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Dairy Company: Discharge of Untreated or Ineffectively Treated Wastewater

Provided by IFC Sustainable Business Advisory

A Dairy Company, Brazil


A medium-sized multinational company operating from northern Brazil produces multiple food products, including skimmed milk powder, bottled fruit drinks and different choco­late brands. The company generates about 600 cubic meters (m3) of wastewater from its various processes, which include bottle-washing and other industrial processes. The water is treated and discharged into a nearby river. In recent months, there have been increased complaints from the downstream communities that the river water has turned black or very dark, there are fish kills, there is a foul smell coming from the river water, and the quality and quantity of fish is affected. The river water is not suitable for irrigation because it is plasticizing the soils and impacting irrigation activities. The company officials deny that these impacts are due to its operations, but have admitted some malfunctions have occurred in its wastewater treatment plant. 


Contamination of surface water/downstream river


  • Investigate all sources of wastewater and minimize wastewater generation by reducing non-consumptive water usage
  • Develop water balance and identify opportunities for reduction in wastewater generation by modifying/replacing water-intensive or wet processes with zero-water or water-effi­cient technologies (e.g. sweeping with brooms vs. sweeping with water)
  • Replace or minimize the use of potentially toxic or hazardous substances that may con­taminate wastewater
  • Collect nontoxic and uncontaminated concentrated liquid wastes for sale to pig farmers or cattle farmers (if possible), thereby reducing the overall load on the effluent treatment plant (ETP)


  • Optimize effective wastewater treatment by:
    • Evaluating the efficiency of the ETP by analyzing the ETP “inlet” and “outlet” char­acteristics and other operating parameters.
    • Evaluating treatment works for hydraulic and or organic slug flows such as bottle and equipment washing; adjust to an integrated flow rate that matches the design flow
    • Minimizing fluctuating loads on the ETP by having a collection and “equalization” sump before treatment or temporary holding facility
    • Scheduling and staggering bottle washing and other water-intensive operations (if possible) to distribute the load on the ETP over a 24-hour period
    • Installing interlocking system to ensure ETP shutdown during any malfunction; convey untreated wastewater to a temporary holding facility to prevent discharge of untreated effluent
    • Providing adequate training to the effluent treatment plant (ETP) operator and ensure the ETP is operated and maintained as per the recommended operating criteria (such as design flow) and standards
  • Stop sludge bulking and overflow through adequate desludging and other management techniques
  • Analyse treated wastewater for its compliance before its final discharge
  • Consider having separate treatment facilities for toxic/chemically contaminated wastewa­ter streams (e.g. wastewater from bottle washers contaminated with detergents or other chemicals)


  • Engage in active consultation/engagement with local communities, regulators and NGOs to address water concerns in the region
  • Adequately treat the industrial wastewater and find alternative applications for the treated wastewater, e.g. irrigation, horticulture or as a raw water resource for other local industry

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