Wastewater is a precious resource that many industries are expected to recycle and then use in certain processes. The F&B industry is one of the biggest consumers of fresh water, and should be able to utilise wastewater in different ways through modern treatment processes. Although water scarcity is not a problem in Southeast Asia as compared to other parts of the world, wastewater management is expected to be part of companies’ sustainability goals.
In this Q&A, we asked Mr Tony Ong, Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Asia, Veolia Water Technologies, for some of his insights in the water and wastewater industry. Veolia has partnered with many companies in setting up water and wastewater treatment facilities, providing them with technologies such as online diagnostic solutions to evaporation and crystallisation, energy-producing sludge treatment, state-of-the-art desalination, laboratory-grade water and mobile water services.
Tony Ong, Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Asia, Veolia Water Technologies
What was the year 2023 like for the water/wastewater treatment industry in Southeast Asia, from Veolia’s point of view? How did the years when COVID was at its height impact business, if at all?
From Veolia Water Technologies’ perspective, the water and wastewater treatment industry in Southeast Asia witnessed a notable shift following the challenges posed by the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in both industrial and municipal systems, emphasising the importance of adaptable technologies for overall water operations. Some existing solutions proved effective under normal circumstances but revealed weaknesses during crisis situations. The restrictions imposed during the pandemic also underscored the need for increased automation in various processes.
As businesses and operations resumed in the post-COVID period, many organisations have recognised the need for improvement and have dedicated resources to address vulnerabilities previously identified during the pandemic. This has brought about a discernible surge in interest and inquiries for Veolia’s water and wastewater treatment solutions. Our team adopts a proactive approach that involves conducting comprehensive audits through the SCREEN audit programme, which goes beyond traditional hardware assessments. This programme delves into the overall energy, utility, and resources balance, allowing us to recommend tailored solutions that extend beyond immediate hardware needs. This heightened focus on holistic assessments aligns with our commitment to understanding water in its entirety, ensuring relevant solutions to address immediate challenges and contribute to long-term sustainability.
In your observation of the industry, are F&B companies in general becoming more serious about their approach to water preservation? Is it their priority?
There is a noticeable trend that larger F&B companies are increasingly prioritising water preservation efforts. Many prominent brands have shown an increased commitment to sustainability by investing in initiatives, such as reclaiming wastewater for non-potable purposes such as cleaning and cooling towers.
However, it's important to note that, in general, the Southeast Asian market still exhibits some reluctance towards products produced with reclaimed wastewater. There is a perceptible ‘ick factor’, where it takes a lot more effort for consumers to embrace goods associated with water that has undergone reclamation processes. This hesitation could be attributed, in part, to the fact that Southeast Asia, as a region, is not currently faced with severe water scarcity or water stress challenges. Consequently, consumers may be less prepared to accept products manufactured using reclaimed wastewater, as the perceived urgency for such measures may not be as palpable in the region. So, while larger F&B companies are leading the way in some water preservation efforts, there is still work to be done in fostering the acceptance of more sustainable practices across the F&B industry in the region.
A wastewater plant (source: Veolia)
Is Veolia active in sharing environmental awareness in the region? How can F&B SMEs be better at fulfilling a sustainability plan around wastewater recycling?
Veolia actively promotes ecological transformation in the region, translating this commitment into tangible action through our resource management approach. We offer tools that help F&B SMEs to measure and understand their carbon footprint, fostering transparency and accountability.
Beyond wastewater recycling, we address challenges like sludge management by leveraging advanced technologies and turning wastes such as sludge into a form of resource. Through our high-performance anaerobic treatment solutions, companies have the option of converting high COD or calorific value waste into resources, such as methane, which creates a self-sustaining system benefiting both the environment and the business.
Veolia provides standardised solutions to help SMEs reduce deployment costs and optimise land usage, which are crucial considerations for brownfield expansions or new plants. Our offering includes plant-based coagulants (or green chemicals) for water treatment, minimising the carbon footprint associated with synthetic chemicals and reducing overall disposal costs.
Additionally, our expertise guides SMEs in ensuring compliance with regulations. By offering a comprehensive approach, Veolia empowers SMEs to efficiently manage their water and wastewater treatment needs and to achieve their sustainability goals.
What can Veolia share about its plans for the coming year and beyond? Could you cite upcoming projects for the F&B industry?
Veolia is strategically focusing on addressing the unique challenges in Southeast Asia, firstly, where a large population of 680 million people contend with limited access to fresh water, with only an estimated one-third of the water being accessible due to geopolitical restrictions. In addition, there is also a crucial need for compliant practices, especially in wastewater discharge, to safeguard the environment.
One of our future initiatives involves a shift towards waste management solutions, recognising the region's heavy emphasis on agricultural activities. By emphasising on technologies designed to meet regulatory requirements for the next 20-30 years, we aim to facilitate industrialisation while conserving the environment so as not to compromise agricultural activities. We are also amplifying our support to customers in their adoption of digital solutions, influenced by pandemic learnings, which includes leveraging our smart water solutions for remote monitoring. This not only addresses immediate challenges but also contributes to a resilient and environmentally conscious future for the Southeast Asian F&B industry.
It is important to also note that while some of these solutions may seem costly initially, the long-term payoff is significant, particularly in wastewater management. Veolia is committed to supporting organisations especially in the area of sustainable water management. Our approach extends beyond conventional business models by actively promoting the reduction of resource usage in manufacturing processes. By investing in technologies that align with the evolving regulatory landscape and prioritising sustainability, Veolia seeks to play a pivotal role in shaping a resilient and environmentally conscious future for the F&B industry in Southeast Asia.