it better

Dairy processors turn raw milk into an ever increasing number of products—pasteurized milk, yogurt, kefir, soft and hard cheese, butter, ice cream, whey powders, desserts and more. Dairy processing is also regarded as the world’s largest source of food manufacturing wastewater. One scientific article states that the industry produces between 0.2 to 10 litres of effluent per litre of milk processed and asserts that sweet whey is 60 to 80 times more polluting than domestic sewage. If you’re in dairy processing, this article will help you understand your wastewater so you can better manage your systems and save money.

What are the types of dairy effluent?

Dairy processor effluent falls into three major types, based on where the effluent comes from and what it contains.

Processing water. This type of effluent is produced when milk is cooled or condensed, and when water condenses during the evaporation of milk or whey. Processing water is generally free of pollutants, but it may contain milk or whey. It requires little pre-treatment before being reused (provided the reuse doesn’t involve contact with your product) or discharged.

Cleaning effluent. This effluent contains the water that’s been used to clean equipment, as well as any product that’s in the cleaning water and any detergents or sanitizers that have been used for cleaning. Cleaning effluent characteristics vary depending on what’s being cleaned (pipes, tanks, manufacturing equipment, trucks etc.), the cleaning methods used (e.g. clean-in-place), periodic changes in processes (e.g. product changeovers, start-up and shutdown of equipment), equipment breakdown, equipment maintenance, and operator error. Cleaning effluent is produced in large volumes and requires significant treatment.

Sanitary wastewater. This effluent isn’t much different from what’s produced in residential homes, since it is water from toilets, sinks and showers. It’s usually discharged into the sewer system and treated by a municipal wastewater treatment plant.

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What's in your dairy plant's wastewater?

It’s difficult to characterize dairy effluent in a standardized way, given the wide range of products that are manufactured across the industry, seasonal variation and differences in the quantity of milk being processed. That being said, universal components of concern include:

  • High fat loads
  • pH that can range from 2 to 13
  • Suspended and dissolved solids
  • Trace organics
  • Nitrogen
  • Minerals, including phosphorus and sodium
  • Chlorides
  • Sanitizers
  • Detergents

What problems can dairy effluent cause?

The fats, proteins and carbohydrates in dairy wastewater result in it having high chemical oxygen demand (COD) and biological oxygen demand (BOD). This means the effluent will deplete oxygen from a body of water quickly, through both chemical reactions and bacterial action. This is a concern because fish and other aquatic organisms depend on oxygen and will die if it’s not available.

Odour is another concern. As milk products spoil, they release smells that people describe as similar to rotting fish and sewage, which causes issues with neighbours. These smells can come from poorly aerated onsite lagoons and inadequate onsite wastewater pre-treatment systems.

Many dairy processors simply send their effluent into the sewage system, paying a surcharge to have municipal wastewater treatment plants deal with the problem. This can be an expensive option for companies, as there is a high volume of wastewater produced and charges are usually levied per m3. It can also be a problem for municipalities, since pipes can get clogged from organic matter (coagulated milk, milk film, flavouring agents, cheese and curd, for example) and from protein and fat that gets deposited on pipe surfaces.


12 ideas for managing your dairy wastewater better

Now you know what’s in your dairy plant effluent and why it’s a concern, you can take action to reduce its impact on the environment and your company’s bottom line. Here are 12 ideas.

1. Conduct a wastewater audit. The audit will determine where your effluent is coming from, identify any equipment or processes that are wasting water and adding unnecessary components of concern to the water, and help you determine solutions. Wessuc has a free wastewater audit tool that takes the guesswork out of the exercise.

2. Train your employees. Improperly used and maintained dairy processing equipment is a major source of product loss.

3. Use the right equipment. If improper equipment is used, milk waste can result. Check equipment that’s used for receiving, cooling, storing and processing of milk and other products used in your manufacturing processes.

4. Keep your cool. Maintain accurate temperatures on plate, tubular and surface coolers to prevent freeze-on, as this will result in wasted product.

5. Remove solids from water before sending it to the sewer. Technology such as Wessuc’s rotary vac drum dewatering system can achieve total suspended solids of less than 16mg/L after treatment, with little energy, water or polymer use. Dewatering your effluent will often eliminate your sewer surcharges. The solids that result from the process can often be applied as fertilizer or used in other beneficial ways.

