Water Conservation Program Pays Off for Perdue Farms
The sustainability initiative at Perdue Farms has six elements: Energy and Utility Conservation (including water); Renewable Energy Utilization; Solid Waste Management; Packaging Reduction and Logistics Efficiency; and Environmental Footprints, Metrics and Goals. "The Energy and Utility Conservation element, which includes water conservation, is our boldest initiative," reports Steve Schwalb, vice president of environmental sustainability.
Schwalb, who has responsibility for sustainability in general, preaches the fact that, while the time horizon for payback on some of these projects may be a bit longer than the company is used to, if there is not a positive net impact on the bottom line, then it is difficult to justify the projects. "Of course, everyone has to be in compliance with environmental regulations," he adds. "However, if you can save money by being even more in compliance, why wouldn't you do it?"
The company has introduced a number of programs and strategies to reduce water consumption at its plants. Four are of particular note.
1. Shore Water Conservation Initiative
This initiative is already in place at the company's five plants on the U.S. eastern seashore, but is also starting to be rolled out to its other plants. It has four components:
"First, there is basic 'blocking and tackling' of water conservation that could otherwise easily be overlooked or forgotten," Schwalb states. The first step was to look around for leaking valves and missing nozzles on hoses in the plants. Next, plant personnel began using squeegees to dry clean and then hose down, instead of hosing down only, which helped to save a lot of water. Next, staff began visiting the plants on weekends (Saturday nights or Sunday mornings), when nothing was happening, looking at water meters to see if anything was running. "If the meters were running, we would figure out why," he states.
The second step is to look at equipment that is part of first processing, which is where the birds are slaughtered and eviscerated. "We realized that we had a lot of equipment in this area that has the potential to be able to re-use water, rather than just use water once," he states. For example, there is a bird washer that washes the outside and inside of the birds after they have been eviscerated and inspected by the USDA. "We found that we could re-use that water through a screening process and chlorination of the water," continues Schwalb. "This ends up saving about 360 gallons of water per minute."
In addition, the plants began upgrading some of their processing lines in that first processing area to a higher line speed, still following USDA requirements. This process, combined with some new technology that became available, enabled the plants to reduce the amount of equipment. "We ended up being able to combine equipment, and less equipment per line ended up meaning less operational water and less sanitation water," he states.
The third step is to find ways to reuse and repurpose water. "For example, there are some dirtier operations in the plant," states Schwalb. "By taking water from some of the cleaner operations, water that is not clean enough to be treated and reused in a cleaner area, we found that we could flow it back through the process and use it in areas that are dirtier," he explains. The water is more than clean enough to serve its purpose in these areas.
Finally, the plants installed some electronic flow meters and are now doing real-time water monitoring. So, instead of looking at water usage at the end of a day, week, or even month when the water bill comes in, the plants can trigger action when they see usage increasing on a real-time basis. This technology also provides good historical data by functional area, so they can target specific functional areas where usage is higher than it should be.
2. Wastewater Treatment Facilities
Perdue Farms has invested millions of dollars in state-of-the-art upgrades to its wastewater treatment facilities. As a result, the water coming out of the treatment plants is cleaner than the well water that is being drawn out of the ground.
"In 2009, we made additions to the wastewater treatment plant at our Lewiston, North Carolina, facility to improve wastewater quality," Schwab states. One solution involved aeration and anoxic basins. This allowed the facility to pull out nitrogen. The facility also added a second clarifier, as well as a lift station to move the water around, so the facility could use the new processes when it needed them. "This was a multimillion dollar project," reports Schwalb.
In 2011, at its turkey facility in Washington, Indiana, the company added a flow equalization basin. "This allowed us to better treat our water by better equalization," he states. "Before, we had been seeing a lot of variation throughout the day, which was adding a lot of stress to the pretreatment system and was costing a lot of money."