The old way of handling wastewater from industry in Ontario municipalities is not working, and smaller businesses in particular need solutions to manage the problem ‘at source’ that are affordable and can be practically implemented.
That was a consensus reached during a recent Canadian Water Summit panel discussion on the adoption of on-site and sustainable water solutions in Ontario’s wine and craft beer sectors.
“These are consumer-driven businesses, operating in communities where they want to be good neighbours,” said moderator Kevin Jones, CEO and president of The BLOOM Centre for Sustainability. “The consumers want this and the processors understand that. But they need support to increase their knowledge and know-how, to manage and resolve their water issues on- site.”
Panelist Dan Unkerskov, head brewer at Lake of Bays Brewing Company, said small breweries tend to focus on making beer and don’t pay enough attention to water use or wastewater strength.
That has to change, he said, for the good of the environment and the reputation of the business.
“The people who step up are the people who will step ahead,” Unkerskov said.
“Everybody is more in touch with the environment and we have to be good corporate citizens. It’s important to do the right thing.”
Jones said the right thing also means municipalities understanding the financial benefits they can realize by having food and beverage processors implement on-site water solutions. That would reduce their cost of treating high strength wastewater at their centralized plants.
“Municipalities do a great job encouraging craft brewers to set-up shop locally,” Jones said. “They see new opportunities to create jobs, tax revenues, revitalize neighbourhoods, and so on. But when it comes to wastewater, there is an opportunity to change the status quo of pouring it down the drain and we’ll charge you to treat it.”
“Some municipalities also have to stop looking at wastewater treatment facilities as a source of revenue,” said water panelist Derek Davy of ECONSE Water Purification Systems.
The expertise and technology to reduce, treat and manage water on-site is available, practical and affordable, said Davy, who develops on-site solutions that can meet the needs of industry.
“Industry leaders have to take responsibility for problems they are creating,” he said. “And municipalities have to work with them to clean up their act before stuff goes down the drain and to the treatment centres.”
“It’s going to take real leadership to implement positive changes.”
That begins with municipalities bringing water into the conversation early, said Nick Reid, executive director, Ryerson Urban Water and a managing partner of Water Canada magazine. And that’s especially true with wineries and the new craft breweries popping everywhere in Ontario.
“Wineries and breweries have to be made aware of the impact they have on communities with water use,” Reid said. “But in return, municipalities should know about on-site solutions and practices that can reduce water use and minimize discharge of high strength wastewater for treatment at their treatment plants.”
“This is a challenge but it’s also an opportunity,” said Jones, adding that keeping stuff out of the drain through better practices and the right on-site technology solutions is more beneficial and cost-effective than levying environmental penalties or surcharges for end-of-pipe treatment at municipal facilities.
A growing craft brewery can unknowingly place a strain on their local community’s wastewater treatment system. This can become even a bigger problem if the brewery is located in a small town with limited infrastructure.
“The typical mindset in small breweries is to just turn on the hose and wash it all down the drain,” said Unkerskov. “Growth is a good thing but growing our wastewater volumes is not. There’s less tolerance for that now.”
For its part, Lake of Bays invested $250,000 in a centrifuge to recover beer in the spent yeast from the fermentation tank. The added benefits of keeping stuff from going down the drain with the wastewater are dollar savings and good neighbourly relations.
Unkerskov said brewers would rather pay to treat their own waste on-site then pay surcharges to the municipality. He urged local governments to partner with craft brewers, and provide financial assistance with investments in clean water technology.
The big breweries also see the merit in meeting community demands to be environmentally conscious.
“Craft has that close-to-consumer element and it matters what people think in the community”, said water panelist Jamie MacKinnon, Global Sustainability Senior Manager of Molson Coors. “Consumers like the millennials are more conscious. They’re looking at what companies are doing. We can learn from that.”
BLOOM’s role is to help food and beverage processors adopt better practices to conserve water and manage their wastewater on-site. The non-profit agency has developed two online portals Water & Beer and Water & Wine that make it easier for craft breweries and wineries to improve their water management performance.
Cave Spring Cellars worked with BLOOM and took a major “leap of faith” by first piloting, and then investing in an innovative on-site wastewater treatment system in 2015. The investment was significant but the improvements today will serve the winery well for years to come.
“I don’t want to be messing around with wastewater 20 years from now,” said Dave Hooper, operations manager at Cave Spring Cellars winery and another panelist at the Water Summit. “We did this to get ahead of the curve and we’re going to start seeing more wineries having a look at what we’ve done.”
BLOOM supported Cave Spring’s initiative and leadership. Jones said the best way to move forward collectively is with government-business partnerships and a mandate for change.
These “collective we” collaborations would provide:
- Awareness, education and training
- Pilots and demonstrations
- Funding assistance programs
A model for civic collaboration in sustainability is the City of Guelph, recognized as a national leader in water conservation and wastewater management.
Because Guelph relies entirely on the underground aquifer for its water supply, the local government made it a top priority to preserve both the quantity and quality of its water.
The Ontario city offers financial incentives and technical services to area businesses, which includes food and beverage processors like Sleeman Breweries, to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage water efficiency and conservation.
Since 2006, Guelph’s investment in water conservation programs has cost $8.6 million. But that has allowed the city to defer more than $35 million in additional water and wastewater infrastructure.
Overall, local tax payers are saving more than $470,000 annually.
“Shared knowledge on sustainability and funding assistance for on-site water management would go a long way to ensuring a rewarding and clean working relationship between local industries and their communities,” said Reid.
Derek Davy of ECONSE agrees that getting municipalities and industry to think about water use and wastewater management is a simple but critical first step towards resolving water problems on-site instead of sending them “away” to end-of-pipe municipal treatment centres.
“Simple to me is a “win-win-win” for everyone,” Davy said.
“The industrial partner wins because they reduce costs and are a good neighbour in their community. The community wins because they don’t have to subsidize treatment and burden their infrastructure. And ultimately the environment wins because a whole lot less bad stuff is going down the drain.”