Eat, drink and be environmentally friendly

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) represents the interests of the UK food and drink manufacturing industry, so who better to offer an overview of the industry’s stance on environmental issues. Jason Rayfield reports.

Sustainability, by its very definition lies at the heart of the food and drink manufacturing industry simply because what it produces is so vital to sustaining the population of the world. But look at the concept from the point of view of ‘sustainable development’ and a whole different set of factors comes into play, namely the impacts of an industry on the very environment it seeks to sustain.

Improving performance

The report points out that FDF members have long been committed to minimising the impact of their activities on the environment and to continually improving performance by integrating environmental considerations throughout all business activities and the supply chain and by complying with all legal obligations and consents. This commitment to environmental responsibility is embodied within the FDF Environmental Guiding Principles, which are listed below:

  • To comply with all relevant environmental legislation and to take voluntary initiatives to improve environmental performance.
  • To encourage dialogue between industry, government, public interest groups and others to promote the development of sound policy on the environment based on sound scientific principles.
  • To work with suppliers and other business partners in the food supply chain to maintain high environmental standards and to encourage the dissemination of best environmental practice.
  • To integrate environmental considerations, where practicable, into all aspects of the business, specifically:

a) to design, operate and maintain processes and plant to:

  • use all resources efficiently (materials, water, energy etc) whilst ensuring that unavoidable wastes are recovered, reused or disposed of in an economically sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.
  • minimise the potential impact on the environment from site emissions including noise, air and water.

b) to use and develop packaging and distribution systems for which the packaging / product combination will make fewer demands on non-renewable and renewable natural resources. Product quality, safety and packaging functionality must not be compromised.

c) to ensure that any labelling or any other promotional literature relating to the environmental impact of a product and / or its packaging is accurate, truthful and not misleading and is capable of substantiation by detailed scientific evidence.

d) to minimise the use of substances, which may cause potential harm to the environment and ensure that they are used and disposed of safely.

e) to encourage a culture of environmental awareness amongst employees through appropriate communications, training and other relevant initiatives.

f) to ensure that all facilities are safe, hygienic and well maintained.

g) to establish and maintain appropriate procedures and management systems to implement these principles.

In general, FDF considers that the food and drink industry has a relatively low environmental impact compared to other manufacturing sectors. Emissions from the food and drink industry are relatively benign and local, mostly readily biodegradable organic matter.

In addition to a high level of regulatory compliance, the industry has also taken many voluntary initiatives to minimise the environmental impact of its activities. For example, many companies are focussing on putting in place proactive management systems as well as carrying out natural resource conservation and waste minimisation techniques. Environment officers have been appointed; policies on the environment have been published and environmental audits of sites conducted. For example, results from the first year of the FDF Environmental Survey 2000 show that 73 per cent of participating companies have a corporate environmental policy. Particular attention has been devoted to packaging and the environment. Training has also been reinforced.

Environmental reporting

FDF member companies are responding to increasing pressure to report on their environmental performance by publishing environmental reports. There is a growing expectation that quantitative data on performance should be included in such reports.

The UK government has a stated goal that ‘every business with more than 250 employees should have an environmental policy with targets and report on its performance to stakeholders’. FDF members are very positive about environmental reporting. To encourage the publication of reports by FDF member companies, FDF has developed guidelines on environmental reporting for the food and drink industry.

Results from the FDF Environmental Survey 2000 show that 31 per cent of the responding companies published an environmental report. Of these, 41 per cent published a separate report, 39 per cent published as part of the Annual or Financial report, 14 per cent published on their respective company web page and six per cent used other formats such as fact sheets. The majority of companies published environmental reports on an annual basis.

Climate change

The food and drink sector attaches great importance to tackling the key issue of climate change. For this reason FDF has entered into a climate change agreement with the UK government whereby participants receive an 80 per cent discount from the Climate Change Levy (CCL) in return for meeting challenging energy reduction targets as a contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The CCL, together with the regulatory requirements some companies will soon face under Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) legislation, are already driving companies to minimise their overall use of energy.

FDF supports the adoption of environmental management systems (EMSs) by member companies, including the carrying out of environmental audits. This approach is the most appropriate way to realise the industry’s commitment to the environment, as set out in FDF’s Statement of Principles, that is to operate in an environmentally sustainable way with the optimal use of materials and resources. EMSs also demonstrate a commitment to continuous environmental improvement, as well as encouraging the development and adoption of best practice.

Results from the FDF Environmental Survey 2000 show that 40 per cent of responding companies have environmental management systems in place at some or all of their manufacturing sites. Of these, 59 per cent had in-house systems modelled on ISO 14001, 19 per cent had external certification to ISO 14001 systems and 22 per cent had other systems. None of the responding sites were registered under EMAS.

The industry takes very seriously the potentially significant environmental impacts that could arise from an accidental release of materials to the environment. Companies therefore try to ensure that all such potential hazards are identified and control measures put in place to eliminate or reduce risk to an acceptable level.

The food and drink industry has various control measures both to prevent accidental releases and to reduce the environmental impact, should any occur. These include:

  • dedicated areas for bulk storage tanks
  • overfilling protection on bulk storage tanks
  • bunding around storage tanks
  • storage of materials within suitable buildings to prevent rain ingress, wind entrainment, etc
  • closed storage and transfer systems for dusty materials, etc
  • overground pipelines and transfer lines
  • spill containment areas around tanker loading and discharge points capable of containing the contents of a tanker
  • spillage clean-up equipment to minimise the impact of an accidental release.

    Packaging and packaging waste has affected the entire consumer goods industry for many years and great progress has been made in prevention and recovery. Packaging is essential for processed food and drink as it preserves and protects during handling and helps prevent spoilage and contamination during production, distribution and sale. It is also a communication tool, conveying important and, in many cases, statutory information to the consumer. The food and drink industry uses recycled materials wherever technically and economically feasible, taking into account, particularly in direct food contact applications, food safety requirements. Where metals and glass are melted as part of the recycling process, this is less of an issue, but it is a major concern for paper and plastics.

    The food and drink processing industry is already taking steps to achieve energy reduction through the government’s Climate Change Levy and other regulatory measures. FDF is also undertaking a number of activities aimed at achieving reductions in energy usage, including:

  • dissemination of support information on Enhanced Capital Allowances for energy efficient technologies and on Carbon Emissions Trading
  • the use of a methodology to evaluate the potential of Combined Heat and Power for the sector
  • organising training on energy efficiency initiatives
  • working with the government’s Action Energy Programme to move forward the Food and Drink Sector Initiative. This covers site audits, benchmarking exercises and R&D projects specific to the food and drink sector

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