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Actiflo plantBy Ivy Latour, Marketing & Communications Director, Asia Industrial, Veolia Water Technologies

A most dynamic industry, the food and beverage (F&B) market has seen dozens of food trends come and go, survived several crises (avian flu, swine flu, mad cow disease, etc.), and has hung on through droughts due to poor weather. But for all its resilience, the F&B industry’s Achilles’ heel may just be the very thing that is required for its core business – water.

Widely used in food and beverage production, water is a critical component that the F&B industry cannot do without. The actual amount of water and energy that goes into producing each food or drink item can be staggering to the general public. For example, an astounding 53 gallons (or 200 litres, estimated) of water is used in the collective processes leading up to the production of a single egg, while a pint of beer requires nearly 20 gallons (75 litres) of water for production, excluding the water used to produce the cans and bottles to contain the beer. These indirect water contributions are difficult to quantify, so they are largely unknown and are not taken into consideration by the F&B industry.

Water is required in all stages of production in the F&B industry, from pre-production preparation to the food manufacturing process, and post-production stages (packaging, bottling, etc.). According to the United Nations, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, are already living in water scarce environments, and 500 million more people are rapidly facing the same situation. Competition for water resources between industrial and domestic uses is therefore intensified, escalating overall water demand, leading to increased pressure on water supply. The growing stress on the water environment has led to water anxiety as industries across the world confront their water-bleak future.

The Industry’s Stand

As one of the biggest water consumers, the F&B industry is left vulnerable with the onset of increasing global water shortage. However, with more and more government authorities (e.g. China, Indonesia, and Thailand) imposing stringent water policies, environmentally responsible multinational corporations (MNCs) are increasingly taking the lead by investing in water recycling activities. Newly redefined environmental regulations are also impacting the way companies approach water conservation efforts. While companies may have imposed limp protocols to meet minimum guidelines in the past, manufacturers now embrace their corporate social responsibility, incorporating water sustainability solutions to better manage cost and water consumption.

The threat of water scarcity and growing water demand has influenced the F&B industry to be more mindful of its water footprint, and to implement better water management techniques. A paradigm shift can be seen in companies worldwide, with them moving away from passive water-saving methodologies to adopting advanced water technologies supplied by professional water and wastewater solutions providers like Veolia Water technologies (Veolia), whose technologies such as its Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) systems, Actiflo® clarifiers, and wastewater reduction systems have supported MNCs in reaching their sustainability goals. In addition, companies are also implementing water metric tools like Veolia’s True Cost of Water (TCOW) to help identify problematic water consumption areas, monetize water-related risks, and integrate derived costs in water management.