The Sint-Lievens-Houtem-based fruit and vegetable cutting business Allgro opened the doors of its brand new water treatment plant at the start of May 2019. The facility turns wastewater into drinking water, drastically cutting the food company’s mains water consumption. The commissioning of the plant also marked the end of an innovation process that started in 2015 and that received intensive support from VITO/Vlakwa.

The food sector is subject to very strict rules governing water use. For many companies, all water used must be of drinking water quality, including water that is only used to clean machinery or production areas. As a result, food companies are traditionally large mains water consumers.  Now that extreme periods of drought are occurring more frequently, there is a need for better water resource management.

Preliminary research in house

With the Flanders Knowledge Center Water (Vlakwa), VITO has a wealth of in-house expertise when it comes to water management, how to make this more sustainable, and how to reduce the impact on water resources in Flanders. The East-Flemish family business Allgro, one of Belgium’s largest fruit and vegetable cutting companies, turned to VITO/Vlakwa for advice in 2015 on cutting water consumption and reusing wastewater. As usual, the first step taken by the VITO/Vlakwa experts was to carry out preliminary research in house.  ‘We gathered all of the relevant information already available within the company’, explains VITO’s Veerle Depuydt. ‘How do the water flows work, what are the sources, where and how much is discharged, what is the existing vision in terms of water reuse, and so on? Once we had answered all these questions, we were able to make an in-depth project recommendation.’

The first-line advice subsequently led via an open call in 2016 to a demonstration project in which Allgro, together with another food company, commissioned technology supplier Pantarein to install a pilot plant. This facility combined biological water treatment with membrane technology, while RO (reverse osmosis) technology ensured a supply of drinking quality water. Both the functioning of the pilot plant and water quality were monitored and evaluated.

Sustainable water use

This assessment proved so successful that Allgro decided to invest in a full treatment facility, which was unveiled at a ceremony in early May 2019 attended by Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. ‘From now on, we can reuse up to 70 per cent of our process water’, reveals Paul De Meyer, Manager of Allgro. ‘This means we are setting a good example for sustainable water use, a fact that is also acknowledged by VITO/Vlakwa.’

Allgro consumes as much as 130,000 litres of drinking quality water every day. De Meyer: ‘Extracting groundwater or taking fresh water out of the drinking water network is anything but eco-friendly, as is discharging wastewater. By recycling our process water, we can reduce our water costs by fifty percent, meaning that the treatment facility will pay for itself in the long term.’ Since the facility was brought into use, almost three quarters of the company’s process water has come from treated wastewater.

With its first-line advice and subsequent demonstration project, VITO/Vlakwa successfully played the role of technology facilitator. ‘It’s important that water treatment and reuse technology spreads to as many companies as possible’, says Depuydt. ‘Particularly in a sector that is so reliant on water. Amongst other things, we help smaller companies to navigate the various laws, regulations and available technologies.’