How to make your dairy plant more sustainable

Switching to sustainable practices for your dairy plant not only helps the planet; it can bring real benefits to your product quality, your reputation and your bottom line.
By Russell Zawacki, Quality and Safety Manager of TPC Wire & Cable Corp. July 31, 2014

Sustainability is important in every industry, including the dairy industry. Switching to sustainable practices for your dairy plant not only helps the planet; it can bring real benefits to your product quality, your reputation and your bottom line. Here are some ways to make your dairy plant more sustainable: 

Energy conservation: Dairy processing is energy-intensive. Reducing energy losses and switching to more efficient fuels and equipment can make a positive difference in your balance sheet while improving your carbon footprint.

Often, the easiest and most effective energy conservation measure is to improve insulation for heated or chilled areas. Replacing older lighting and equipment with new, energy-efficient technology can make a huge difference, too. You may also save significant amounts on your power bill by using programmable thermostats and lighting timers.

Renewable energy: These days, payback on renewable energy equipment is often well worth the investment. One of the best types of renewable energy for dairy processing plants is solar water heating. Solar thermal panels can be used to preheat water for pasteurization and sanitation.  Solar thermal systems typically decrease water-heating bills by 50 to 80 percent, with a corresponding decrease in carbon emissions. 

Dairy plants can benefit from other types of renewable energy, too, and they can be used in tandem with each other. For example, the CROPP Cooperative plant in LaFarge, Wisconsin utilizes natural daylighting, solar electric and biofuels in addition to solar thermal and energy efficiency measures.

Transportation and distribution: Transporting milk to your plant, along with product distribution, accounts for a significant portion of your product’s carbon footprint. You can reduce your impact and cut transportation costs by implementing sustainability measures in your vehicle fleet. Route optimization, idle time reduction and selecting the proper size trucks for the load can all help reduce the amount of fuel you use.

Water conservation: Water is becoming an increasingly precious resource, and as a result, the price of water is on the rise. Reducing water use in your plant will cut your water expenses. Not only that, but using less water on the front end will reduce the amount of wastewater your plant produces. Since the wastewater from milk processing often contains high levels of biological residue and cleaning agents, it is expensive to treat and can threaten environmental water quality. Reducing the amount of wastewater you produce can save you significant money while helping protect your local watershed.

There are many ways to conserve water in your dairy plant. Some are as simple as changing habits. For example, use a broom to sweep up solid waste rather than hosing it away. You should also inspect your equipment regularly and fix or replace any leaking nozzles, hoses or pipes. Just replacing overly large nozzles with smaller ones can save a surprising amount of water. 

Packaging: Switching to eco-friendly packaging for your product line is a simple change that can make a big impact on your environmental footprint. These days, many container manufacturers are offering thinner, lighter options that use far less material without compromising strength or usefulness. Look for options in recycled packaging, too. 

Equipment: Whether it’s your vehicles or your dairy processing equipment, keeping everything in proper working order will help it last longer. This reduces landfill waste as well as carbon emissions from the manufacture and transport of new equipment. It will also save you money.

Service all equipment regularly, and make a point of scheduling routine inspections of all your equipment. Repair or replace aging parts before they cause problems. 

Remember to think long-term. You might think that keeping parts in service as long as possible would be the most sustainable action, but this is not always true. Some parts may still appear to be in good shape even when they’re due for replacement. Rubberware is a good example. Gaskets and other rubber parts can develop little pits that hold onto milk and bacteria and can compromise product, even before they look worn out. Hoses, too, can develop microscopic cracks that affect machine efficiency.

Purchase quality equipment: “Penny wise and pound foolish” is an excellent adage for the dairy plant operator to remember. Cheap supplies and equipment are not always the best value. They often last only a fraction of the time that better quality products do. This is no good for either the environment or your wallet. 

When it comes time to invest in new equipment or replace parts, choose the most energy efficient and/or sustainable options (such as zero-CFC coolers) possible. Also, be sure to select durable products. That way, you’ll avoid the hassle and expense of constant replacement. This is especially true of cables and other essential mechanical parts. It’s also a good idea to keep extra cables and such on hand, to prevent holding up operations to wait for a replacement part.

For more information on making your dairy operation more sustainable, download the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s Stewardship and Sustainability Guide for dairy processors. 

Russell Zawacki is the Quality and Safety Manager of TPC Wire & Cable Corp. in Macedonia, OH. TPC Wire & Cable supplies products for harsh industrial conditions. TPC’s products are specifically designed to withstand high-pressure sprays, cleaners and high water temperatures specific to the food and beverage industry to keep your operations running smoothly.