6. Reuse water in non-food processes. Water used in one process can often be captured and reused in a secondary process, provided that it won’t come in contact with food products. Cooling water and discharged steam can both be used to wash cases, for example.

7. Give waste a second life. Don’t send raw materials down the drain—invent a use for them instead. For example, HANS Dairy saved almost $60K a year when it reimagined the pasteurized milk and water used to flush pipes as an ingredient in its smoothies.

8. Perform regular checks and maintenance on equipment. Keep your vats, tanks and pipes in good working order. Check for leaks in gaskets, seals and joints.

9. Recover ingredients and final product. Install technology, such as pigging systems, to recover the maximum amount of an ingredient or product from your pipes before cleaning them. This will save you money twice: first on ingredient costs, and second on wastewater treatment.

10. Avoid overflows. Control liquid levels using automatic pump stops, alarms and other technology on tanks, vats, filler bowls and other liquid storage and processing equipment.

11. Reduce the water that’s used in cleaning. Meter the water used by your sanitation crews. Install automatic shut-offs on hoses.

12. Focus on culture. Start at the top to create a company culture that values waste reduction. Reward employees for ideas that will minimize the amount of wastewater your plant produces, recover ingredients and product, and reuse water safely.

In conclusion, effluent from dairy processing plants can be harmful to the environment, noxious to neighbours and expensive to manage. Examining your systems, thinking creatively about your processes and supporting a waste reduction culture at your facility are keys to more effective management.


Wessuc can help your dairy company reduce its waste, too. Use our expertise to give it a new life as fertilizer, animal feed and more.

3 dairy manufacturers prove reducing waste saves money

ARTICLES 3 dairy manufacturers prove reducing waste saves money

Food processing and manufacturing is responsible for 43 per cent of avoidable food waste in Canada, costing food manufacturers a whopping $49.5 billion a year. If you’ve been wondering how your dairy manufacturing plant can reduce costs, it’s time to put waste reduction on the list. From pigging systems to steam traps to transfer line recovery, these three Canadian dairy case studies prove that process changes that reduce your waste will increase your bottom line.

COMPANY: Lactalis Canada (formerly Parmalat)
LOCATION: Brampton
FOCUS: Indoor water use

Lactalis Canada, known to Canadians for brands such as Lactancia, Beatrice, Astro and Black Diamond, was the first company to participate in the Region of Peel’s Indoor Water Assessment program. The program offers businesses a free indoor water assessment to identify ways to achieve permanent water savings. Participants receive a rebate to help defray the costs of recommended process changes or equipment upgrades.

At the time of the assessment, Lactalis’s Brampton plant was using an average of 1,303 m3 of water every day. The assessment recommended three process improvements. The first was to install steam traps at five carton filling stations. The second was to reuse discharged steam from milk processing to wash cases. The third was to reuse the water used to cool hydraulic oil and cool steam for case washing.

The three initiatives resulted in water savings of 191 m3 per day and annual financial savings of $87,552. The company’s pay-back period was a fast 2.7 months, thanks to the Region’s rebate.

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LOCATION: Mississauga
FOCUS: Raw and pasteurized milk waste

HANS Dairy, an Ontario-based business specializing in South Asian dairy products, used Provision Coalition’s free online Food Loss + Waste Toolkit and the root cause analysis expertise of Enviro-Stewards to prevent 75 per cent (67,500 L) of the milk it uses being wasted each year.

The first savings came from reimagining waste milk as an ingredient for another HANS product. HANS now captures the pasteurized milk and water it uses to flush its piping systems and uses it as a smoothie ingredient instead of sending it down the drain. The annual milk savings are $59,766, plus 820 kWh of electricity, 33 tonnes of CO2, 74 m3 of water, and 65 m3 of natural gas. The payback time was 3.5 months.

The second savings opportunity involved ensuring all the raw milk in the transfer lines that run between delivery trucks and milk silos ends up in the silos, not on the floor. The total savings in milk amounted to $11,953 per year and a payback period of 2.5 years.

View the full case study from Provision Coalition.

