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Coca-Cola Recovery System Can Cut Water Use by 35%

The Coca-Cola Company has developed a beverage process water recovery system, piloted at facilities in India and Mexico, that can reduce a manufacturing plant’s water use by up to 35 percent.

The recovery system reuses water for selected beverage operations, such as clean-in-place and bottle washing, rather than treating and discharging it, the company said. The system takes highly treated process water and treats it further using a variety of existing technologies, including biological treatment in a membrane bioreactor, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, ozonation and ultraviolet disinfection.

Coca-Cola is reviewing internal plans to roll out this technology to its bottling partners and across its bottling facilities in 2013 and beyond, the company said. If the system is implemented across all Coca-Cola bottling plants, the company could save as much as 100 billion liters of water annually.

Coca-Cola’s pilot project, which was developed in-house, is noteworthy because the company made an investment to improve its processes in regions with less stringent regulations, said Eric Meliton, an industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

“They were willing to make an investment and they found a process that works,” Meliton said. “Will they be willing to invest in implementing it across all of their operations?” He doesn’t expect the water recovery system to be used in North America or Europe, where strict regulations and standards already exist.

However, Coca-Cola’s innovation could have an impact on the rest of the industry, Meliton said.

“Whenever a market leader like Coca-Cola makes an operational change related to an environmental metric such as water use, you see a trickle-down effect among its main competitors and eventually to other smaller companies in the industry,” Meliton said.

The International Water Association recognized Coca Cola for its water recovery system with an Innovation in Small Projects Award at its Asia Pacific Regional Innovation Awards event.

Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, along with leaders at 44 other international companies, agreed last month to set targets on the companies’ own water efficiency and wastewater management in factories and operations. The 45 CEOs pledged to work with suppliers to improve their water practices and partner with nongovernmental organizations, UN agencies, governments and public authorities, investors and other stakeholders on water-related projects and solutions.

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