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Meat Processing: P2 Opportunities
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
P2 Opportunities
Case Studies
Environmental Impacts
Where To Go for P2 Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

Cleaner Production Assessment in Meat Processing
Focusing on cattle and pig abattoirs, this document is a thorough examination of the environmental i...

Draft Document on Best Available Techniques in the Slaughterhouses and Animal By-products Industries...
The European Union IPPC draft document containing detailed information on BATs and compliance strate...

Pollution Prevention Opportunities for Meat and Fish Processing

Know Your Baseline
Environmental Management Systems (EMS)
Meat Processing Pollution Prevention
Reduction of Water Consumption in Meat and Fish Processing
Reduction of Wastewater Generation in Meat and Fish Processing
Energy Conservation in Meat and Fish Processing
Meat and Fish Processing Pollution Prevention Checklists

Pollution Prevention Fundamentals

The term pollution prevention (P2) refers to eliminating or reducing the volume or toxicity of waste prior to generation, treatment or disposal. P2 is referred to as source reduction or waste minimization. Minimizing waste generation and resource consumption are more cost-effective than relying on the increasingly expensive "end-of-pipe" solutions.

For food processors, pollution prevention can be implemented by improving housekeeping practices, increasing employee training/involvement, substituting raw materials, and implementing new technology/product designs. When practiced, pollution prevention can help to:

  • reduce risk of criminal and civil liability;
  • reduce operating costs;
  • improve employee morale, participation and safety;
  • enhance company's public image; and
  • protect the public health and the environment.

Implementing a pollution prevention opportunity will typically require some type of change, whether minor or major to facility operations.  Modifying a simple cleaning practice or installing/operating/maintaining new equipment are changes that have the potential to reduce wastes from plant processes.  Making employees aware of why changes are occurring and how their actions can make the new efforts a success or failure will help to gain their support and cooperation.  Refer to Waste Reduction In Food Processing - A People Management Issue for insight into motivating employees in P2 projects.

Numerous opportunities exist for meat and fish processors to reduce the amount of wastes generated and to conserve natural resources. This guide provides practical pollution prevention options that can result in more efficient and less costly operations. Additionally, achieving environmental compliance with pollution prevention can help companies meet or go beyond required discharge limits and improve relationships within their communities.

Know Your Baseline

When taking on a pollution prevention initiative, baseline data should be gathered for evaluation of  waste reduction and cost-saving efforts.  The first step is to determine the quantities of waste generated and resources used in facility operations. The University of Georgia has published A Self-Assessment Guide for Meat Processors in Georgia that helps processors assess facility operations, recognize problem areas (especially those considered "high risk"), and identify potential solutions based on pollution prevention. 

For example, water use and wastewater generation are the most common environmental impacts associated with meat processors. The average amount of water used to slaughter a pig is 60 -100 gallons per animal, 185 - 265 gallons for a head of cattle, two - four gallons for a chicken, and 11 - 16 gallons for a turkey . These usage numbers reflect a low and high range of water consumption for meat processors.  If the higher range is exceeded, water consumption is notably elevated and should be considered for reduction. Conducting a water balance in facility operations identifies areas of high water use and help target those areas as most in need of pollution prevention resources. Metering at specific process areas also provides information on water use in particular portions of the plant.  Refer to  Water Efficiency - Auditing Methodology and Tools for step-by-step guidance on conducting a facility water audit, identifying leaks and associated water loss, and developing a water balance for your facility. 

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)  

An EMS uses a defined process to integrate environmental concerns into business decisions, improve environmental compliance, and implement pollution prevention into an organization's operations. The EMS provides a structure for managing, assessing and continuously improving effectiveness and efficiency. When properly implemented, the EMS can reduce operating costs and improve productivity while advancing environmental protection and performance.

Many organizations use the international voluntary standard ISO 14001 as a model for their EMS.  ISO 14001 contains 17 elements that must be implemented to conform to the standard. This model is used by a wide range of organizations including manufacturing, service industries and government agencies. An EMS establishes a framework by which an organization?s environmental impacts can be systematically identified and reduced. 

