Sustainable use of water: this is how we do it!

22 March is World Water Day. The perfect occasion to look at what our specialists are doing to tackle our water consumption sustainably.

We do not only sell water in our stores, as a group we also consume a lot of water every day. In 2020, our total water consumption, for all our Belgian buildings, came to 555.000 m³. From a store co-worker washing his hands to cleaning a machine that produces cheese cubes: water is omnipresent.

We realise that water is a valuable resource and are setting up all kinds of initiatives to make our water consumption more sustainable step by step, both in our stores and in our offices, distribution centres and production sites. In 2020, for example, rainwater already accounted for 16% of our water consumption.

Active water management

"At our sites, we are practising conscious and active water management. For every building project, both renovation and new projects, we try to minimise our water footprint from the design phase on. We are looking at how we can reuse rainwater as much as possible and, if the subsoil allows it, we allow the remaining rainwater to infiltrate the soil. Only if this is not possible will we buffer the water on our site during peak downpours so that it can be discharged slowly", says project manager designer Maaike van der Tempel.

"We maximise our reuse by looking critically into what water source we want to use for what purpose", project engineer Ysaline Thillaye du Boullay adds. "For example, the floor in a store can perfectly be mopped with rainwater to save drinking water. At Fine Food Meat, our site for meat processing, we also took some initiatives to organise our water consumption sustainably and efficiently.

Purification

"On that site, there are 3 water purification stations. The PURA-station (PUrification of RAinwater) goes beyond the rainwater buffers on our other sites en purifies the collected rainwater into drinking water", Ysaline continues.

We are also working on the waste water of our meat production. That water is too polluted to discharge in the sewers and has to be purified. "That purification is done with a biological installation, where we mix the wastewater with active slit - a mix of micro-organisms that will digest the waste. After that, we separate the slit from the water, which is now clean enough to be discharged. But this water doesn't end up in the sewers: we go one step further and send it to the last purification station at Fine Food Meat."

Re-use

Meat processing is very water-intensive. A lot of drinking water is needed, not only for the production of meat preparations, but good quality water is needed also for cleaning the machines in a production environment. "That third purification station is there to organise that water usage in the most sustainable way possible. By using membranes, it filters the purified waste water further to drinking water, that we then re-use in the production process", R&D engineer Lize Linclau explains.

Innovation

On our vertical farm where we grow basil for Bio-Planet as well, not a drop goes to waste. "In comparison with traditional basil cultivation, we use 90% less water there. One of the ways we do this is by collecting the water that the plants evaporate and reusing it," says Lize. "We also re-use the water that is not incorporated by the plants. We make sure it contains the desired amount of nutrients, give it the correct pH-value and let it recirculate in the gutters under the plants."

As the rest of the 'vertical farm', the system for water recovery was developed by our in-house specialists. "Because it is a new and unique system, we sometimes had to face unexpected challenges during the development. From the conviction that our approach is the correct one, we kept persevering and succeeded in putting the puzzle together. Our vertical farm has been up and running for a year now, so we can proudly say that our approach works", Lize concludes.

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