Companies might not give as much thought to their wastewater as they should. But as the world’s population grows and attitudes change toward how this most precious of our natural resources is managed, it’s more important than ever that food and beverage manufacturers look at what they’re doing. The following are four economic and geopolitical trends as to why.

1)    Increasingly Stringent Environmental Regulations:

Surcharge tables are tightening or going away with municipalities forcing greater treatment at the plant level than ever before.

2)    Sustainability Goals:

Industries of all stripes, and particularly the food and beverage industry, are seeing a new emphasis from consumers on sustainable business practices—especially water. Efficient wastewater treatment reduces ecological footprints and promotes corporate social responsibility. Materially, stakeholders may insist that businesses adhere to specific Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals – and tie those goals to financial investments.

3)    Water Scarcity:

With the ongoing global water scarcity crisis, industries are intensifying their efforts towards wastewater treatment and reuse to safeguard precious water resources. Particularly for businesses in the food and beverage industry, ensuring access to every drop of reusable water is critical to the bottom line. Municipalities are increasingly reducing access to water for industrial use due to their disproportionate consumption within communities. As a result, industries need to optimize their wastewater treatment processes to mitigate the impact of dwindling water resources on their operations.

4)    Economic Efficiency:

Efficient wastewater treatment can lead to cost savings in the long term, reducing fines for non-compliance and lowering operational costs through resource recovery and reuse.


From waste to resource

To ensure the safe and effective reuse of wastewater, food and beverage facilities are turning to advanced treatment technologies. Processes such as biological treatment, membrane filtration, and advanced oxidation are employed to purify wastewater, meeting stringent quality standards for reuse.

The reuse and recyclability of wastewater are transforming the way facilities approach water management. The utilization of MBR technology marks a significant shift in perspective, allowing wastewater to be seen not as a disposable byproduct but as an asset. This innovative approach not only addresses regulatory and environmental concerns but also stimulates a culture of forward-thinking solutions.

Innovative facilities are finding creative ways to repurpose treated wastewater for non-potable purposes within their operations. This includes using treated wastewater for irrigation, and cooling systems. The purified effluent from MBR can be reused for primary rinsing of processing equipment, ensuring compliance with sanitation standards. Additionally, it can facilitate efficient wash down processes without the risk of contamination. Furthermore, in agricultural settings, the treated water can be safely applied to land, contributing to sustainable irrigation practices.

Take for instance, a winery, situated on agricultural land without access to a sewer connection. Due to stringent land application regulations for treated water in such valuable areas, traditional treatment options may not suffice. In this context, adopting a MBR solution can be a superior choice. Wineries often operate in water-stressed regions where water scarcity is a pressing concern. To mitigate this, wineries are increasingly adopting water recycling and reuse strategies. Jackson Family Wines, a leading global producer, has implemented water conservation measures and onsite wastewater treatment systems to recycle water for vineyard irrigation and barrel washing to name a few.

Whether it involves retrofitting an existing wastewater treatment system or integrating it into a new compact setup, MBR systems offer numerous advantages. These membrane-based products not only yield top-tier effluent quality but also have the advantage of a significantly smaller footprint compared to conventional activated sludge systems and provide better energy efficiency. The treated water, meeting rigorous quality standards, can be reused and repurposed for irrigation.

Land O’Lakes, the large dairy cooperative, has been at the forefront of implementing innovative wastewater treatment and recycling initiatives across its dairy processing plants. Recognizing the significant volumes of wastewater generated during dairy production, Land O’Lakes has invested in advanced treatment technologies such as anaerobic digestion and membrane filtration.

Brewery wastewater is packed with organic material, placing a heavy burden on a city’s treatment plant. It’s not just a headache but can also be very pricey to deal with. For this reason, many breweries adopt advanced wastewater treatment and reuse technologies. For instance, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in California has implemented an advanced wastewater treatment system that recycles treated water for various non-potable uses, such as irrigation and cleaning.

Large-scale food processing facilities generate substantial volumes of wastewater containing organic residues and suspended solids. Companies like Nestlé and PepsiCo have implemented wastewater treatment and recycling programs across their facilities to minimize water consumption and discharge. PepsiCo’s ambitious plan to be net water positive by 2030 includes implementing MBR technology at 21 of their manufacturing sites, including 14 high water-risk areas.

Advanced treatment technologies

Membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology offers food and beverage manufacturers a scalable, cost-effective solution to those pressing challenges. What distinguishes these technologies is their ability to produce high-quality effluent while occupying minimal space.