The U.S. EPA has developed an EMS guide that is very detailed and tailored for meat processors. It can be used by both small and large meat processors to implement an EMS. The EMS guide can be accessed at Environmental Management System (EMS) Guide for Meat Processors.

Meat Processing Pollution Prevention  

In meat processing, P2 takes many forms. Rendering of meat and fish byproducts actually reduces environmental impacts by effectively using edible and inedible materials. However, two percent of the carcass weight is often unaccounted for and is usually lost to effluent, leaving the potential for improvement. In all food processing operations, adopting dry cleaning practices, using spray nozzles on hoses, and reusing water use for noncritical applications can make significant environmental gains.

For poultry processing, taking advantage of water efficient processes and equipment can reduce environmental impacts. For example, the use of pneumatic waste handling systems instead of water fluming systems and the use of modern scalding systems significantly reduce water consumption. Opportunities also exist for reusing wastewaters, such as using scald water overflow for the plucking flume (Nielsen, 1989) and by recycling chiller water (Carawan, 1996a).

While product yield on fish filleting lines is around 25-40 percent, seafood processing operations can achieve very low wastage levels because most of the byproduct can be put to beneficial reuse. Pet food, fish meal and oil, proteins, chitin, chitosan, bait, silage, liquid and solid fertilizers are all examples of value-added production that can utilize all the organic wastes of seafood processors. Effective segregation can help maximize the quantity captured and the added value of these byproducts.

Reduction of Water Consumption in Meat and Fish Processing  

In most parts of the world, the cost of water is increasing as supplies of fresh water become scarcer, and as the true environmental costs of its supply are taken into consideration. Water is therefore becoming an increasingly valuable commodity and its efficient use is becoming more important. Strategies for reducing water consumption can involve technological solutions or equipment upgrade. However, reviewing cleaning procedures and operator practices can make some of the most significant gains. Adopting dry cleaning practices, using spray nozzles on process lines and hoses, and reusing water use for non-critical cleaning applications can also reduce water consumption. Other water minimization options include countercurrent rinsing systems where clean water is used for final rinsing and then reused for initial cleaning processes, dry transport conveyers and the use of dry pre-cleaning techniques (Environment Canada, 1994a). Technologies that improve product yield also reduce solid and liquid waste.

Key pollution prevention strategies for reducing water consumption are listed below:

  • Teach employees how to and why it is important for them to conserve water, provide appropriate tools (scrapers, squeegees, wet/dry vacs) to facilitate water conservation;
  • Know how much water is used in facility operations; installing meters will provide area specific usage to help prioritize pollution efforts.
  • Install low-volume high-pressure nozzles on all hoses; consider making hoses less available to employees to increase dry clean-up efforts;
  • Dry cleaning of trucks prior to washing with water;
  • Use of automatically operated scalding chambers rather than scalding tanks for the dehairing of pigs;
  • Use of offal transport systems that avoid or minimize the use of water;
  • Use of dry dumping techniques for the processing of cattle paunches and pig stomachs that avoid or minimize the use of water, instead of wet dumping techniques;
  • Reuse of relatively clean wastewaters from cooling systems, vacuum pumps, etc. for washing livestock if possible;
  • Reuse of final rinse waters from paunch and casings washing for other non-critical cleaning steps in the casings department;
  • Reuse of wastewaters from the slaughter floor, carcass washing, viscera tables and handwash basins for the washing of inedible products if possible;
  • Reuse of the final rinse from cleaning operations for the initial rinse on the following day;
  • Use of dry cleaning techniques to pre-clean process areas and floors before washing with water;
  • Use of high pressure rather than high volume for cleaning surfaces;
  • Use of automatic control systems to operate the flow of water in handwash stations and knife sterilizers.

