Any industrial process or endeavour has some form of environmental impact, either through the process as a residual of materials consumed or by-products created, or through secondary and support processes such as washing, cleaning, transport and utilities consumed. The wine and spirits industry is no exception, although the development of appropriate waste and effluent treatment methods has lagged behind other industries.

Agriculture, and specifically the wine, spirits and grape juice industries, can adversely affect water quality and could pose a (significant) risk to South Africa’s water resources. Proactive management of all possible environmental impacts is required from the outset of cellar and distillery activities in order to reduce the risk. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) has made major strides in the last seven to eight years in developing strategies and management plans. Other industries in for instance the mining and chemical sectors have also made major progress in the effective management of wastewater within the industries through the development of joint structures where problems are discussed and addressed through co-operation. The wine and spirits industries have lagged behind in this regard and this article is part of the process of developing an integrated management plan for effective water quality management.

Waste from the wine and spirits industry is high in organic content. This may result in the disruption of natural processes in waters and soils due to the high levels of contaminants in the waste, which is problematic. Large quantities of effluent, mainly as a result of washing, rinsing and sanitising operations are produced (0.7 – 3.8 m3 per ton of grapes processed) [SRK/WRC, 1993] making economic treatment difficult. This massive consumption of water is also problematic in that water supply, or lack thereof, has been identified as a significant factor that might limit economic growth in the future.

The last two decades have seen increased public concern for the state of the environment and protection of our natural resources. This in turn puts pressure on governments and industry to clean up their act, and to institute measures to prevent any actions that may compromise the environment. Globally this has resulted in stricter legislation on environmental protection.

The South African government in this regard has kept up with the rest of the world, implementing some landmark legislation aimed at regulating the use of natural resources and preserving the environment. These include the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996), the Environment Conservation Act (Act 73 of 1989), the National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) and the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998).

The aim of this article is not to describe in detail the impact of the new legislation on the wine, spirits and juice industries, but rather to briefly explain some of the novel concepts contained therein.

South African perspective

The protection of environmental rights is contained in section 24 of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. This states that “everyone has the right – (a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being” and further “, (b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations.” The message is quite clear; it is the duty of every citizen or institution to ensure that he or she conducts any actions in an environmentally responsible fashion.

The Environment Conservation Act gave little regard to the nature of the processes that produced the offensive material or the ability of the organisations to avoid pollution. Law enforcement was limited to warning or prosecuting persons or organisations that were caught contravening the legislative requirements. The focus was thus on the pollutive or degrading action, which led to a typical end-of-pipe treatment approach. Little or no environmental consideration was given to the planning of activities in the production process. The environment only received attention when the organisation had to decide what could be done to address the pollution or how the end-of-pipe treatment plant should be structured to avoid contravention of the legislation.

The National Environmental Management Act, which was promulgated in January of this year, will have a significant impact on the legal liability and accountability of industry in environmental matters. The new law brings South African environmental legislation in line with First World trends of sustainable development whilst aiming to maintain or improve the natural, biological and social environment. In this new act, pollution is clearly defined, which will make it easier for companies to benchmark their activities and for governments to enforce the law. This definition can be summarised as follows; any change to the environment caused by disturbances, including noise or odours, which have an adverse effect on humans or the ecosystem. The new law provides a paradigm shift in the approach of environmental legislation, from a reactive policing system to a pro-active management system. Companies are now obliged to employ the best practicable environmental management and control systems in their plants. Policies for environmental protection should result in sustainable resources, water and soil, the principles governed by an attitude of “waste not want not”.

On 1 October 1999 the new National Water Act was implemented, introducing with it some new concepts, i.e.:

  • The public ownership of water. Simply stated this implies that that there can be no private ownership of water, only the right to use the water can be acquired. This right is allocated in the form of a temporary licence; reviewed from time to time. The licence assures the holder of his right to use the water unless he abuses it. The license may also be withdrawn should it not be used within a reasonable amount of time or may be curtailed in favour of another that will be of greater socio-economic benefit.
  • The second new concept to be introduced is that the aquatic ecology forms part of the water resource and should be protected as such. A reserve is defined as the quantity and quality of water that is required to sustain both the ecology and development and use of the resource. The reserve is classed according to the ecological sensitivity of the resource and will thus determine the minimum water quality and quantity that will have to be maintained. In granting licenses for water abstraction or effluent discharge, the reserve will have to be considered.
  • The third new concept introduced is that of water charges. This will enable the Department or a Catchment Management Agency to put a levy on water use that will be applied in the management of the resource.

