“Our ambition? Not having to use tap water in the long run”

It is impossible to imagine a company without sustainability nowadays. How do you do your bit for the environment?

Roberto: “We are working on sustainability on several fronts. First and foremost, we have a thorough waste policy. This includes the choices we make for packaging, mapping the waste flows, our water discharge, etc. But our energy consumption also plays a major role. For example, we have fully switched to LED lighting. We have systematically replaced compressed air with frequency-controlled compressors, and we now use nitrogen for cooling instead of Freon. When planning new purchases, we always look for the most sustainable solution. Our new pasta cooker is a great example of this. We are also looking into charging stations, and the electrification of our company vehicles is gradually taking shape. This is what we’re doing anyway, taking a gradual approach. Sustainability starts with making thoughtful choices.”

You built your own water treatment plant with Deliva. Why was this decided?

Roberto: “Water plays a major role in our company. It is necessary for the production of our products. Of course, this also means we discharge a lot of water, around 700 to 800 cubic metres per week. Nowadays, the Flanders Environment Agency imposes such strict standards for discharge that water treatment is a must as a food company.”



Was it a big investment? In terms of budget and the size of the project? 
Roberto: “Yes, it was a very intense process, but it was very gradual. You know, when I started here back in the day, we paid a considerable amount of money to be able to discharge. That’s how it was. Today, ‘buying off’ such permission would be unthinkable, but even if it was allowed, it would be prohibitively expensive. So in effect, the water treatment has already paid for itself.”

Where do you start if you want to build a water treatment plant like this? Who did you work with?

Roberto: “Right from the start, we worked with Novotec, a specialised company from Merelbeke. There used to be no water purification, just grease removal. The way we produce today, this would be full after barely one day! To improve our system, we invested in pre-treatment first. This is where a large sieve is used to remove the larger chunks, such as pieces of vegetables, from the water. Next, the fat was removed from the water by flotation (whereby air and a special powder cause fat to float to the surface). As the standards became stricter, we too had to go one step further. Eventually, we switched to biological purification using membrane technology. This is what we have been working with for about a decade now.”

What is so special about ‘biological purification’?

Roberto: “In biological purification, purifying micro-organisms break down the pollution in the water. These bacteria can only survive in the right conditions. So you have to keep a close eye on the composition of the water. To give an example, we used to process a lot of meat, which is naturally rich in nitrogen. Because our use of meat has dropped so much, we now have to add nitrogen ourselves, as it is needed for the purification process.”

Do the employees notice a difference in their work since the water treatment plant?
Roberto: “Yes, in the sense that everyone has to take it into account. Suppose Quality decides to use a new cleaning product, they first have to discuss it with me. After all, it has to be compatible with the biology of the water purification. But also when something is thrown away, especially in large quantities or a new product, they have to ask first. This way, everyone becomes more aware of the waste policy. Our regular measurement campaigns are also good reminders each time.”

Does such a water treatment plant require a lot of maintenance? Can you explain? 
Roberto: “Of course, a system like this does require some maintenance. During weekdays, someone from the technical department carries out checks a few times a day. They will also replenish product, clean the filters, etc. if needed. At the weekends, the plant is monitored remotely. This can be done from anywhere in the world. In case of any problems, the system automatically sends out a warning.”

How green is Deliva’s future? Are there any large-scale projects in the pipeline?

Roberto: “We have been working towards circular water consumption for a while. Today, we can already transform some groundwater into city quality and use it in production. We would like to go much further in the long run and reuse our waste water, so that we do not have to consume any tap water, or as little as possible. For a food company, that is a bold move for sure. But it is perfectly possible. There is a future in that, especially given the current water shortages.” 

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