COMPANY: Fiasco Gelato
FOCUS: Recovering ingredients and finished product

A Canadian entrepreneurial success story, Fiasco Gelato is an artisanal manufacturer of small batch all-natural gelato and sorbets in flavours such as dark chocolate caramel sea salt and raspberry lime. They used Provision Coalition’s Food Waste + Loss Toolkit to identify three opportunities to prevent food waste and save money.

Two of these involved recovering finished product. The first recovers gelato from piping using “a pig” and compressed air or water. (This is technically known as a “pigging system,” where a projectile is sent down a pipe to remove or recover leftover liquid.) Not only does the new system use less water and chemicals, but the captured gelato can be sold. The second recovery initiative was to train employees to completely empty holding tanks of the gelato. A third initiative recovered milk from transfer lines, again using a pigging system.

The full case study shows annual savings of $118,300, plus 28.8 tonnes of CO2

Wessuc can help your dairy company reduce its waste, too. Use our expertise to give it a new life as fertilizer, animal feed and more.

4 ways waste is hurting food processors

ARTICLES 4 ways waste is hurting food processors

The writing is on the wall for food and beverage manufacturers in Ontario: when it comes to waste, it’s going to cost more to continue with business as usual. From loss of competitiveness to brand damage, polluter-pay fines to overinvestment in infrastructure, here are four ways waste is damaging food processing businesses, plus one solid way to take positive action to win accounts, enhance your brand and save money.

1. Wasteful companies are less competitive.

Consolidation—both of big food manufacturing brands and food retailers—is one of the biggest challenges for food processors, particularly small- to medium-sized manufacturers who must lower their prices while facing higher production costs than their larger competition.

If you’re a private label manufacturer, increasing efficiency and reducing costs is critical to earning and maintaining relationships with the brands that will put their name on your product. If you’re negotiating directly with retailers, efficiency and cost-cutting are just as important, as retailers play manufacturers off each other to push prices down as a way of increasing their margins with cost-sensitive consumers.

In this context, wasteful manufacturing—whether we’re talking energy, water or ingredients—is evidence of inefficient processes. Waste will add to your cost of business through higher utility bills and raw material costs, as well as increased waste transportation costs, tipping fees, and sewer surcharges.

Are you paying too much to deal with your wastewater?

2. Wasteful companies are hurting their brand.

According to a Q2 2018 Nielsen poll, 73 per cent of global consumers say they would definitely change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

This is an opportunity for food manufacturers. In the words of Nielsen’s Crystal Barnes, SVP, Global Responsibility & Sustainability, “By identifying an opportunity to be more sustainable and implementing a reasonable plan of action to accomplish it, companies achieve an authenticity that paid advertising can’t buy.”

On the flip side, being branded a wasteful polluter makes you part of the problem in the eyes of the consumer, not a source of solutions. As a result, you’re less likely to be their first choice—particularly when it’s younger buyers making the decisions.

The brand impact extends further up the supply chain from the consumer, too. Retailers and larger food brands that purchase from private label manufacturers also want to associate their brands with environmental responsibility and may expect suppliers to be able to prove they have sustainable practices. In that way, being able to show that your operations minimize waste could make the difference between having your product on the shelf and not.

3. Wasteful companies will have increased costs.

The Ontario government’s environment plan states that producers should be responsible for managing the waste they create. This is a shift from the status quo, which expects taxpayers to swallow the cost. Moving responsibility for the costs of waste management from citizens to corporations will inevitably mean food and beverage manufacturers will pay more to deal with their waste.

At the same time, the province has an ambitious plan to ban all organic waste from landfill by 2022. This waste ban will mean food manufacturers who need to send their organic waste to landfill will pay high transportation fees to truck the waste to the U.S., plus the disposal fees and hassle of customs and permits.

4. Wasteful companies will have a harder time finding employees.

Good employees are hard to find in the food and beverage processing industry, a reality that’s been confirmed by a Canadian agri-food study discussed in Canadian Manufacturing. The study predicts 65,000 new workers will be needed across Canada by 2025 to meet national growth targets for the sector, but there is a shortage of employees to meet the demand, particularly in the meat, dairy and bakery sectors.