Marketing concerns

Wine by its very definition is seen as a product of natural origin. It was indeed Pasteur who commented that “Wine is the most healthful and hygienic of beverages” [Rankine, 1997]. This image is born out to a market of an exceedingly discerning public where products are not selected exclusively by their associated quality, health or environmental impact, but increasingly by the environmental impact of their production. Most companies have found it necessary to have some form of environmental policy, strategy and programme in place to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised market place.

Environmental Management

The South African legal system emphasises the need for a structured process or strategy to prevent or minimise the environmental impact of the process to acceptable levels as required by the appropriate legislation. Moreover, the sound design of a new project or the upgrading of an existing project will not ensure environmental performance. Monitoring, inspection, auditing and policing structures need to be introduced, to ensure long term compliance. Traditionally these were based on a requirement to comply with a set standard and punishment for contravention thereof. Modern trends place the emphasis on self-regulation and self-auditing – the responsible or cautious approach. South African environmental legislation is clear, most laws require an applicant to satisfy an authority, to prove why he should get the permit applied for and to provide all relevant information.

What is an environmental management strategy

An environmental management strategy, system or plan is a document detailing, at the highest management level, the environmental policies of a company and the appropriate procedures for its implementation.

The environmental management strategy has as its principal objectives:

  • Setting of achievable goals regarding control of the consumption of resources and emissions of effluents from the plant.
  • Continuous monitoring of the effects of operations on the environment.
  • Establishing methods to measure progress towards goals.
  • Foster among all employees an individual sense of responsibility for the environment.
  • Training of employees.
  • Development of effluent treatment methods and procedures.

A sustainable environmental management system can, however, only be achieved through the commitment and team work of producers and authorities alike.

Where do we start

This year Winetech received various applications for the funding of research on the management and treatment of effluent from the wine, spirits and juice industries. In June they approached the various applicants, i.e. the Centre for Process Engineering (CPE) at the University of Stellenbosch, the Nietvoorbij Centre for Vine and Wine (NSVW) and the Institute for Agricultural Engineers (IAE), the latter two being affiliated with the Agriculture Research Council, to submit a joint research proposal. The final objective being to provide a series of guidelines for the industry to ensure sustainable development in accordance with current environmental principles. The original proposal has been refined into a structured research programme to cover virtually all aspects of environmental impact by wine, spirits and grape juice production. It must be emphasised that some cellars are already involved through research projects sponsored by them at the various institutions [Winetech, 1999].

Apart from high penalties for non-compliance with the national environmental legislation, the treatment and disposal of winery, distillery and grape juice waste may have significant financial implications. These expenses cannot be recouped, so it is one of the non-productive costs in winery construction and operation. It is therefore necessary to design and develop an effective effluent management system and structure the various treatment procedures in the most effective and economic manner.

The programme has been designed according to the following strategy and hierarchy, in line with strategies for other industries [Pulles, 1999]
1.Pollution prevention at source. The fundamental principle is to prevent or minimise the processes that result in the deterioration of water quality in a cellar, distillery or plant.
2.If the water quality management measures at source do not prevent the discharge or disposal of water containing waste, recycle and minimisation strategies should be implemented. This may include partial treatment of water in order to render it suitable for recycling.
3.If the water quality management measures at source and the minimisation and recycling strategies do not prevent the discharge of waste water, water treatment strategies should be implemented.
Note: Various measures mentioned in 1 to 3 above will be construed as water usage in terms of section 21 of the National Water Act, 1998 and an application has to be made for the appropriate water usage license.

4.If the measures mentioned above do not prevent the discharge of polluted waste water, an application for a licence will have to be made, including extensive motivation for the requirement of the licence while explaining financial, social as well as environmental implications for proposed points of discharge. It must be emphasised that this can only be a temporary measure and a firm commitment will have to be made, together with a detailed time schedule for implementation of measures to achieve the water quality objectives for the discharge.

Programme and Guidelines

The programme comprises a series of projects designed to improve or minimise the industry’s environmental problems according to the hierarchy described above. Each of the projects will form part of a final comprehensive document describing the structure of a general effluent management plan for the industry, as well as constitutive guidelines on the implementation of the plan.

Effluent auditing

An environmental audit forms the cornerstone of any Environmental Management System. This operation concerns the measurement and description of water (both incoming and outgoing), raw materials, contaminant fluxes as well as monitoring the effect of the effluent on the environment as measured by the conditions of reservoirs and soil quality.

An environmental audit has several associated benefits:

  • Identification of methods for water conservation or recycling.
  • Provides the basis for the selection of appropriate treatment methods.
  • The determination of resource degradation (pollution of water and soil on farm) and investment application, e.g. land cultivation and other agricultural implementations.
  • Provides valuable information concerning changes in reservoirs and other water sources.
  • It provides public authorities with relevant information and assists them in establishing well-founded and attainable environmental regulations or directives.

