Wastewater and Water Recycling and Reuse

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Wastewater and Water Recycling and Reuse

One way that Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) processes water is through systems featuring reverse osmosis and Cargill uses systems that filter membranes. Two percent of the water that ADM uses is recycled and Cargill's London (Ontario, Canada) poultry facility twice recycles "the water used for chilling" for the purposes of rinsing and cooling. Cargill appeared to spend $2.2 million annually on acquiring fresh water for use at its former plant at Presidents Island in Memphis and ADM agreed to pay $2.5 million to the City of Decatur for the development of "alternate water supplies" due to the company's digging of wells to consume fresh water from Lake Decatur.

Case Studies — Archer Daniels Midland & Cargill's Water Processes & Practices

1. Archer Daniels Midland

A. Closed Circuit Reverse Osmosis Systems

  • Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) formerly used "legacy multi-stage reverse osmosis (RO) systems" which were the traditional type of technology used to extract "salts from water sources." Problems associated with those systems included mineral scaling and too much microbial growth. As a result, "frequent cleanings-in-place (CIPs)" were necessary, which meant that production had to be stopped temporarily, the productivity of facilities was lowered, and the lifespans of membranes were shortened.
  • Additionally, "the legacy systems struggled with seasonal variations in source water quality."
  • To address those problems, ADM switched to using "Desalitech’s patented Closed Circuit Reverse Osmosis . . . systems as their new standard for water purification, replacing traditional multi[-]stage reverse osmosis systems."
  • After making that switch, water recovery at one ADM facility rose to 93% (which was 88% without acid being added), up from its previous level of 75%.
  • The frequency at which ADM conducted cleanings-in-place was one time each "quarter[] and boiler cycles were increased from 7 to 90" which yielded an annual savings of $84,000. Despite the infrequently of the cleanings-in-place, an inspection of the new systems at the eight-month mark did not show biological activity from the membranes, which was a good thing.
  • At a different ADM site that switched to the new systems, the frequency of cleanings-in-place declined "by 50% when operating at 85% recovery even with a limiting factor of difficult to treat soluble aluminum."
  • At yet another site, the Desalitech system achieved "sustain[ed] performance at 90% recovery on challenging wastewater that would limit a traditional 3 stage RO to 83.4% recovery. This is unheard of with traditional RO [reverse osmosis] — barium sulfate is known to cause severe membrane damage when scaling occurs."

B. 160 3D TRASAR Cooling Water Technology

  • ADM uses "160 3D TRASAR Cooling Water Technology units" across its global operations.
  • With regard to graywater, "3D TRASAR provides real-time monitoring and control of cooling systems to optimize water usage" which "helps ADM reduce, reuse and recycle water within its plants and use graywater (recycled water) for its processes, increasing water resiliency at the local level. "


  • ADM partnered with Aguas de Valencia and Global Omnium "to recover and protect the biological systems of wastewater treatment plants through a project called BACTIWATER."
  • The project spanned 30 months and "focuse[d] on maintaining microbial balance in wastewater treatment plants and ensuring adequate treatment of wastewater before it is released into the environment. "
  • For the project, the ADM Biopolis lab deployed teams to "combine biotechnological approaches with ADM Lifesequencing’s next-generation DNA and microbiome-sequencing technology to identify the microorganisms present in the wastewater treatment plants managed by Global Omnium and Aguas de Valencia." As a result, that team would be able to "produce microorganisms needed for supplementation. "
  • The project's ultimate goal was "to develop a bacterial enhancer that will help restore microbial balance in the treatment plant if it has been damaged following a spill."
  • The team that was working on the project was also tasked with "develop[ing] a DNA-based detection kit to quickly detect changes in bacterial composition in the plant, which can help restore balance and avoid the release of untreated water into larger water bodies."
  • ADM's Technical Development Manager at the time stated that "[b]y developing biobased technology to help wastewater treatment plants recover faster from microbial imbalance following spills, we can help prevent further discharges of insufficiently treated water to the environment."

D. Onsite Treatment of Wastewater

  • At ADM's facilities that process soybeans and kernels, 99% of those products are used on average.
  • ADM processes the other one percent in its "onsite wastewater treatment facilities that recycle water, capture methane for use as a fuel, and produce a solid material that can used by farmers as a fertilizer."

2. Cargill

A. New Plant for Treating Wastewater

  • In Uberlândia, Brazil, "Cargill opened a new wastewater treatment plant" in April 2019.
  • That facility is equipped "[w]ith state-of-the-art filter membrane systems that remove organic and inorganic contaminants."
  • Through the new treatment plant for wastewater, "Cargill is now reusing over 418 gallons per minute (1500 liters per minute) of re-used water in the cooling towers."
  • As a result of the treatment plant, consumption of drinking water by Cargill has declined by more than 30% (which equates to the amount consumed by a city that has 17,000 people) and "the emissions to water" have been reduced by 25%.