If your company isn’t paying attention to its wasteful practices, it may have an even more difficult time finding employees, particularly millennials. The Millennial Employee Engagement Study showed that 83 per cent of millennial employees would be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues and 64 per cent won’t accept employment from a company that lacks strong corporate social responsibility practices.

The "waste into value" solution

One simple way for food processors to increase their competitiveness, protect their brand, reduce their costs and become more attractive employers is to take action on their waste.

Waste reduction initiatives often start with an audit to pinpoint where, when and why waste is happening in your processes and at your facility. (We have a free audit checklist specifically for wastewater that can help.) Involve your employees in your waste reduction efforts to increase both engagement and ideas, then make sure to measure the difference you’re making and share the progress in formal ways. Communicating the numbers will boost morale, sustain momentum and demonstrate your commitment to both environmental responsibility and cost reduction to your current and potential customers.

Don't dump your waste. Turn it into value instead.

3 quick tips to slash your effluent costs

ARTICLES 3 quick tips to slash your effluent costs

If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you’re paying to deal with your effluent. You might have an over-strength agreement with your municipality. You might have the water trucked off your premises and treated off-site. You might operate your own on-site wastewater treatment system. Or you may simply be paying fines (or crossing your fingers that you don’t get discovered). All of these options have costs associated with them. The good news is there are relatively simple ways to reduce them (and sleep better at night). Here are three.

1. Separate organics from your effluent

Food processing companies can pay as much as 10 times more to dispose of their organic waste through the sewer as through a solid waste system. If you’re having high strength wastewater pumped and trucked off your premises, you’re also paying unnecessarily high costs.

The trick is to separate the organics from the water, so that the water can be disposed of without a sewer surcharge or reused safely, likely as greywater, in your systems. As a side benefit, once the organics have been separated from the water, they can often be taken to a digester and used as an energy source or fertilizer.

The amount you will save by separating your organics from your effluent will more than pay for a contractor’s services to dewater your effluent.

Are you paying too much to deal with your wastewater?

2. Meter the water used by your sanitation crew

A considerable amount of wastewater is created in the cleaning of food processing areas, but until you install a water meter, you won’t know how much. This is an important cost because, while the water may cost only $1 a cubic metre, by the time you factor in the cost to heat it and the surcharge you’ll pay if you’re sending organics-rich wastewater into the sewer it could cost four or five times that amount.

Install the water meter, collect baseline data, then work with your sanitation crews to reduce the amount of water they use. Some water reduction strategies are based on behaviour change, for example using a shovel to pick up wasted food rather than washing it down the drain. Others are about equipment, for example using low-flow nozzles and automatic shut-off valves.

Track the reductions, reward your people for their efforts, and set new targets once you achieve your initial ones.

3. Install proper guarding to keep food off the floor

Food waste from your production processes will likely increase the BOD in your wastewater, increasing your surcharge if you discharge into a municipal sewer, your disposal costs if you pay a third party to pump and truck your wastewater, and your treatment costs if you treat your wastewater yourself. Proper design of your equipment and systems plays an important role in minimizing food waste. Look first at the guarding on your process line or conveyor systems. Is it preventing food from falling on the floor? If not, look into accessories that will keep food in its proper place.

In conclusion, there are many simple ways to decrease the cost of managing your effluent. We’ve focused on three—separating organics from your wastewater, metering the water used for sanitation and installing proper guarding on food transfer systems—but there are many others. Ask some big picture questions about where your water use and food waste is coming from, and you’ll find you can substantially reduce your sewer surcharges and costs to pump, truck and treat your wastewater. It’s a win for your company’s bottom line, and your company’s brand.

Discover the one thing the most successful food and beverage manufacturers do to increase their profits and reduce their costs.

It’s not just the circular economy that’ll make your company more money, it’s uncovering your “why”: A Q&A with Cher Mereweather

ARTICLES How food and bev companies are using their "why" to make more money: A Q&A with Cher Mereweather

Cher Mereweather is the founder of Provision Coalition, a collaboration of 17 provincial and national agri-food associations that helps food and beverage companies create value, realize savings and positively impact the environment and society. We were asking Cher about the circular economy, but we quickly learned that uncovering a company’s reason for existing (beyond making money) is actually the key to increasing your profit and reducing your costs. The good news? You’ll create value from waste along the way.


