This guide considers water efficiency in the UK food and drink sectors. Developed by the water re-use specialists at Water Treatment Services the guide highlights the increasing importance of water scarcity, water use and re-use. It looks at how businesses can improve their approach to the use of water to increase production process efficiency, reduce costs and improve environmental performance.
Using water in food and drink processing
Water is a finite, precious resource essential to life on Earth.
With only around 1% available as fresh drinking water it’s essential that we use it efficiently, minimising its use and re-using in our processes where we can.
One of the industries which is thirstiest in its demand for fresh water are the food and drink sectors.
Figures from a recently produced report show that in order to grow and process one day’s food for your average family of four, an incredible 25,000 litres of water are used.
Growing numbers of people living in both developed and developing countries around the world means that we’re increasingly thinking of water as a precious commodity, with finite supply.
The food and drink sectors appreciate the scarcity of water more than most other industries, given their reliance on access to safe water supplies.
Water management strategies for the food and drink sectors
Food and drink companies across the world are adopting detailed water management strategies, with the aim of saving water, re-using it where they can, reducing the amount of water which is produced as waste, and improving their carbon footprint.
Being successful in their water efficiency efforts will guarantee safe food production both today, and in the future.
Focussing on water efficiency through water use and re-use
Many organisations using significant quantities of water are now using the term “water footprint” to describe the concept of looking at how much water they use in their processes, and ways of decreasing this to improve their environmental impact.
Part of this move has been prompted by regulatory forces including national governments who use a combination of techniques such as increased water bills and associated tariffs, rising trade effluent costs or more stringent environmental standards to force food and beverage producers to think more carefully about the environmental impact of their operations.
Most manufacturers however find that implementing closed loop water systems or re-using wastewater in other areas of their business can save both water and energy too.
Another recent study of these sectors found that around two thirds of the water which isn’t used to make the end product is used for ancillary purposes including cleaning equipment, or in cooling towers.
Only around a third of the water is used for cleaning or sanitation purposes.
Other environmental measures for consideration
The food and drinks sectors are coming under increasing pressure from many environmentalists to re-use kegs, bottles and containers where possible, and some progress is being made in this area.
However, washing out packaging can be very water-intensive, with in some cases up to 45 litres of water per litre of end product being required.
What can be done to improve this? Manufacturers can reduce this figure by getting the balance of cleaning agents correct, and optimising the way they wash out containers and recycle water through their systems.
Improved wastewater treatment practices for food and drink production
Wastewater and trade effluent treatment companies are doing their bit too, and are working on refining existing technologies, developing new technologies and coming up with new environmentally-friendly cleaning products and other chemicals to reduce the amount of water used and improve water re-use practices.
Improved disinfection and cleaning in place (CIP) practices
As mentioned previously, one of the largest areas for the consumption of fresh water in the food and drinks industry is the cleaning of equipment and machinery.
New cleaning methods like using ozone as a cleaning and disinfecting product has the welcome effect of reducing the water required, and allowing it to be recycled through the system.
Another main benefit of using ozone is that process systems can be sterilised quickly, and the system doesn’t have to be shut down, drained or flushed through.
As a comparison, a traditional cleaning process using a chemical disinfectant or heat usually mean shutting down the process for up to 24 hours.
Using ozone for the same process only takes around two hours, with no need for draining.
Water efficiency in vegetable processing
Another part of the food industry which is making swift advances in water efficiency is vegetable processing.
New cyclone dirt separation technologies allow dirt to be removed from vegetables in a way which uses far less water.
Food processors using this type of technology can also re-use water more effectively, and produce less waste too.
Reducing wastewater from other food and drink processes
Reverse osmosis or RO is widely used in the food and drink industry, and improvements in system design are allowing processors to cut their water usage significantly.
Anything between 25% and 50% of the water which flows through a standard reverse osmosis process will be discharged as wastewater.
Modern RO system design allows this percentage to be reduced to as little as 10%.
Adjustments to existing RO systems are cheap and easy to implement so there’s no excuse to implement this type of improvement.
Reverse osmosis which incorporates a very fine membrane filter helps to remove bacteria, toxins, viruses and other pathogens and produces water which is clean enough for many uses in the food and drink processing sectors.
Water efficiency using other water purification techniques
Desalination is a technology aimed at purifying sea water or any other water with high levels of salts making it unsuitable for use in food and beverage production.
Desalination using the relatively new electrodeionisation technology has the advantage of being more energy-efficient than other water purification techniques and the water produced can be used in many different ways.
This deionisation technology is ideally suited for many applications in the food and drink industry.
Another technology that is seeing good results is electrolysis which can be used to clean up naturally occurring minerals in water, and can extend the use of water through the manufacturing process, without impact on the environment.
How the food and drink processors can improve
There are many different options for improving the way the food and drink processors use and re-use water.
The key to success is finding the combination of technologies and practices which works best for your individual circumstances.
Water saving, re-use and resource optimisation solutions
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of innovative resource optimisation, water saving and re-use solutions that can save on valuable resources, improve environmental performance, and reduce both water and wastewater costs.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate water optimisation strategies for your processes.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers and equipment specialists we offer cost effective engineering and environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our water saving and reuse solutions can help you and the environment.
Learn more about our water management solutions.