What do 18 tankers, recycled water and a healthy dose of Kiwi ingenuity add up to?Answer: A major environmental achievement in the Tararua town of Pahiatua.

Half a million litres of Pahiatua groundwater (about the same as 18 milk-tanker loads) will be saved every day thanks to the development and installation of a ground-breaking reclaimed water system at the local Fonterra site.

The site team came up with an innovative way to reuse water from condensation that's produced during the milk powder manufacturing process.

Robert Spurway, Fonterra's chief operating officer for global operations, said the water-saving initiative was a testament to the Pahiatua team's innovative and can-do approach to sustainability.


"Pahiatua is already Fonterra New Zealand's most water efficient site and some clever thinking has taken it to the next level," he said. "As an organisation, we've committed to a 20 per cent reduction in water use by 2020. Pahiatua is well ahead of the game."

Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis said she was "extremely proud of the team at Fonterra and their ongoing commitment to sustainability. On several occasions they have hosted councillors, staff and iwi on site to share information on new technology and view the systems in action.

"We very much appreciate the transparency and passion shown by Fonterra to continually use technological efficiencies which also have environmental benefits. This creates a win-win outcome for all."

Horizons Regional Council's environment committee chairman Gordon McKellar also commended the team and said it was great to see Fonterra introducing innovative systems that would directly reduce water use in Pahiatua.

"Practices like reclaimed water systems are a great way to involve staff in sustainability initiatives that will improve their local environment," he said.

The P3 milk powder plant at Pahiatua (built in 2015) was already 100 per cent self-sufficient for water, meaning it did not use any groundwater in the manufacturing process.

However, the evaporators often produced more water than was required and the excess was typically irrigated on to surrounding farmland.

Now, rather than irrigate the excess water, the new reclaimed water system treats the excess water via reverse osmosis and chlorination before combining it with the site's main water supply for general use.

The successful water re-use project is a hat tip to good old Kiwi ingenuity and the benefit of a team-based approach to problem solving.

Pahiatua site operations manager Glenn Broughton said he was incredibly proud of the project.

"After seeing an opportunity to innovate, the team completed the project in an extremely cost-effective manner," he said.

In 2017 Fonterra made six commitments to New Zealand waterways, including reducing water use (20 per cent by 2020) and improving wastewater quality at all its manufacturing plants.