Plastics may be getting all the press right now, but for the majority of food and drink manufacturers it’s just one element of a far bigger push to be more sustainable.
For many, the main hurdle in achieving this remains the potential impact on the bottom line.
“Everyone’s happy to be green as long as the numbers stack up,” claims Alex Hill, managing director of strategic energy management consultancy ZTP. Initially created to advise manufacturers on new technologies, ZTP’s services now include energy procurement after it realised many companies’ own policies were ineffectual.
“They were paying well over the odds per unit of electricity or gas and it was throwing off all the calculations,” says Hill. This, he argues, makes it difficult for decisions to be made about investment in energy management systems.
The need to better understand the pros and cons of investment is leading businesses to adopt a more joined-up approach to environmental management. Faced with a combination of corporate social responsibility, pressure from retailers and, vitally, the need to reduce costs, food and drink firms are starting to look at their businesses as a whole in their drive to become greener.
And the technology to enable them to do this is improving all the time. ZTP’s online software package Trace, for example, allows manufacturers to maintain one database across multiple sites, collating consumption from meters, including historic data for benchmarking.
“If you’ve got a manufacturer with, say, 10 sites around the UK, they would load all their sites onto the system and organise them into portfolios based on cost centres, regions or what they’re manufacturing,” says Hill.
‘An up-to-date platform’
“All the contracts go in there, and we have access to the end dates and can start procuring for them in a more efficient way. Immediately, they’ve got an up-to-date platform with which to interrogate and download their consumption, cost and carbon data.”
Access to comprehensive data makes it easier for companies to support the case for investment in new technologies, he says, and monitor the effectiveness of newly installed technologies against baseline targets.
ZTP is currently tailoring new software specifically for food and drink manufacturers that are buying high volumes of energy on flex/monthly contracts. Many of the national and international businesses Hill has spoken to have no system in place to monitor or forecast their usage, analyse current market prices or build in risk factors, and ZTP will be trialling its new system with a number of companies over the coming months.
Similarly, waste management provider Biffa recently introduced a new service, the Smart365, which tracks energy usage, in real time, across multiple food and drink manufacturing sites.
“This analysis will allow businesses to change specific behaviours and optimise resources, resulting in significant savings,” says Jeremy Barker, head of consult at Biffa.
“In the past, companies were only able to see the wider picture of energy output, but now they can see a detailed analysis of their water, gas, electricity and waste production measured against actual production outputs.”
Biffa offers a variety of integrated resource management services, from recycling and waste reduction to sustainable sourcing of packaging materials and reducing energy consumption.
“Having a sustainable position on the environment is becoming more and more of a necessity for businesses, as shoppers are increasingly aware of issues such as food waste, CO2 emissions, and plastics consumption,” says Barker.
Seeking to reduce energy costs
Combined heat and power (CHP) technology is gaining in popularity among food and drink manufacturers seeking to reduce energy costs, says George Fowkes, director of BasePower, which supplies CHP systems using natural gas to produce electricity while capturing heat by-products for reuse on site.
“Wasting less is synonymous with driving down costs, and food manufacturing is a brutally competitive business,” says Fowkes. The economic driver is very strong, he believes.
“It works really well with food manufacturers, because they’re always cooking, sterilising, drying or cleaning so they get through a lot of steam and hot water, which is the kind of heat that CHP makes. It saves them money, reduces their carbon footprint and gives the site added resilience.”
With many manufacturers operating 24/7 to service retailers, creating that extra heat and electricity capacity on-site makes the business more durable against knocks, Fowkes explains.
Manufacturers can buy the CHP plant outright – at an estimated cost of £1.5m per MW of electrical capacity – but most companies opt for BasePower to finance and operate it on their site, and “we recoup the capital in what we charge them”, he says.
Examples of recent installations by BasePower include a 2MW CHP system at Cranswick Country Foods’ biggest site in Hull, which processes more than 6,500 pigs per day. Scheduled for completion by the end of the summer, the project will produce low-carbon electricity, steam and hot water for use in on-site manufacturing.
The threat of hosepipe bans across the UK this summer has highlighted the fragility of water supplies, already a key area of concern for the food and drink industry.
With the sourcing and disposal of water increasingly costly and subject to stringent regulations, demand is rising for recycling capabilities.
Arvia Technology works with food manufacturers to treat wastewater on-site, capturing and destroying pollutants with a low-power electric current.
“We offer an innovative technology that uses adsorption and electro-chemical oxidation,” says Neil Townend, head of international sales at Arvia. “This allows us to concentrate any organic contamination or problematic organic compounds onto our Nyex media, and then regenerate it in-situ, oxidising the organic contaminants on the surface of our Nyex.”
The modular system can be scaled-up as required. “We have systems that will allow you to treat bulk contamination and also systems that allow you to selectively remove specific compounds within the system,” says Townend.
“We try to give a realistic return on investment that’s acceptable to the company based on their costs,” Townend adds. “Some companies will just want to treat the water so they can discharge it to the sewer or to the river. Others will treat it so they can reuse it in lesser applications, such as irrigation, flushing toilets and washdowns.”
Increasingly, manufacturers are seeking chemical-free water treatment solutions, says Mick Pratt, commercial director for water at Socotec. “Using chlorine as a disinfectant, for example, can cause the formation of hazardous by-products, such as the carcinogen trihalomethane,” he says.
Socotec lays claim to a more environmentally friendly option, Ozone, which offers microbial quality control of circulatory water without the need for chemical biocides or disinfectants. Uses include sanitising food in storage or during shipping, sterilising drinks bottles and preventing bacteria and mould on surfaces.
Produced on-site using an Ozone generator, Ozone-treated water is safe to enter waterways and surface drains, says the firm.