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Sustainability in the Food Industry

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 6290 words Published: 18th Mar 2019

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1.0 Introduction

Sustainability is increasing concern in the food industry. According to the report published in the New Scientist which showed that the food industry is lagging in the environmental performance compared to other sectors. This is mainly because the food/drink industry plays a major role in environmental impact (1) as it accounts for:

  • About 14% of energy consumption by UK businesses and 7 million tonnes of carbon emission each year.
  • About 10% of all industrial use of the public water supply.
  • 10% of the industrial and commercial waste stream.
  • 25% of all HGV vehicle km in the UK.
  • 12.5% of the UK workforce. (2)
  • Therefore, around 30% of the total greenhouse gas emission. (2)

To help tackle these challenges government have placed various environmental legislation and food industry itself adopting sustainability practices within their companies through lifecycle assessment to minimise the magnitude of pollution and to conserve non-renewable resources.

The goal of sustainable development is to “enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life without compromising the quality of life of future generations (DEFRA)”.(2)   

This report on “sustainability in the Food Industry” will look at the most important UK & EU environmental legislation and key drivers that promote sustainable practices within the public and commercial organisations. Also, current examples on how the food industry is managing sustainability practices in the use of portable water, use of energy and improvement in solid/liquid waste management.

2.0 UK and EU Environmental legislation

This will cover the most significant UK and EU Environmental legislations that are being used to drive sustainable initiatives in the areas of waste management and energy conservation/carbon reduction.

2.1 Waste Management legislation

These legislations are designed to reduce or eliminate waste streams which are dispersed into the environment by treatment, transporting, storage, disposal, etc.

European Union legislation on waste management

  • Waste Framework Directive (WFD) 2008/98/EC – legal framework for the collection, transport and treatment of the waste in the EU. Also, includes basic concepts and definition of waste management. Requires all members to take necessary measures to make sure the waste is recovered/disposed of without harming human health and environment and also includes waste hierarchy. The basis for all the other EU legislation related to waste management. (3)(4)  
  • Waste Shipment Regulation EC 1013/2006 – legislation for safe shipment of waste within EU and non-EU countries. The aim is to control the waste shipments to improve environmental protection (5). Requires documentation and security measure during transportation. (4)  
  • Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC – aim to control the landfill waste throughout EU, and its primary focus is to achieve universal standards for the design, operation and aftercare of landfill sites and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases emitted (7). The directive defines the different categories of waste (hazardous waste, inert waste, non-hazardous waste and municipal waste) (6).       
  • Packaging and packaging waste 94/62/EC – recover/recycle of packaging wastes. Under these regulation, food industry is required to submit data to EA on packaging handling. Packaging should comply with essential requirements such as minimum weight/volume of packaging, recyclable/recoverable packaging and minimum hazardous substance. (4)      

United Kingdom legislation on waste management

UK legislations on waste management are derived from EU laws and transferred into UK law by statutory instruments. 

  • The waste (England and wales) regulation 2011 – transposed from WFD and other obligation includes quality recycling (separate collection of waste), separate collection of bio-waste, promote the re-use of products and recycle/re-use of 50% waste from household by 2020. (3) 
  • Waste shipment regulation –  the EU controls, are supplemented by UK policy on the import and export of waste for disposal. (3) 
  • Landfill (England & Wales) Regulations 2002 – UK to reduce landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste by 35% of its 1995 level by 2020. (2)  
  • Landfill tax – an incentive to reduce/recover waste. £84.40 per tonne (standard rate). This is being used to meet the targets set out in landfill regulations. (2)   
  • Landfill allowance trading scheme – initiative by DEFRA to reduce biodegradable municipal waste to achieve the set target. (2)  
  • Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 – reduce packaging waste going to landfill and promote recovery and recycling. Implement same goals in the EU directive. (2) 

