New water recycling research aims to reduce the reliance on drinking water by food manufacturing and processing plants and address consumer concerns about the use of recycled water.

The challenge

Food processing – a thirsty industry

Food processing is Australia’s largest and thirstiest manufacturing industry.

Each year the food processing sector consumes about 215 gigalitres of water - equivalent to 86,000 Olympic size swimming pools. This is a third of the total water used for all manufacturing across Australia.

The industry has recognised the need to adopt alternative water management strategies ahead of a future with greater water scarcity and cost.

However, consumer perceptions and economic and regulatory barriers have prevented many food businesses from using recycling water in manufacturing.

Our response

Reducing the reliance on fresh water in food processing

Research through the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence has aimed to reduce the reliance on fresh water throughout the agri-food supply chain.

Led by CSIRO, the research has identified water recycling opportunities for food manufacturers by demonstrating economic, environmental and social benefits.

Working closely with the food manufacturing, dairy and meat industries, the researchers examined the full potential of water reuse from energy recovery and nutrient re-use to the use of spent process water for external purposes.

The team also identified consumer and regulatory barriers hindering water recycling and has reported on strategies to overcome these barriers based on sound science.

The results

Water recycling opportunities for food manufacturers

Following the project’s reporting phase, the research will:

  • inform water recycling strategies for the agri-food industry
  • deliver decision making tools for the industry to assess water recycling options based on the value proposition and available technologies
  • improve understanding of consumer attitudes and emotions when consuming foods associated with recycled water and communicate positive messages to help increase consumer confidence
  • provide advice to industry on regulatory guidelines for recycling water in food manufacturing plants.

This project ties into other work by the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence that is examining public attitudes and perceptions related to water recycling.

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