ANALYSIS: British soft drink sector tackles water wastage

Reducing water use by 20% by 2020, compared with a 2007 baseline, in the production chain is the second key area flagged up in the British Soft Drinks Association's (BSDA) Sustainability Progress report.

Reviewing the Soft Drinks Industry Sustainability Strategy, which launched in 2008, the report outlines achievements in water reduction and targets going forward.

The strategy sets tough targets for the industry to improve sustainability in order to have a “positive impact on resource use”, and focuses on climate change, water, waste and packaging and transport. By supporting WRAP’s work on Courtauld Commitment 2 it sets out a platform for brands to achieve a more sustainable use of resources in the supply chain.

These are difficult challenge to surmount, but ones that the BSDA believes are vital if it is to underpin a “sustainable future for the soft drinks industry”, adding that the industry is “acutely aware of the need to reduce water demand to ensure the long-term sustainability of its water sources”.

The BSDA strategy also ties in with a Federation House Commitment (FHC), which targets a 20% reduction in water use by 2020, as well as a goal of recruiting 30% of the UK’s drink and manufacturing sector by March 2012.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-UK senior water advisor Dr. A.K. Chapagain, said: “Recently ‘water risk’ has become a management priority for companies globally, since it affects not only the performance, but also sometimes the survival of the firm itself. Water risk can hit a company’s direct operations as well as its supply chain, ultimately affecting operational costs, profits, and future growth.”

Getting results

An FHC report published in October 2011 revealed signatories of the commitment, which include major soft drink brands and BSDA members such as Nestle, Brtivic, CCE, Pepsico and GSK reduced water use by 1.3m cu m each year, compared with 2007, resulting in a reduction of 5.3%, while water use per tonne of product decreased by 11.9%.

These findings have also been backed up by the latest BSDA report, which also concluded water use in 2010, not including that in the product itself equated to a saving of around 1.3m cu m of water – enough to fill 520 Olympic- sized swimming pools.

However, in order to build on this figure, BSDA has set “long-term and far-reaching” objectives, which it says also reflects goals set in the Government’s Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (FISS) unveiled in March 2011. The BSDA said its strategy envisages closer working between industry and government best practice programmes and outlines how the food and drink industry can contribute to these objectives.

Case studies are provided in the report of BSDA members which have successfully implemented water saving measures.

PepsiCo UK employs more than 5,500 people across the UK and its major soft drink brands include Pepsi, Tropicana and Copella and as part of its ‘Path to Zero’ environmental impact strategy it has outlined a set of commitments to reduce its water use. This includes a long term ambition to “unplug” its operations from the water grid, with an aim of achieving a zero water intake at its largest manufacturing sites within 10 years.

PepsiCo vice president of operations Walter Todd, said: “Water is the poor second cousin of carbon. In the UK I do believe that unless you can show you are a responsible water steward from an agricultural and manufacturing perspective there are areas in the UK that will limit you ability to operate.”

Since 2008, PepsiCo’s Copella site has achieved an impressive 30% reduction in water on a litre by litre basis, as well as ramping up production by 25% in line with an increase in demand for single serve bottles. In total, Copella has delivered a 6% saving on the actual amount of water used, equivalent to 5m litres.

Meanwhile, sparkling fruit drink brand Shloer is looking to reduce its use of water in production by managing and monitoring the fill height control of its productions. As a result, it is currently saving about 1.6m litres of water a year on a production rate of 81m units.

Challenges faced

The BSDA notes in its report that the soft drinks industry is “is acutely aware of the need to reduce water demand to ensure the long-term sustainability of its water sources”, adding that for many of its member companies work to reduce water demand had taken place before 2007.

However, it also recognises the challenges faced by industry and notes that opportunities to further promote and stimulate water reduction may be “affected by a growth in production volumes” in line with government policies which focus on small pack sizes and less preservatives. This, it states can have a “direct impact on water demand”, concluding that it is “essential that the government analyses the environmental impact of such policies”, as well as offering financial incentives and advice to companies looking to improve water efficiency.

It states: “The reduction in pack sizes and the removal of preservatives would lead to an increase in the water intensity of production and is likely to lead to increased demand for water. Large scale investments might also be required to install water-efficient equipment.”

The future

Going forwards the BSDA is calling on its members to sign up to the FHC commitment to “help them achieve further significant reductions in their waste water volumes”.

Its main ambitions in reducing water use in the soft drink industry include reducing waste water volumes in production, improving water efficiency production through methods such as water pinch technology, a system which identifies and selects the best water for re-use, regeneration and effluent treatment opportunities.

In addition, it outlines how the use of mechanical water seals and more efficient floor washers during production, as well as rainwater harvesting for use in non-production could help drink manufacturers make water savings. Grey water systems could also be installed to take dirty water from manufacturing for use in domestic areas of the site.

Carys Matthews

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