Fonterra’s Pahiatua site processes up to 4 million litres of milk per day, producing whole milk powder that is exported around the world. The site has taken multiple initiatives to reduce water use in its operations with the goal to become the most water efficient site in Fonterra.
One of the initiatives involves the reclamation of water removed from milk during the evaporation process. The reclaimed water (called evaporator condensate) is treated and reused. The excess evaporator condensate is diverted to wastewater.
Last year, the Pahiatua site had a serious issue with its wastewater operations due to wet weather. Limited irrigation on flooded farms meant that the treated wastewater storage pond became full. Shutting the site down would have required hundreds of tankers to transport millions of litres of milk and/or wastewater to other regions.
As a result, the site developed an innovative plan to reduce wastewater volume by maximising the reuse of reclaimed water (evaporator condensate). The process required out of the box thinking to resolve multiple issues, including regulatory and religious compliance, health impact, nutrition, market access, and staff and community buy-in.
The reuse of evaporator condensate instead of abstracting groundwater does not have any financial returns. In fact, the costs are significantly higher. The actual benefit of reusing evaporator condensate is to provide Fonterra Pahitaua a licence to operate by improving its environmental footprint. The initiative allows the site to reuse half a million litres of evaporator condensate per day. Work is underway to roll out the initiative to several other sites in New Zealand.