What’s your definition of the circular economy?


Our current economy as very linear: take, make, dispose. With the circular economy, there’s no more “dispose.” If we’re talking about food and beverage manufacturing, we’re ensuring there’s no waste from the point where we grow the food all the way through the supply chain to consumption. Waste has either been eliminated or used somewhere it has value.


Can you give us an example?


Let’s say you’re a food processor that produces peels. Those peels still have nutritional value. Instead of landfilling them, you could send the peels to Oreka, where black soldier flies eat them. Those flies (or their larvae) then become a protein source for animal feed and organic fertilizer.



Why is the circular economy important?


We don’t talk to companies about sustainability or the circular economy. Instead, we talk about what they’re doing to manage their costs, increase their profitability and elevate their brand, because these are the outcomes of driving waste out of their processes. Our clients are also finding that their key customers are starting to ask, “How are you managing your environmental impact?” and “What technology are you using to give waste new life?” and they have to be able answer those questions in a clear and verifiable way.


Can you share some stats on the business benefits of eliminating waste?


On average, the companies that we work with see a 5 to 15 per cent increase in revenue and a 5 to XX per cent decrease in costs. So we’re positively impacting both the topline and bottom line numbers. Margins in the food industry are really lean, so that’s huge. There’s also stats from the literature. Purpose-led companies have 30 per cent higher levels of innovation. Seventy-two per cent of global consumers would recommend a company with a purpose. Meaningful brands outperform the stock market by 120 per cent. And employees who work for a purpose-led company are 1.4 times more engaged, 1.7 times more satisfied and three times more likely to stay, which is really important to the food industry where finding and keeping good people is a challenge.


Tell us some success stories.


When we help businesses find out what their real purpose is—their “why”—the waste into value efforts have a home at a strategic business level. An example is a company that makes single serve coffee pods. We helped them come up with their “why,” which was “growing the good in coffee,” and suddenly the plastic waste generated from their product, which was all going to landfill, wasn’t okay anymore. They worked with the University of Guelph to create the first compostable single-serve coffee pod, because they still wanted to be convenient for the consumer. The external ring, which looks like plastic, is actually a biodegradable film made from the coffee chaff—a waste item from their coffee roasting production process.

Another client, who produces bottled water, was concerned about plastic waste. Their “why,” “redefining bottled water,” motivated them to be truly circular. They created their own recycling facility, where they turn 85 per cent of all the plastic waste generated in the community in which they operate into new bottles. The 15 per cent they can’t use for bottles is used to manufacture Muskoka chairs.

Our Food Future is a data-driven project to transform Guelph-Wellington into Canada's first circular food economy, so we're excited to see what innovation comes from that.


What’s motivating these companies?


For most of them, the change is driven by the answer to the question “why, other than making a profit, do I do this?” Most of their “whys” are about their desire to do good with their business. It sounds so basic, but it’s a better way to make a profit. And when you do great things, people want to support you.


Whose role in a company is it to pay attention to the circular economy?


Ideally, it’s every member of the company’s leadership at the highest level. Everyone has to buy in for it to be successful, including HR, marketing, finance, operations and the CEO. In many places, though, the initiative comes from the plant floor. That works, it just takes longer.


If you’re at a more grassroots level and have to sell it to the C-suite, what works best?


Build the business case. Talk about dollars and cents. How much could you increase the company’s revenue? How much could you decrease costs? Then you can talk about the bonuses: reduced environmental impact, a more engaged workforce and a better story for your company to tell. But it starts with numbers. You’ll have to monitor, measure and track so you know what you’re using and wasting. Provision Coalition has a sustainability management system with a KPI dashboard so you can build that business case. You’ve got to be able to say to the C-level, “This is how much we spend on wasted product that never makes it out the door.”


If a company hasn’t done much about the circular economy yet, what’s the first step?


Answer the question “why”. Why does your company exist? Why do you do what you do? If you can get curious about answering that question, you’re ready to have a conversation about a better way to do business—one that will reduce your costs and increase your profits.

Curious about what it takes to conduct a formal wastewater audit? Our 10-point checklist is the perfect step-by-step guide.