Effluent monitoring guidelines

The development of a well-designed and effective programme for the monitoring and measurement of water quality and quantity forms an essential part of any environmental management strategy. Here the principle applies that ‘one cannot manage what one cannot measure’.

The programme will provide guidance on the:

  • Definition of the objectives of the monitoring strategy
  • Design of the monitoring strategy.
  • Selection, installation and maintenance of measurement and sampling equipment and procedures.
  • Procedures for the implementation of a monitoring programme.
  • Data capture and management.
  • Audit and quality assurance of the monitoring programme.
  • Training of personnel

Recycle and re-use

Various opportunities exist for the recycle or re-use of water in the cellar, distillery and grape juice environment. Various streams may be used with little or no prior treatment as wash water, cooling, irrigation, etc. Water reclamation is, however, a high-risk activity, which can have severe consequences such as corrosion, scaling, loss of aseptic conditions and security of source, if implemented incorrectly. Therefore, it is necessary to provide a well-defined procedure for initiating and monitoring any recycle, re-use or related activities on a plant. These include:

  • Identification of all sources of water contamination on a plant.
  • Identification of all water users on a plant with detailed specification of the water quantity and quality requirements.
  • Water treatment, containment, storage and distribution of process water.
  • Optimisation of the above data to provide the most cost effective water reclamation strategy.

Selection of water treatment technologies

A wide variety of water treatment technologies are available to the consumer. Selecting the most appropriate or cost effective technology can be problematic. The aim of this guideline will be to provide a rigorous selection procedure to ensure that the most appropriate technology may be identified. To this effect current as well as new methods for both the primary and secondary treatment of water will be evaluated. Methods to be evaluated include:

  • Solids removal i.e. screening, coagulation, flocculation and settling, flotation
  • Biological processes i.e. aerobic, anaerobic and combination digesters, artificial “wetlands”
  • Physical processes i.e. ozonation, adsorptive and precipitative methods,

The implementation of each of the treatment methods will form the topic of a series of individual guidelines.

Solid waste

Solid waste derived from winery operations has generally been regarded as a nuisance, creating odours and attracting vinegar flies and other insects, rather than an environmental hazard. Drainage from waste has the potential to contaminate soil and water sources. Most of the solid waste in the winery originates from:

  • about 10% of grape press, which remains as solid waste,
  • solids such as filter aids, fining materials, and
  • sludge and solid organic residue separated from water treatment operations.

Currently most of the solids are utilised in vineyards and orchards as soil conditioners – determine application rate and impact on soil.

Management plan as well as treatment and discharge procedures need to be determined for handling, treatment and composting of solid wastes.

Environmental impact

The need to confidently predict the influence of winery waste and effluent disposal practices on the quality of the environment is a key requirement for the effective management of these resources. Guidelines will be developed to address the following aspects:

  • Sampling and analytical methods to provide data for prediction purposes.
  • Field measurements from effluent audit & general treatment studies.
  • Modelling of data for predictive purposes.

Environmental Impact Assessments are to be performed as part of plant audits and general studies on treatment methods. Essential long term goals of environmental legislation should be defined.


The compilation and development of the envisaged Environmental Management System/Plan, is viewed as a significant and positive development in the management of the impact of wine, spirits and juice production on the national water resources. Primary benefits will include the following:

Consistency in the approach of the DWAF to all cellars and in all regions.

Clarity on the actions that need to be taken by cellars, distilleries and grape juice plants to satisfy the DWAF that pollution prevention, water reclamation and treatment aspects have been correctly applied.

Uniformity in licence conditions for general water usage.

Uniformity in the application and implementation of an environmental management system or plan.

The strategies, systems and protocols developed may ultimately facilitate the implementation of an internationally accredited management system, as set out for example by SABS ISO 14000.


SRK Steffen, Robertson and Kirsten Inc., Water Research Commission NATSURV 14 in the Wine Industry, TT51/90

Pulles W., Development of best practice guidelines for water quality management in the South African mining industry. The Journal of The South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, July/August 1999, p. 197-200

Van Veelen M., Changes in water resource management and the effect on the water industry. Chemical Technology, July/August 1999, p. 4

Barnard D., Environmental Law for All, Impact Books, Pretoria, 1999.

The Authors:

1DJ Hayward, 1L Lorenzen*, 1S Bezuidenhout, 1N Barnardt, 1V Prozesky & 2L van Schoor

1 Centre for Process Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602
2 Nietvoorbij, Centre for Vine and Wine, Agricultural Research Council, Private Bag X5026, Stellenbosch, 7599.

[* Author for correspondence,, Fax: 021-8082059]

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