Article | June 22, 2020

Packaged Wastewater Treatment: A Recipe For Success

Pete Antoniewicz

By Pete Antoniewicz

Water In Food
Photo courtesy of Fluence

Food and beverage wastewater treatment demands often fluctuate more drastically than municipal wastewater applications in terms of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) relating to the foods being processed or to cyclical activity. Modular, self-contained systems offer practical, cost-effective solutions to help food processors keep pace with such variability — as a total or supplemental solution. Here’s how.

Packaged To Meet Food’s Demands

While municipal wastewater inflows typically range between 200 and 300 mg/L in terms of BOD, food and beverage processing flows are often a.) much higher, and b.) more likely to fluctuate by their inflow characteristics. Prefabricated packaged wastewater plants have been designed to handle flow capacities rated at several hundreds of thousands of gallons per day and to treat BOD measured in thousands of mg/L.

A packaged wastewater treatment solution is typically a collection of discrete treatment capabilities combined in sequence to handle the particular wastewater demands of specific applications. It can be a totally self-contained or skid-mounted system that is mobile enough to be transported to the end-use location, or it can be a collection of modular components that get connected onsite. While packaged plants are popular for decentralized treatment in smaller municipal applications, their self-contained designs also have value for industrial food and beverage applications.

Modular designs that can scale up or down quickly offer flexibility to respond to evolving trends, with both cost-effective performance and peace of mind. Whether they are acquired outright or operated as part of a contract solution, they offer flexibility for keeping food and beverage processors in compliance with treated-water discharge requirements.

There are a variety of technologies in use, available from more than a handful of manufacturers, although not all are necessarily suitable across all industrial or food/beverage processing applications. They include:

  • Extended Aeration
  • Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR)
  • Membrane Bioreactor (MBR)
  • Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor (MBBR)
  • Reverse Osmosis (RO)
  • Sequential Batch Reactor (SBR)

When Is The Right Time For A Packaged Wastewater Treatment System?

Not every food processing application requires onsite treatment or onsite treatment capable of meeting U.S. EPA final-effluent standards. Depending on the BOD level and wastewater volume of local food processors, some municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) will accommodate those businesses as long as spikes in volume or BOD levels remain within established parameters. In some cases, the food processor will pay a penalty if levels exceed established guidelines or if the producer fails to warn the municipal WWTP of sudden spikes in time to adjust treatment parameters and avoid non-compliant discharge levels.

Based on process conditions or local WWTP capacities, certain types of food processors might need to be more self-sufficient in terms of in-house wastewater treatment capabilities. While packaged wastewater treatment systems might not be right for all standalone applications, for many they can provide advantages not available through conventional, built-on-site wastewater treatment installations:

  • Modest Demands. In applications that are small, that operate only at specific times of the year, or only need to reduce excessive BOD or total-suspended-solids (TSS) levels to a certain limit, a self-contained wastewater treatment plant acquisition or rental can be the most cost-effective solution, without requiring a large capital-expense (CAPEX) investment.
  • Ancillary Treatment. In applications where BOD loads or spikes exceed the levels permitted to be discharged to municipal sewers or to the environment, packaged treatment systems can reduce those loads to acceptable levels without having to treat the entire flow to EPA-approved discharge standards.
  • Emergency Backup. In food processing applications entirely dependent upon onsite wastewater treatment capabilities, any loss of efficiency or loss of capacity due to mechanical failure can cause an entire production line to grind to a halt. In these cases, leasing a self-contained mobile wastewater treatment solution can provide the temporary capacity to keep production running until repairs can be made.
  • Short-Term Expansion. Whether capacity demand rises due to cumulative business growth or spikes specifically during seasonal harvest or production periods, packaged treatment systems can provide a quick solution for added treatment capacity.
  • Planned Growth. When the upgrade or replacement of permanent wastewater treatment capacity is required, packaged solutions can help the food processor bridge the transition from their original system to the completion of their new permanent solution.
  • Remote Locations. Self-contained mobile or skid-mounted configurations can be transported to remote locations or field sites. Some designs can even operate with solar power alone, making them more practical and affordable for off-the-grid applications without the expense, carbon footprint, or maintenance woes of gas or diesel generators.

The Benefits Of Packaged Wastewater Treatment Plants

Whether the challenge is establishing an entirely new treatment capability, managing a transition to deal with higher volumes or concentrations of BOD, or providing a short-term supplemental solution, packaged systems offer financial and practical advantages:

  • Service Options. Some packaged systems suppliers provide self-contained infrastructure packages that operate as pay-as-you-go services, which offer specific financial benefits:
  • Reduced Capital Investment. Contracting for wastewater treatment capacity in a packaged system provided as a service makes it easier for food processors to treat the daily volume of wastewater without large-scale CAPEX funding or long delays for installing permanent treatment facilities. The packaged approach also allows for relatively quick capacity adjustments over time if plant throughput changes.
  • Known Costs. Contracted services make it easier to provide wastewater treatment at a consistent, known operating expense (OPEX) and without an initial CAPEX investment or incidental infrastructure cost over time.
  • Reduced Operating Concerns. When purchased as a contract service, a packaged wastewater treatment plant can eliminate the need for dedicated wastewater treatment personnel or reduce pressures on plant and plant-maintenance personnel to monitor and maintain wastewater treatment processes.
  • Space-Saving Convenience. Packaged plants are typically engineered with space-saving designs — an important consideration when initially implementing onsite treatment or adding supplementary capacity in a confined space at an existing location.
  • Little To No Maintenance. Leasing a packaged WWTP can minimize demands for employee involvement and expertise. In some cases, plants may even be monitored remotely, 24/7, so that the wastewater treatment provider’s experienced operators are not required to be onsite.
  • Task-Specific Design. Modular units can be grouped — based on the demands of the wastewater load — to handle conditions ranging from influent clarification, to biological nutrient removal, to disinfection, and more.
  • Modular Flexibility. Because many packaged wastewater treatment plants are built within a limited-footprint design for easy over-the-road transport, each unit provides a defined volume of treatment capacity. Food processors can combine as many units as necessary to satisfy the volume requirements of the application.