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Water wastage syndrome

29-Aug-2005

Praise where praise is due. And it is certainly due for one small-time drinks firm in southern Britain, which is spear-heading answers to global water shortages that threaten to wreak havoc on food producers everywhere.

Independent brewer George Gale & Co has spent the last few years demonstrating that it is possible to run a business and make production methods more sustainable.

The firm has now slashed the amount of water consumed during brewing by a quarter, using surprisingly simple measures that are applicable across much of the food and drink sector.

 

To give you an idea: much of the company's waste water is now recycled in an automatic cleaning system and constitutes half of the cleaning water needed, while a moving beam cask washer reduced the amount of water required for cask cleaning by recycling the final rinse water.

 

And that is not all. Water required to cool a boiled product was collected in an insulated tank for use in the next brew. This water, says Gale, makes up more than 80 per cent of the total brewing water used.

 

Common sense, initiative and a good sense of forward planning mean Gale is confronting a serious threat to food and drink production in the future.

 

The UK government's Environment Agency has even bestowed a water efficiency award on the drinks firm for its troubles. But, this is not about awards or ethical posturing, it is about facing up to a problem that is leading us all down a dead end.

 

Water shortages are now a regular feature on the doorstep of the developed world.

 

The World Resources Institute (WRI) says that around 40 per cent of the world's people now live in water basins "under stress".

 

Spain, France and Portugal are currently experiencing their worst droughts for years, while China has an annual water deficit of 40bn m³ and India's per capita availability has slumped from 5,000m³ to 2,000m³ in 50 years.

 

It is time for greater chunks of the food industry to accept their role, alongside others, in both causing and solving this issue.

 

A recent report by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development says huge volumes of water are lost as vapour and as waste during food production. In developing countries, 550 litres of water are needed to produce enough flour for just one loaf of bread.

 

Meanwhile, growing vital raw materials like cereals and grains is still sucking rivers dry. Agriculture uses 70 per cent of global freshwater supplies, yet 60 per cent of irrigation water never reaches the crop, says the WRI.

 

And the situation is set to intensify. The UN expects demand for food to rise by 50 per cent with every new generation, making the food industry's current water consumption levels look dangerously unsustainable.

 

But why wait until we are hovering on the brink? By picking up the mantle now, we can all save time, effort and money - already there is barely a food or drink producer around that has not complained of rising 'raw material and energy costs' in the last year.

 

Some may argue that George Gale & Co is more able to implement water-saving initiatives because of its smaller size, but many of its ideas can be used proportionately to fit any firm with the will to adapt.

 

Governments are switching on too, at least in name. The UK authorities recently launched a new sustainable production plan that includes funding for a number of research projects into efficient use of resources.

 

And the EU now hands out rebates for businesses hitting emissions reduction targets; something that has earned Britain's brewing industry a cool £8m this year.

 

Then, of course, there are consumer trends. How long will it be before eco-friendly policies hit the mainstream in the current climate of ethics and corporate social responsibility? Efficient use of resources is poised to become a powerful marketing tool.

 

Sustainable production is no longer a fuzzy word used by well-meaning wishful thinkers. It is something we should all address for our own sakes, and there is no excuse for getting left behind.

 

Chris Mercer is editor on BeverageDaily.com and DairyReporter.com. He has also worked as a freelance writer and researcher for BBC radio and television and other media. Send any comments to chris.mercer@novisgroup.com .

 

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