REA's efforts to minimise water use and to maintain good water quality

Maintaining clean fresh water resources is vitally important for the group’s operations in the estates and mills and for the villages in and surrounding the group’s estates, the majority of which are traditionally river dwelling.

The quality of river water, ground water and tap water is monitored regularly across the group’s plantations and employee’s facilities. It is important to ensure that biological oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) of river water and ground water remain within the applicable regulatory standards. The company has a time bound commitment to improve water quality by maintaining BOD and COD within these standards on a monthly basis. The group’s mills operate a zero-effluence policy, whereby no by-products resulting from the production of CPO or CPKO are expelled into local water courses. Air quality is tested regularly against set parameters, including levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, to ensure that it too remains within regulatory standards.

Minimising water use

Production of CPO and CPKO uses large quantities of water, so this must be carefully managed to minimise waste and to reduce the risks associated with droughts during the dry seasons. Water usage inevitably increases over time with the increase in FFB production, so the group is working to improve the efficiency of water consumption in its mills and developed a time bound plan with the objective of keeping keep water usage below 1.50 m3 per tonne FFB throughout 2019.

REA’s plantations receive plentiful rainfall, so irrigation is only necessary for the oil palm nurseries. Treated river water is used sustainably to process oil palm fruit in the mill and for domestic purposes. The group aims to reduce as far as possible the volume of water used per tonne of FFB processed in each palm oil mill and has installed water flow meters to monitor this. This was achieved at both POM and COM in 2019 and, with continuing careful water management, is a target for all three mills in 2020.

  1. Total water used includes domestic water usage and process water usage at the mills
  1. For POM & COM, average water usage (per tonne of FFB processed) is below the maximum set standard; for SOM, water usage is currently above the standard

  2. Water conservation is focused on:
  • utilisation of condensate water for processing in the mills
  • preventative maintenance on flowmeters and routine periodic calibrations
  • routine preventative maintenance for pumps at the mills
  • monitoring for, and repairs of, leaks in the water reticulation network
  • raising awareness and understanding of employees about the need for reducing water usage
  1. Annual review and evaluation of water saving targets. The company has a time bound plan to reach a maximum of 2.5 m3/tonnes FFB in 2020

Maintenance of water quality

Water quality of rivers is measured and monitored in terms of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD).

The greatest risk of water pollution associated with REA’s operations is from palm oil mill effluent (POME) and run-off or leachates from fertilisers. The high organic matter content of untreated POME means that it has a high BOD and will starve aquatic flora or fauna of oxygen if it enters a water course. However, by utilising as much of this organic matter as possible to produce fertiliser and electricity, the group obtains valuable resources whilst also mitigating the risk of water pollution.

The group’s first strategy for extracting value from POME is to capture the methane produced when the organic matter content is digested anaerobically, and to convert the biogas collected to electricity. Unlike the traditional open pond system for digesting POME, the methane capture facilities are enclosed systems and thus reduce the risk of untreated POME polluting the environment.

The group’s second strategy for extracting value from POME is to mix it with empty oil palm fruit bunches and convert it into organic compost on site. The availability of this compost allows inputs of inorganic and organic fertilisers to be optimised. This in turn has reduced the associated risk of water pollution from leaching or run-off.

POME that exceeds the requirement for compost production, as well as the POME that has been processed by the methane capture plants, is treated in the traditional anaerobic open ponds. This helps to reduce the BOD of the POME before it is pumped to flat beds in between the rows of oil palm so that the remaining nutrient content can be utilised as fertiliser. The BOD and COD of the POME in the final open pond is tested on a monthly basis to ensure that it is below the legal limit for land application in Indonesia, being 5,000mg/litre and 10,000mg/litre, respectively.

POME that is not used for methane capture, including the POME from SOM, together with the digested POME residue from methane production is treated in the traditional manner by being pumped through a series of open ponds to reduce its BOD. Thereafter, it is used for land application in flat beds between rows of oil palm, allowing the remaining nutrient content to be used as a fertiliser. The BOD of the POME in the final open pond at each mill is subject to monthly testing by a third party to ensure that it too remains within the legal standard.

BOD and COD content in river water

  1. Water quality standard for surface water (COD value) as per East Kalimantan local government regulation No. 2 of 2011
  1. As evidenced by the monitoring and evaluation results for 2017-2019, the COD levels at COM & SOM remain within the quality standards and comply with regulations
  1. At POM, during semester 1 2019, a sample taken from a mid point in the Sentekan river gave a reading of 25.1, slightly above the standard of 25.0, whereas the downstream sample in the Sentekan river gave a reading of 7.48. A subsequent reading at the mid point was within the standard at 16.91. Following investigation, it was concluded that the raised sample result was due to increased community land clearing activities in the area and not due to POM operations
  1. Corrective and preventative actions:
  • commitment to consistently apply best management practices in line with relevant regulations
  • carry out periodic patrols involving local communities
  • train and educate all stakeholders
  1. Time bound commitment to keep the BOD and COD in surface water within the government regulations on a monthly basis. Monitor and evaluate compliance in each mill every 6 months

BOD and COD content in POME

  1. Regulatory standards for mill effluent/POME quality standards refer to Indonesian Minister of Environment Decree No. 29 2003
  1. Regulated parameters include BOD, pH; COD is not regulated (but parameters are determined and designated internally)
  1. The quality of POME for POM, COM and SOM complies with regulatory standards
  1. Time bound plan for achieving the quality standards of mill effluent (POME) on a monthly basis