Ben & Jerry’s, some of the world’s best ice cream, my personal opinion of course, just got better. The company which has always been known for it’s social and environmental activism as well as its ice cream. Now Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever is going to green up its ice cream factory in the Netherlands.
Paques is the company that will partner with Unilever, to build a bio-digester at the Ben & Jerry’s Netherland’s plant. The bio-digester will turn the factory wastewater into biogas that will provide 40 percent of the plant’s green energy. The waste water will be carrying the leftover ingredients from making the ice cream. Cream, sugar, fruit, proteins, and syrups will be converted into energy.
A new bio-digester from Paques, the BIOPAQ®AFR, is able to break down the fat that the wastewater will contain in one step rather than several, streamlining the process. The BIOPAQ®AFR uses “more than 24 billiard (24•1015) little bugs!” better known as microorganisms. The “billiards” of microorganisms eat all the stuff like cream, sugar and fruit, etc., purifying the water and converting the leftover ice cream makings in to biogas.
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan has set as one of it’s goals to “Halve the environmental footprint of our products” which it will do by improving its “Eco-Efficiency”. Reducing the impacts of its manufacturing processes isn’t just a “feel-good”, consumer oriented campaign but part of the European Union’s (EU) plan to combat global warming and promote sustainability.
The EU has set European Environmental Regulations that cover everything from sustainable use of natural resources to waste and water management. Unilever has been working hard to meet the EU’s goals as well as goals of its own. The company has worked to improve its procedures and reduce its violations of the regulations. The fines may not be huge (in 2009, Unilever paid fines of €2,345 (($3,214.90)) for two environmental prosecutions) but they get the point across.
The success of this new type of bio-digester could prompt other companies to adopt its use. The unified process approach that digests the fats with the other waste should be very attractive to those trying to meet the EU’s environmental regulations.
As we all dig into our cartons of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, its nice to know that Unilever is following Ben and Jerry’s initial goals of environmental stewardship.
Above illustration is a 3-D artists rendering from Pacques.