SA Water has developed a circular economy solution by reusing an abattoir’s processing wastewater in growing livestock fodder.

The sustainable outcome was devised to benefit all parties, enabling a climate-independent supply of nutrient-rich water for primary producer Edward Ringwood to grow fodder which helped Thomas Foods International, who process Ringwood’s livestock, avoid the cost of additional on-site treatment infrastructure. 

By securing a new customer, SA Water increased the volume of water recycled for productive use at its Bird in Hand Wastewater Treatment Plant and reduced the amount returned to local watercourses.

The solution’s design came after a fire at Thomas Foods International’s Murray Bridge facility saw it shift a large amount of production to its Lobethal base, increasing the processing waste it was discharging into SA Water’s local sewerage network.

SA Water General Manager Customer Delivery, Kerry Rowlands, said the utility thought laterally to help a significant local employer that exports South Australian produce to the world.

“Large processors of meat, dairy and fresh produce are required to remove high-strength organic material from their wastewater before discharging it into our network, where it is then further treated for recycling or safe release back to the environment,” Ms Rowlands said.

“We knew if we could find new recycled water customers who valued the types of nutrients present in this wastewater, we could help Thomas Foods avoid the significant capital cost of a new on-site primary filtration plant.

“Taking the time to understand our customer’s business, stepping back to see a wider perspective and communicating effectively, helped us bring together two businesses on different ends of the supply chain.”

Thomas Foods International Chief Executive Officer, Darren Thomas, said in a time of economic uncertainty, pursuing opportunities that delivered notable savings further positioned the company for growth.

“Our ability to sustain a successful business is influenced by creating efficiencies, and in this instance, SA Water formulated a clever solution,” Mr Thomas said.

“We were faced with investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to upgrade our Lobethal plant’s trade waste pre-treatment to ensure we continued to meet our compliance obligations.

“SA Water showed a genuine willingness to help and through an open-minded approach we achieved a symbiotic and sustainable outcome, improving a local farmer’s capacity for growth and freeing up resources for our business to invest and further contribute to the state’s economy.”

Increased reuse from SA Water’s treatment plant reduced the Bird in Hand facility’s operational expenses and may potentially defer an upcoming capital project as a result of enhanced environmental performance, arising from valuable nutrients in recycled water being put to use on farmland.

A pipeline from the facility’s network was constructed to Edward Ringwood’s property, connecting the farm’s new irrigation infrastructure to a supply of recycled water.

Mr Ringwood, who has worked his Woodside property for ten years, said securing a new 160 megalitre per annum supply of recycled water enabled the expansion of breeding stock.

“Water availability in primary production is paramount – especially in our naturally dry state – and having a reliable climate-independent water source has drought-proofed our property,” Mr Ringwood said.

“Our previous dependency on rainfall was holding us back, and we now irrigate 20 hectares with nutrient rich recycled water through an internal network of pipes around 3,000m long.

“We’re now able to grow more pasture all year round, providing certainty in our capacity to breed lambs to a heavier weight, increasing our profitability.

“It’s nice to know that our product is more sustainable as we minimise resource inputs, and in some ways, the animals that were raised on these paddocks then return to rejuvenate them and start the cycle going again.

“Our sights are firmly set on helping satisfy the local and international demand for South Australia’s world class produce and we’re grateful for SA Water’s support in unlocking potential in our business.”

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