Furthermore, digital controls and automation technologies are revolutionizing management practices. Integration of smart sensors, real-time remote monitoring, and automated control systems optimize their efficiency. These innovations enable precise regulation and adjustment of parameters for multiple facilities at once, ensuring consistent, high-quality treatment while minimizing energy consumption and operational costs.

By leveraging remote controls and automation, facilities can gain visibility on valuable data that allows them to fine-tune their wastewater treatment operations and respond swiftly to fluctuations in demand or varying wastewater compositions. This level of precision not only enhances the reliability of the treatment processes but also maximizes resource utilization, making these systems even more sustainable and cost-effective overall.

MBR technology is a modern solution to modern problems. 

An MBR system is an advanced integration of conventional biological treatment and membrane filtration. Following traditional biological treatment, the wastewater undergoes filtration through membranes (either microfiltration or ultrafiltration, depending on the application). These membranes effectively remove suspended solids, bacteria, and viruses, resulting in high-quality effluent that can be reused or safely discharged. In these integrated systems, the membranes replace the secondary clarifier and sand filters in a typical activated sludge treatment system.

Technical Fundamentals

Whether pursuing a new installation or a modular upgrade, MBR systems allow for higher wastewater flow and improved treatment performance in a smaller space than conventional designs demand. MBR systems direct wastewater across a specialized membrane, which separates clean water from contaminants. As water passes through the membrane, it enters a separate channel for collection; this water is referred to as the permeate.

The cross-flow dynamic of the water against the membrane controls the buildup of material on the membrane surface. Air scouring is one way in which membranes in MBR applications are cleaner.

The construction of these membranes is a critical aspect of their function. Typically made from polymeric materials, pore sizes vary from 0.03m to 0.2m. However, in submerged, or immersed, applications the effective pore size is closer to 0.01m irrespective of the nominal membrane rating. Design is crucial to their efficacy, as it allows membranes to block particles as small as microorganisms (approximately 0.01 micron, or 0.001 millimeters, in size), effectively retaining them within the system. The alternative, more conventional forms of wastewater treatment involve multiple biological processes that are simply less compact and less efficient– resulting in lower-quality effluent.

Evolution of MBR: Efficiency and Economics

MBR technology has undergone a remarkable evolution, propelled by relentless innovation in membrane efficiency. These advancements have transformed the economic landscape of wastewater treatment. Traditional MBR setups often faced challenges in operational costs due to high energy consumption and membrane replacement expenses. However, recent breakthroughs in membrane design and materials have significantly enhanced efficiency while reducing maintenance requirements and energy consumption.

The improved membrane efficiency has resulted in substantial cost reductions, making MBR a more financially viable option. The extended lifespan of membranes and decreased energy demands have become game-changers, positioning MBR as a cost-effective solution for various industries seeking sustainable wastewater treatment options. For instance, some modern MBR systems with flat-sheet membranes can lower energy bills by 10 to 20 percent depending on operations (5-8 times more efficient since 2001). In many cases the energy requirements remain neutral, a significant improvement over conventional treatment technologies. Furthermore, newer flat-sheet-equipped MBRs can increase the membrane area by 30 to 90% depending on the manufacturer. Some of today’s MBR products can be dropped into place on top of existing diffusers, without requiring new tooling or piping changes to the existing plant.

Modularity: MBR’s Edge

Another MBR technological advancement is the increasing modularity of treatment solutions. A decentralized approach places treatment solutions closer to the water source.

Modular MBR systems are not new, but the standardization and integration of membranes, automated control systems, and remote management capabilities are an emerging development. For example, the BluBoxTM MBR product of M|MBR Systems, an Integrated Water Services company, brings together these essential technologies and capabilities for rapid delivery, easy installation, scalability, and adaptability to varying site requirements. A notable advantage in the MBR modularity lies in their smaller footprint, stemming from their distinctive design.

Today, the total installed cost of an MBR system is comparable to conventional technologies where reuse, footprint, and effluent quality are the drivers.

MBR’s Ascendancy in Sustainable Wastewater Treatment

The advancements in membrane efficiency have propelled MBR technology to the forefront of sustainable wastewater treatment solutions. With its economic viability, ability to produce high-quality effluent, and alignment with ESG goals, MBRs stand as a beacon of innovation for the food and beverage industry seeking environmentally conscious and economically sound wastewater treatment options.

As this industry continues to embrace sustainability as a core value, the allure of MBR will undoubtedly grow, reshaping the landscape of wastewater treatment and contributing significantly to an eco-friendlier future.