November 12, 2021

Water scarcity is a growing concern for the food and beverage industry

The water needed to meet food demands in 2050 is projected to be three times as much as humans use today. Meanwhile recent studies consider the effect of climate-related water shortages, floods and droughts, and the accessibility of clean and fresh water as the number one challenge to business operations in future

As the number of food manufacturers facing the challenge of constrained water access grows, it’s clear that we must find new ways to conserve and minimise the use of water resources. Packaging and processing technologies can play a lead role.

"Some of our latest packaging and processing technologies let food manufacturers know how much water is used during production, where water is sourced, and where and how it is discharged."

“We need effective assessment of water usage across the production site,” says Kristina Åstrand, Director of Sustainability and Digitalisation at Tetra Pak Processing Systems. “Some of our latest packaging and processing technologies let food manufacturers know how much water is used during production, where water is sourced, and where and how it is discharged.” 

Kristina shares her thoughts on the most common areas where food manufacturers can reduce resource usage across operations.

Updating processing and packaging equipment to minimise water usage

Cleaning and sanitisation are integral parts of food processing. And the availability of clean water is critical to ensuring the preservation, quality, and safety of food during operations. 

As water is involved in approximately 95 to 99 percent of cleaning and sanitising operations, mismanaging water at the production site can lead to significant costs, affecting the maintenance of machinery and leading to revenue losses and reduced food quality.  On top of that, water consumption and carbon emissions are interdependent, which is why managing water in a more efficient way has the potential to significantly lower carbon emissions.

“Nowadays, minimising carbon emissions, water consumption and product loss, has become a crucial attribute of all our Equipment and Line development activities,” explains Kristina. “With our new innovative way of producing JNSD, for example, we treat the water with an optimised UV light dose and filtration instead of pasteurisation. Together with an inline blending function, our customers can reduce water usage by up to 50 percent and energy usage by 67 percent, compared to conventional lines.”

"Using water recovery, one of our customers managed to reduce their water consumption by 95 percent, saving 22 million litres of water each year."

Once food is ready to be packaged, resource-saving filling machines can increase efficiency and speed of production while reducing water and steam consumption, creating less wastewater, and therefore, lowering the cost of its removal for Dairy manufacturers. The newest sterilisation technology, for example, results in a five-times lower electricity consumption and carbon footprint, compared to aseptic PET alternatives using hydrogen peroxide sterilisation.

Against conventional equipment, our latest end-to-end solution enables our customers to reduce water usage by 70 percent by using a combination of new processing and packaging technologies. This comes with the additional benefit of reducing overall GHG emissions by 20 percent and 30 percent less product loss,” says Kristina. 

Recovering water with water filtering stations 

Up to 20 percent of our food and beverage manufacturers are based and operate in high or extremely high-risk water areas. The ability to minimise water use for production is crucial for food and beverage manufacturers that operate in areas where reliable access to water is often not a given. 

Using the latest water filtering technology, for example, has the potential to recover up to 5500 litres of water per filling machine running hour. By filtering out lubrication, residues from packaging material, hydrogen peroxide and high/alkaline pH, clean, uncontaminated water can be channelled back into the system. 

“For example, using water recovery, one of our customers managed to reduce their water consumption by 95 percent, saving 22 million litres of water each year,” says Kristina Åstrand. 

Using data to identify hidden inefficiencies

Increasing operational efficiencies to reduce water usage also depends on unlocking data points that are hidden within production plants. By implementing technologies that identify and visualise valuable data points, manufacturers can easily diagnose processes, take more informed decisions and access additional capacity within the existing infrastructure.

“A number of our customers have cut costs, produced more and generated less waste by tapping into their hidden factory. By creating a visual representation of their operational performance, we can identify and address bottlenecks and thereby expand capacity without major additional CAPEX investments. For example, a line running at 26 percent of total effective equipment performance can reach 60 percent with efficiency improvements, giving customers extra production volume,” says Kristina.

“With the right technology, manufacturers can keep track of their water consumption and minimise operational expenses.”

To reduce water usage in the food and beverage industry, low carbon processing and packaging solutions are crucial to assess and reduce our industry's "water footprint" and identify where to innovate next. 

Saving water across operations requires taking a holistic approach across full customer plant operations – from raw material intake to intralogistics and distribution. For this, integrated solutions which cover the whole supply chain from the start to end are needed.

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