circular economy

Industrial Wastewater Management: From Linear to a Circular Economy

Industrial Wastewater Management: From Linear to a Circular Economy

At a time when resource sustainability is paramount, the shift from linear to circular economies is gaining momentum and is transforming the ways we manage industrial wastewater.

The fundamental difference between a linear and circular economy is the paradigm shift from generating waste to a model of reduce-reuse-recycle and eliminating waste.

Treating industrial wastewater differs significantly from how we address municipal wastewater and poses unique treatment challenges, including:

  • In industrial settings, there are typically smaller volumes of wastewater with high variability in flow rates and loads, both organic and mineral, compared to municipal wastewater.
  • Industrial wastewater is characterized by high concentrations of solids, minerals, and organics, making it challenging to treat effectively.
  • Wastewater from industrial facilities can also be unbalanced hydraulically, with large fluctuations in flow straining treatment systems.
  • Industrial wastewater can be highly variable in composition from industry to industry, making it difficult to design a single treatment system that can handle all types of waste.
  • And, finally, based on the composition of the wastewater, removing impurities, the by-products as a result of treatment, and even clean liquid discharge may not be feasible.

Faced with disparate challenges such as these, there are approaches to effectively managing industrial wastewater that involve equalizing flow variations, implementing advance technologies for stream segregation, and prioritizing high system recovery and zero liquid discharge solutions.

Advanced wastewater treatment technologies for industrial water

The array of advanced wastewater treatment technologies that can be used to treat industrial wastewater more effectively can remove pollutants, recover resources, and produce high-quality effluent. Two of the most common advanced wastewater treatment technologies for industrial water that are attractive and can provide solutions are:

  • Membrane bioreactors (MBRs): MBRs use membranes to separate solids from the wastewater, while also providing biological treatment. MBRs are highly efficient at removing pollutants and producing high-quality effluent.
  • Zero-liquid discharge (ZLD) systems: ZLD systems use a combination of technologies to remove all solids from the wastewater. The concentrated solids are then disposed or utilized beneficially. ZLD systems are used in industrial applications with high-strength wastewater where removed solids cannot be disposed at the facility.

Real examples. Real results.

One case study demonstrates how a business employed advanced wastewater treatment technologies and innovative solutions to achieve a circular economy for its industrial wastewater management.

The company, a beverage manufacturer, set an ambitious goal for itself: Achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In 2007, the company built a state-of-the-art facility in the northeast region of the United States, complete with a 1.5 MGD Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) for wastewater treatment, recovery and reuse.

Fig. 1: Process Flow - Biological
Fig. 1: Process Flow - Biological
Fig. 2 Process Flow Diagram - Reclaim
​​​Fig. 2: Process Flow Diagram - Reclaim

This approach is helping the beverage company achieve its goal of net zero emissions. Reclaimed water replaced using City-supplied water for the cooling tower makeup. This use of reclaimed water reduced its freshwater demand by 31%, even though the use of reclaimed water was limited in hot summer months due to the elevated temperature of the wastewater. And finally, plans to add cooling on the return activated sludge line are underway so that reclaimed water can be used in the summer months.

Another example demonstrates how effective ZLD can be. A dairy facility used the technology to remove all the water from its wastewater, allowing it to meet its discharge limits. This resulted in reductions in water consumption, energy costs, and the impact on the environment.

Figure 3
Fig. 3: ZLD Process for Dairy Facility

Tangible benefits

These two case studies show that taking a circular economy approach to industrial wastewater management offers several economic and environmental benefits.

  • Water consumption and reliance on freshwater resources is reduced.
  • Advanced wastewater treatment technologies can be more energy-efficient and can help reduce energy costs when compared to traditional methods.
  • By reducing water consumption and wastewater discharge, businesses can reduce their environmental impact.
  • Businesses can recover valuable resources from wastewater, such as metals, salts, and nutrients.
  • Communities and industrial businesses can become better stewards of the environment and climate by becoming more sustainable and reducing reliance on finite resources.

Realizing these benefits will require that consultants and their client partners to collaborate and think creatively about how to treat and reuse wastewater more effectively.

Val Frenkel
Val Frenkel, PhD, PE, D.WRE

Dr. Val Frenkel is a renowned global expert with over four decades of experience and a proven record of delivering advanced solutions for water, wastewater, and water reuse systems as well as salinity management, desalination, and membrane technologies.

Saritha Sathyanarayanan, PhD, PE

Dr. Saritha Sathyanarayanan specializes in the application of innovative solutions in wastewater treatment, including disinfection and the removal of nutrients and emerging contaminants.