Environmentally Friendly Processing Can Prove Cost-Effective
. . . Environmental stewardship is a term used widely in many industries as a way to describe the partnership between the community, the facility, and the overall quality of life. An important aspect of environmental stewardship, however, is economic competitiveness; without this, the industry is limited in its ability to proactively find solutions that allow moving beyond the minimum regulatory compliance requirements.
. . . To better integrate environmental stewardship into business practices, Georgia Tech researchers have been assessing environmental costs associated with poultry processing. On a larger scale, researchers are also examining the resulting environmental quality impacts on the surrounding areas. By integrating environmental costs into business decision cycles and then studying the results of the recommended operational changes on the environmental quality of the surrounding area, rational assessments that enable novel solutions to be tried in reducing environmental impacts can be made.
. . . The cost accounting study was described in the Fall 1996 Environmental issue of PoultryTech. In general, individual process steps, processing lines, and overall facility operations were studied at a further processor. Water usage and raw product processing were tracked along with the resulting generation of wastes and byproducts. Targeted product lines were studied along with associated spice and seasoning mixes to evaluate their effects on the wastewater system.
Evaluating environmental costs can help improve process decision making.
. . . Many seasonings are high in phosphate, salts, peppers, and other complex ingredients that can adversely affect biological or chemical treatment systems. The effects, however, may not be noticed until after the product line has changed because the ingredients slowly buildup in the waste treatment system. Also, some ingredients are more soluble than others, thus creating pollutants that cannot be easily treated by physical/chemical systems such as dissolved air flotation. Finally, certain seasonings require more intense sanitation, or create complex materials that are difficult for the waste treatment system to handle.
. . . Initial study results have shown a wide range of water consumption rates for different plants with the identical product lines, suggesting that closer management of water usage through more sensitive flow control valves could increase product profit margins. Additionally, ice production was found to vary greatly for all product lines, indicating that automated ice flow control could help reduce costs for all products.
. . . In the operational planning for environmental quality area, researchers are currently considering facilities that directly discharge wastewater to a receiving stream; however, the overall concept of the study is applicable to facilities discharging to local waste-water treatment systems.
. . . Several challenges are being addressed, including defining the environmental costs or impacts on the surrounding area. This particular issue is one many facility managers face when dealing with local community groups, so a better understanding of methods for placing value on this issue in terms of modeling solutions will greatly enhance environmental stewardship.
. . . A second challenge involves developing a framework for assessing the impact of operational changes on environmental quality. To address this issue, researchers are modeling operations by examining natural and industrial flows and outflows, and then incorporating data such as the location of the discharges, the changes in the river on the ecological system, and the impacts of optimized operations in the facility.
. . . To date, researchers have used geographic information systems (GIS) along with general adaptable mathematical formulations to represent the plant, the environment, and the decision procedures. By interfacing these modules with GIS, they hope to connect abstract representations to physical reality.
. . . This focus area will help the poultry industry because in-plant efforts are tied not only to costs and profit margins, but also to quality of life issues. This methodology can also be used to study impacts on air and soil quality. In this way, a geographic location based on environmental impact assessment is possible where the interaction between production processes and the environment is described in the same framework.
. . . The Tech team is expanding its focus to include other product lines, to determine their loading on wastewater, and to assess the overall environmental costs associated with the full range of products produced by the industry. At the same time, the team is working to refine the environmental model to enhance the determination of environmental quality impacts in the areas surrounding a facility that result from operational changes.
. . . Researchers believe that by looking at environmental quality as related to regulatory compliance, economic competitiveness, and environmental stewardship, facilities and corporations will be better able to actively manage their presence in the community, and enhance their permit negotiation activities in the future.
John Pierson, research engineer in Georgia Tech’s Electro-Optics, Environment, and Materials Laboratory, contributed this article.