B. Organic Microalgae

  • Cargill has partnered with a biotech startup, Algae Natural Foods, "on a project to grow organic microalgae in the city's Rhine River port."
  • The project, which was the first such type in France, "transform[ed] CO2 and water used in Cargill's malt processing plant into a source of energy and nutrients needed for the algae-growing process. "
  • As a result of the project, "10% of Cargill's waste water" was able to be reused.

C. Cleaning Wastewater Prior to Arriving at the Treatment Plant

  • Cargill pre-treats/cleans its wastewater prior to that water arriving at "the wastewater treatment plant."
  • Incentives for doing so are that the load managed by those treatment systems is reduced and energy is saved in the process.

Statistics About Water Volume Recycled/Reused by Food Processing Companies

1. Archer Daniels Midland

  • The total quantity of water that Archer Daniels Midland reuses and recycles annually is 2.306 million cubic meters, as determined by "water collected and treated onsite in onsite wastewater treatment operations."
  • Two percent of the water that the company uses is recycled.

2. Cargill

  • Cargill's London (in Ontario, Canada) poultry facility twice recycles "the water used for chilling" for the purposes of rinsing and cooling.
  • Through that approach, the facility was able to reduce the quantity of freshwater it uses by 28% within a two-year period.
  • As was previously mentioned, the plant for wastewater treatment that Cargill opened in April 2019 (in Brazil) uses more than "418 gallons per minute (1500 liters per minute) of re-used water in the cooling towers."
  • As was also previously mentioned, through Cargill's partnership with the biotech startup Algae Natural Food in France, "10% of Cargill's waste water" was able to be reused.

3. Tyson Foods

  • Six of Tyson Foods' poultry plants made "changes to reuse process water for a total savings of 287 million gallons annually."
  • Each year, over "31 billion gallons of water enter . . . [Tyson Foods'] facilities . . . and the majority is returned to surface waters of the U.S. through . . . [the company's] 36 full-treatment and 49 pre-treatment wastewater treatment centers."
  • At Tyson Foods' plants in Madison, Nebraska, Holcomb, Kansas, and Pasco, Washington, over "2 billion gallons of wastewater" were able to be reused to irrigate crops.


  • In 2018, JBS USA "reused approximately 2.2 billion gallons of water in 2018."
  • That quantity equates to about eight percent of the company's net consumption of water.

Large Agricultural Companies' Spend on Acquiring Fresh Water

  • The reason our findings in this section pertain to Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland is because those were the only examples we were able to find about the amount of money large agricultural companies spend on acquiring fresh water.
  • We conducted both broad searches about this topic in general and searches for how much money other large agricultural companies (excluding Cargill and ADM) spend on acquiring fresh water, such as JBS USA, Tyson Foods, and others. Thus, we certainly looked for information outside of Cargill and ADM, but the only information we found on this topic happened to pertain to those companies.

1. Cargill

  • Cargill used to operate a plant at Presidents Island in Memphis. When it was in operation, it consumed over five percent "of the water sold by the" Memphis Light, Gas, and Water Division (MLGW), thereby rendering it the utility's largest customer for water.
  • When the Cargill plant closed down, the water division of MLGW lost revenue in the amount of $2.2 million.
  • Thus, we can reasonably infer that Cargill spent $2.2 million on acquiring fresh water for use at that plant.

2. Archer Daniels Midland

  • Archer Daniels Midland sought to build "two large collector wells [for water] 40 feet underground" near Lake Decatur in Illinois.
  • Furthermore, ADM agreed to pay the city as much as $1 million annually "as a portion of any dredging and lake improvement costs." That marked an increase of the previous average that ADM used to pay ($782,000) the city for reimbursement of improvements to the lake due to its large water consumption.

Research Strategy

There was very little information available about how much money large agricultural companies spend on acquiring fresh water. Nonetheless, we were able to find a few insights about Cargill and ADM's spend on such, though they were specific to certain plants those companies operated. The insights we provided above constitute all the information we were able to find about large agricultural companies' spend on acquiring fresh water. We looked thoroughly for more information about how much money large agricultural companies (such as for Cargill and ADM, among other similar companies) spend on acquiring fresh water in their annual reports, sustainability reports/web pages, and in articles pertaining to that topic. Most of the information we found was about the quantity of water being used or conserved and thus there was hardly any mention about how much money the companies spend on acquiring fresh water.

With regard to the information that was fully available, the first part of our research focused on the case studies about ADM and Cargill's water processes and practices. We found information about how those companies handle water treatment/processing through the information on their websites, in their annual reports, and in articles from sources such as Food Dive. There was much more information available about ADM than there was for Cargill, though we tried to provide as much information about Cargill as we could nonetheless. The second part of our research involved looking for statistics about the amount of water recycled or reused by food processing companies. We looked for and found those statistics mainly through articles that the companies published and in their sustainability reports.