Meister Cheese Company: A Tradition of Repurposing Waste
Written by Jane Carlson, P.E., ENV SP, of Strand Associates, Inc.
Meister Cheese Company, a family-owned company that has called southwestern Wisconsin home since its establishment in 1916, has mastered the art of repurposing “waste” from its cheesemaking operations. For decades, Meister has been refining whey, a former waste product, into marketable proteins and sugars. For just as long, segregations of wastes have allowed various products to be repurposed, providing value as animal feeds or nutrients for agricultural land. Making cheese is a time-honored, 100-year-old tradition for the Meister family. With this project, Meister has introduced a new tradition – using biogas from its improved wastewater treatment plant operations to offset energy usage.
As a cheese production and whey processing facility, Meister produces high-strength wastes as a by-product, but the existing wastewater treatment plant, built in 2013, could not effectively treat all of the wastewater produced. As such, the high-strength waste and waste-sludge was hauled off site and applied as nutrients to local farm fields on an almost daily basis. In addition, the wastewater treatment plant had little capacity for any expansion in operations and consumed significant amounts of energy, resulting in high costs and increased impact to the environment.
Seeking to increase cheese production, Meister needed to find a solution to its waste concerns, as increased production would increase wastewater loadings and volumes to the wastewater treatment plant. Because of costs, ongoing logistics, and pending questions about the future of land application of waste-sludge during winter months, Meister decided to reduce or eliminate hauling of its waste.
With the family commitment to be a good steward of the environment and reducing its reliance on fossil fuel-based energy, Meister hired Strand Associates Inc.® to assist in finding a solution. The solution was to construct and operate an anaerobic pretreatment lagoon system to treat the daily wastewater, high-strength waste, and waste-sludge.
Throughout the project, Strand worked side-by-side with Meister and contractors to assist in meeting the goals of increasing capacity and efficiency, and reducing costs and environmental impact; Meister was pleased to be able to solve multiple problems with this project.
A particularly beneficial by-product of anaerobic treatment is biogas, which often can be utilized to produce energy. The biogas is used to fuel an engine-generator, known as a “cogeneration system,” which produces electricity to offset the wastewater treatment plant’s power requirements and provides heat to maintain a warmer temperature in the anaerobic lagoon system. The warmer temperature improves treatment efficiency in the anaerobic lagoon system.
With modifications to the existing wastewater treatment plant, the combined treatment systems can now remove more than 96 percent of the organic material in the wastewater from the production process, while meeting all regulatory discharge requirements and significantly reducing the amount of waste-sludge that must be trucked and land-applied. Meister’s high-strength waste hauling has been reduced by 9.4 million gallons annually. Additionally, because of cogeneration of electricity from biogas, the company is able to offset some of its electrical costs, which will reduce its carbon footprint by approximately 1,000 tons of CO2 per year. Alongside these advantages, the Meister family can continue to produce cheese and whey products with efficient treatment facilities, while maintaining their commitment to sustainability.
About the Author
Jane Carlson, P.E., ENV SP, of Strand Associates Inc.®, served as Project Manager for the Meister Cheese Company Wastewater Treatment Energy Improvements project. Jane earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering from Michigan Technological University, and her Master of Science degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering from the University of Iowa. She has been with Strand for 30 years. Strand has been providing exceptional civil and engineering service to clients since 1946 and is a long-time ACEC Wisconsin member.