Reduction of Wastewater Generation in Meat and Fish Processing  

The efficient recovery and segregation of blood is a significant way to reduce pollutant loading in meat processing wastewater. An efficient blood removal system will have a 40 percent lower polluting load than one that allows blood to flow to the effluent (Nielsen, 1989). Other opportunities for reducing the pollutant load of wastewaters are: the removal and recovery of solids from the wastewater stream by screening; the use of biodegradable detergents and sanitizers; the collection of paunch manure and intestinal contents without the use of water; and the provision of receptacles to catch hair and meat trimmings. Additionally, biological treatment of wastewater will reduce organic load and to some extent nutrients. Strategies for reducing the pollutant load of abattoir effluent principally focus on excluding blood, fat, manure and scraps of meat from the effluent stream. This means capturing materials before they enter drains and by using dry cleaning methods. 

In fish processing, capturing skins, scales and gut material as solid streams and collecting blood before cleaning significantly reduces wastewater loads. A Canadian fish processing operation is reported to have replaced its manual salmon gutting lines with semiautomatic vacuum suction lines. This resulted in a reduction of its water consumption of almost 90 to 95 percent (Environment Canada, 1994a). However, such systems are capital and energy intensive (UNEP, 1998).

Pollution prevention opportunities include: 

  • Maximizing the segregation for blood by designing suitable blood collection facilities and allowing sufficient time for bleeding;
  • Sweeping up solid materials for use as inedible byproducts, instead of washing them down the drain;
  • Fitting drains with screens and/or traps to prevent solid materials from entering the effluent system;
  • Using offal transport systems that avoid or minimize the use of water;
  • Using water sprays with sufficient pressure for carcass washing to avoid removing fat from the animal surface;
  • Using dry cleaning techniques to pre-clean process areas and floors before washing with water;
  • Segregating high-strength effluent streams, such as rendering effluent and wastewaters from paunch washing, and treating them separately;
  • Ensuring that the most appropriate form and amounts of food-grade chemicals are used in facility cleaning activities, and train employees on proper use (mixing, storage, handling, application).

Energy Conservation in Meat and Fish Processing  

Energy is an area where substantial savings can be made almost immediately with no capital investment, mostly through simple housekeeping efforts. Additional savings can be made through the use of more energy-efficient equipment and heat recovery systems.  Keeping energy costs to a minimum will improve the organization's profits and help to save precious natural resources. Keeping energy use records and routinely reviewing the utility bills will provide a good idea of how much energy is used and potentially how much money can be saved.

Pollution prevention options include: 

  • Training employees to be aware of energy conservation and to keep lights/equipment off when not in use;
  • Implementing switch-off programs and installing sensors to turn-off or power-down lights and equipment when not in use;
  • Improving insulation on heating or cooling systems and pipe work;
  • Insulating and covering scald tanks to prevent heat loss;
  • Recovering waste heat from effluent streams, vents, exhausts and compressors;
  • Recovering evaporative energy in the rendering process using multi-effect evaporators;
  • Maintaining a leak-free compressed air system;
  • Installing more efficient equipment;
  • Improving maintenance to maximize energy efficiency of equipment;
  • Maintaining optimal combustion efficiencies on boilers;
  • Eliminating steam leaks; and
  • Being aware of demand charges. Meet with the service provider on electrical purchasing and discounted rates.

In addition to reducing a plant?s demand for energy, opportunities exist for using more environmentally benign sources of energy. Opportunities include replacing fuel or coal with cleaner fuels, such as natural gas, purchasing electricity produced from renewable sources, or cogeneration of electricity and heat on-site. For some plants it may also be feasible to recover methane from the anaerobic digestion of high-strength effluent streams to supplement fuel supplies.   

Meat and Fish Processing Pollution Prevention Checklists  

The following checklists summarize P2 opportunities for meat and fish/seafood processing operations.  Most of the opportunities identified are simple techniques that can result in major environmental and economical returns for processors. 

