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To advance a more sustainable future, the power of water cannot be underestimated. However, water will always be one of the most critical elements for cleaning. With a holistic, site-wide approach, food & beverage manufacturers can make a big impact on both cleaning and sustainability goals.

Food manufacturers face the challenges of not only producing safe, high-quality products and complying with regulations but also strive to meet their sustainability objectives by minimizing water and energy use whilst also minimizing costs. Achieving one of these objectives is challenging, let alone trying to manage the inter-dependencies and accomplishing them all at once.

Over the last decade, manufacturers have done a great job in reducing water use in their operations by addressing inefficiency and completing simple projects. However, increasing water scarcity is forcing operators to revisit historical approaches to water management. We know action is needed now, and the World Resources Institute forecasts global water demand to outpace supply by 56% by 20301, up from previous forecast of 40% deficit.

One area that is attracting increased attention as it relates to water use, is cleaning and sanitation, as 42% of water in a typical facility is used for this purpose2. Water will always be one of the most critical elements for cleaning. With an abundance of low-cost water, food and beverage manufacturers have traditionally used water heavy procedures to address the worst-case cleaning scenarios. These lead to successful cleaning results and safe food production. However, with business continuity and brand reputation on the line, manufacturers are increasingly looking for ways to reduce water use without compromising food safety.

Reducing water use can appear very difficult to accomplish because of the unique nature of each manufacturing plant. Differences in production rates, processing equipment, local water quality variations and regulations all impact potential solutions to reduce water and maintain food safety. What works in one plant, will not always work at another and water inter-dependencies make this effort ever more challenging. For example, reducing water in cleaning and sanitation, can lead to increased discharge concentration in a plant’s wastewater.

To address these challenges, taking a holistic, site-wide approach is necessary. Typically, a reduce, reuse and recycle strategy is best. The first step is using digital tools to better understand water usage, and identify water savings opportunities. After applying best practice water solutions, these systems can monitor key parameters to optimize the process and water inter-dependencies across the site. Reusing wastewater in other parts of the plant is another potential option. To succeed in water reduction efforts, manufacturers must combine manufacturing, water and food safety expertise to find the optimum solutions.

While the water reduction journey is getting more complex for food manufacturers, there is also some good news. Heating, cooling and moving water requires energy. Reducing water can lead to a direct reduction in energy use and manufacturing costs. For instance, in breweries, a 25% decrease in water can result in a 12% reduction in total energy use.

To advance a more sustainable future, the power of water cannot be underestimated. For that reason, the theme of this year’s World Water Day is “Accelerating Change” which urges continued progress towards the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal of ‘ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.’ By prioritizing water stewardship, manufacturers can create a positive impact on their brand reputation, shareholder value, and their local communities.

Ecolab is proud to support GFSI, and we look forward to joining attendees at the 2023 GFSI Conference in Atlanta. Visit Ecolab.com/GFSI to learn how we collaborate with our partners for people, planet and business health.

  1. Achieving Abundance: Understanding the Cost of a Sustainable Water Future, World Resources Institute, 2020
  2. Lean & Water Toolkit: Chapter 2 | US EPA
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