Environment Agency proposes first ever integrated pollution regulations for food and drink industry

The Environment Agency has published its proposal for the first ever integrated pollution regulations for the second largest producer of waste in the UK – the food and drink industry, which will effect around 1,100 facilities.

A recent survey commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) shows that, in 1999, the food and drink industry spent more on implementing environmental controls than any other sector, mainly on cleaner technology rather than emissions abatement, totalling £662 million. However, the sector has not previously been subject to integrated environmental legislation or concepts such as ‘best available techniques’.

“Food production is big business, amounting to 18% of the GDP,” said the Environment Agency’s Head of Environment Protection Martin Brocklehurst. “It is, for example, the second largest producer of waste in the country. Looking at best practice it is clear that good environmental practice and good business are two-sides of the same coin. This technical guidance looks to promote areas where an operator can improve their environmental performance and make cost savings through measures such as waste minimisation. The overall aim is to reduce the environmental impact of the food and drink industry.”

Characteristics of the food and drink marketplace include:

  • an increasingly sophisticated and demanding consumer base with shorter product lifetimes resulting in the requirement to change production lines more frequently;
  • a continuously decreasing time between product conception and delivery to the customers; and
  • natural raw materials which, by their nature, are more variable than materials used in other sectors.

The industry’s nature of rapid change results in instability which, in turn leads to a potential reluctance to invest in large abatement equipment which may rapidly become redundant.

The food and drink sector is a significant consumer of water, for consumption, cleaning, and as a means of conveyance for products, and measures to optimise water use would be important as far as pollution prevention is concerned, with most processes generating wastewater. According to the Environment Agency, spills and leaks into the water environment from food and drink production facilities can be serious due to the high oxygen demand of many materials used (see related story). Other important issues for the industry include energy, of which the sector is a major user and, as a result of which, the food and drink sector is expected to enter into a Climate Change Levy Agreement with the Government (see related story). Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odours emitted by processes such as cooking and drying are inherent within the industry, and emissions of dust and particulates can also occur from activities such as mixing, grinding and milling.

Although an assessment of the key issues for the food and drink sector indicates that there are no areas where there is a fundamental clash between environmental practice and good business practice, the implementation of pollution prevention and control measures will not always result in cost savings for companies, says the Environment Agency.

The new consultation document is intended by the Environment Agency as interim guidance prior to the publication of a BAT reference document in 2003, with further guidance notes for specific techniques within the sector being produced in the meantime.

Comments on the proposal should be sent by 7 December 2001 to Graham Winter, Environmental Protection National Service, Environment Agency, Block 1, Government Building, Burghill Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, BS10 6BF, or by email to: [email protected].

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