Meat Processing P2 Checklist

Process Stage


P2 Opportunity

Inputs and Inventory Input Modification Improve animal induction procedures to reduce stress and mortalities.
    Work with suppliers to improve feed regimes and induction procedures (e.g. reduced manure and paunch manure).
  Inventory Management Adopt a just-in-time system to reduce holding periods.
Product Preparation Defeathering Optimize temperatures and overflow setting in scalding, defeathering equipment.
  Trimming Stop edible trimmings touching the floor through improved procedures, collection trays.
  Product Conveyance Ensure conveyors are set at the correct speed to optimize throughput, workforce efficiency and yields.
    Determine the most efficient means of handling paunch contents at the dewatering plant (pump vs. conveyor).
  Byproduct / Collection Improve blood collection systems to reduce the amount of blood lost to the effluent stream and maximize the purity of the blood stream - optimize hanging times.
    Improve segregation and collection techniques to minimize the quantity of valuable byproducts that are lost to the waste stream (e.g. blood, meat scraps, manure and paunch manure).
    Optimize byproduct storage systems to maximize reuse options (pick-up, processing schedules, temperatures).
  Carcass Washing Modify the carcass washing system to reduce the amount of water needed for final washing.
  Rendering Improve the rendering process (e.g., low/high temperature, dry rendering processes). Store stock in cold, closed, well-ventilated locations. Pasteurize raw materials before processing to halt biological processes that create odors. Install all equipment in closed spaces that are under partial or total vacuum. Keep all working and storage areas clean.
Re-use and Recycling Reuse Reuse process water (e.g., paunch rinsing) for pen washing.
   Collect bleed water from condensers or defrost water for reuse in noncritical cleaning processes.
    Have contingency plans in place to handle waste and byproducts if handling, collection, transport or processing systems fail.
Waste Treatment and Disposal Primary Treatment Screen wastewaters (e.g., paunch manure) to reduce solids going to the treatment process.
  Physical Separation Install a dissolved air flotation unit or other physical separation device to recover rendering solids from key wastewater streams.
    Use coagulant polymers or other additives in the treatment process to increase treatment efficiency or reduce the quantities of sludge generated.
Marketing / Product Improvement Product Development Develop any value-added products or send materials off-site for processing:
  • meat patties, chicken nuggets, sausages, meat pastes, etc.
  • fermented byproducts to produce flavoring agents for animal feed.
  • rendering products, gelatin, pet food, etc.?
  • compost or vermicompost.

UNEP 2000

Fish/Seafood Processing P2 Checklist

Process Stage


Pollution Prevention Opportunity

Inputs and Inventory Modify Inputs / Process Improvement Improve catching techniques to eliminate by-catch and to target appropriate species, fish sizes, etc.
    Improve the vessel unloading procedures (e.g., buckets/baskets, wet (siphon) or dry (vacuum) pumps, reusable bulk bins) to reduce fish damage and increase transport efficiency.
    Minimize intermediate storage time, to minimize demand for chilled water or ice.
Product Preparation Sorting Use optical/automated grading, sorting (i.e. species, sex) equipment.
  Cleaning Optimize batch dump frequency for the brine baths.
  Skinning, Gutting Use automatic skinning, head removal, gutting processes.
    Improve gutting procedures to minimize water use and segregate gut material (e.g., replacing manual gutting lines with semiautomatic vacuum suction lines).
  Product Conveyance Minimize water use by using dry transport systems for product, offal and other byproducts (e.g. conveyers instead of wet pumps or flumes).
  Cleaning Undertake dry cleanup of equipment, offal and blood spills.
Reuse and Recycling Reuse Use recirculated water for initial rinse processes (e.g. washing tanks and dip tanks).
  Recycling Install improved offal/blood collection systems such as trays, totes, chutes or dedicated offal conveyance systems.
    Use inedible offal and other materials by undertaking rendering on-site or off-site.
Waste Treatment and Disposal Segregation Separate product/offal from process water using dewatering belts.
  Primary Screening Improve the screening of wastewater to remove solids (e.g. tangential screens, rotary drum screens, counterflow helical filter belt screens and wheel filters).
Marketing / Product Improvement Market Development Identify markets for byproducts or work with other processors to eliminate waste.
  Product Development Use carcasses, milt and other offal etc. to make value-added products (e.g. pet food, fish meal and oil, protein hydrolysates, chitin, chitosan, bait, silage, liquid or solid fertilizer).

 UNEP 2000


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Hub Last Updated: 3/11/2008