Factory uses water from milk

Revolutionary process allows plant to target zero consumption

Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti, right, is taken on a tour of the Nestle dairy factory in Mossel Bay. The factory has invested in an initiative to reduce its reliance on municipal water.
Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti, right, is taken on a tour of the Nestle dairy factory in Mossel Bay. The factory has invested in an initiative to reduce its reliance on municipal water.
Image: Supplied

A milk factory in Mossel Bay has revolutionised its production processes by switching to an approach that will nearly eliminate its reliance on municipal water.

The Nestlé factory, which produces various milk products, including Nespray and Nido, will now rely on milk water by evaporating the water in the cow’s milk processed on site.

This will then be captured and reused in the factory.

The zero-water manufacturing site, inaugurated by Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti last week, is the latest branch of the Swiss multi- national to implement this system – under the title of Project ZerEau.

Factories in Mexico, India and China are already on similar systems.

The company has invested R84-million to install and implement the new system.

Nestlé South Africa corporate affairs director Ravi Pillay said a further five factories were in the process of transitioning to the system, with 14 more factories employing certain elements in their processes.

Pillay said the milk being processed at the plant could contain up to 88% water, though the system was currently recovering around 65%.

“The plant processes fresh cow’s milk through an evaporation process,” Pillay said.

“The evaporated water is captured and treated through reverse osmosis, then remineralised and used for various applications within the facility.

“Water is also recycled by using anaerobic digester technology coupled with ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis systems.”

Through this, the factory saves about 467 tankers’ worth of water monthly, compared to its usage before it began implementing water-reduction plans in 2009.

“Municipal water is still required for various day-to-day uses, such as employee consumption and fire systems. The municipal usage is dependent on the volumes of milk processed and water recovered.

“The site continues to look for additional savings to reduce [intake to] as close to zero as possible.”

The company began its water-saving efforts at the height of one of the worst recorded droughts in the Mossel Bay area, between 2008 and 2010.

Nestlé South Africa’s chairman and managing director, Remy Ejél, said: “Project ZerEau is a perfect example of our commitment to enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future for individuals, communities and the planet.

“This project will have a positive impact on the treatment, recycling, conservation and water-use efficiencies in our Mossel Bay factory.

“It will also link our business directly with local dairy farmers, suppliers, local government and the broader Mossel Bay community.”

Pillay said Nestlé branches across the country would demonstrate a similar commitment to reducing their water usage, though the system could not be exactly replicated.

“This technology is designed for fresh milk processing plants. At other factories we manufacture noodles, cereals, Ricoffy, chocolate and infant formula.

“All other Nestlé plants located in five provinces are continually implementing water-reduction and efficiency programmes on an ongoing basis.”

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