2.2 Energy Conservation/Carbon reduction legislation

European Union legislation

  • Energy efficiency directive 2012/27/EU –  UK implemented through The Energy Efficiency (Encouragement, Assessment and Information) Regulations 2014(10). The aim is to help EU reach 30% energy efficiency target by 2030 through efficient energy use at all stages of the energy chain.
    • Energy distributors to achieve 2% energy saving each year.
    • EU countries to achieve saving through efficient heating systems and insulations.
    • Companies to monitor their energy consumption and find ways to reduce it. (9) 
  • Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC – UK implemented through National Renewable Energy Action Plan for the United Kingdom. Establish an overall policy for the production and promotion of energy from renewable sources in the EU. At least 20% of total energy with renewables sources by 2020 and at least 10% of the transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020. (8)      
  • Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/75/EU – UK implemented through The Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2013. In 2010 IPPC was combined with a number of other directives to form the Industrial Emissions Directive. Both the EU Directive and the UK legislation made under it seek to: Ensure that the principle of pollution prevention is adopted, Protect the environment as whole, ensure that where an operator acquires a license the ‘polluter pays’ principle is used and ensure multimedia pollution control such as Air, Land, water, Energy consumption, resource use, waste and noise. The operator is required to get environment permit for industrial activities (burning fuel and excess of 50MW) and installation from the authorities (Environment Agency) (8). The process of acquiring a permit requires.
    • An application to be made and a fee.
    • A permit is dependent on the installation complexity.
    • The operator needs to demonstrate that they meet all the environmental standard.
    • The application is open to public scrutiny, and the permitting authority typically consults with the major agencies such as HSE.

United Kingdom legislation

  • Climate Change Act 2008 – this was introduced to make sure that UK reduces its carbon emission by 80% by 2050 less than the 1990 baseline to avoid dangerous climate change (Kyoto Protocol), allowing the UK to meet the long-term greenhouse gases goal at the same time moving the country towards low carbon economy. To help UK achieve its Kyoto commitments and domestic energy targets, the government have put a Climate Change Programme (CCP) in place which includes: (9) (2)
  • Climate Change Levy – this provides an incentive to minimise carbon emission and increase energy efficiency through a levy on businesses and public sector.  
  • Climate change agreements – agreements to meet the energy efficiency targets, this allows the participants to benefits from 80% reduction on the CCL. (9) (2)  
  • Renewable transport fuel obligation – is to use biofuel in UK’s transports and obligation on the suppliers to make sure a percentage of aggregates sales is made up of biofuel. (9) (2)   
  • Carbon reduction commitments – designed to improve energy efficiency and cut emission in large public/private sector organisations across the UK that are responsible for 10% of UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Participants include supermarkets, water companies, etc. Members to buy and surrender allowances for their carbon emissions, 2017/2018 £16.60 per tonne of carbon emission. (9) (2)     

3.0 Key Drivers that Promote Sustainability Practices

The other key Drivers that promotes and encourage sustainable practices within public and commercial organisations are Corporate Social Responsibilities CSR, Non-Governmental Organisations NGOs, consumers, collaboration and economics.

Non-Governmental Organisation

For public and commercial organisations NGOs, have become a valuable tool, as they help to minimise their environmental impact at the same time increases their value and it’s a key driver to encourage sustainable practices within the organisation.

Carbon Trust – set up with government funds and their mission is to increase the move toward low-carbon economy hence sustainable. Independent experts on energy saving and carbon reduction. Provide support for low carbon technologies. The trust can help the organisations to improve their energy efficiency in line with the goals of the energy white paper. (11) (2) Key services offer by the trust are:

  • Helps the companies to create carbon reduction strategies
  • Free energy audit/efficiency surveys
  • Interest-free loan for energy efficient equipment/replacement
  • Research and development

WRAP – works with communities, governments and businesses to help improve resource efficiency by providing practical solutions and with the aim to increase the move toward sustainable and resource-efficient economy by (12)

  • Re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products
  • Re-thinking how we use and consume products, and
  • Re-defining what is possible through re-use and recycling

Corporate Social Responsibility CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility is the responsibility of organisations for their impact on the environment and society; it is becoming a major driving force to encourage sustainable practices within the organisation and to create shared value for organisation and community. Sustainability is not just important for our planet and people, but it’s equally important to organisation success. CSR represents various practices and policies which the organisation commits to in order to create positive impact on the environment and society includes community engagement and going above and beyond what is required to ensure legal compliance such as environmental protection, equal opportunities, employment, community work and health & safety to improve public relation (13).      

Figure 1: CSR Diagram (13)

The diagram above illustrates the main key driving forces for the CSR are the Government pressure, Consumer/investor Demands and Public Pressure. (13)

There are a lot of pressures to go green and to be seen as environmentally responsible. There is also, an enormous amount of pressure from public opinion and pressure groups these can have a large impact on the growth and value for public/commercial organisations. Therefore, corporate responsibility is a key driver for public relation. (21)

Consumers are a lot more eco-conscious these days, so there is increasing consumer demand for green products and services. Consumers are more likely to choose goods and services with green credentials. Exerting pressure on businesses to invest in green products. (21)

For companies, there can be economic incentives for being more environmentally friendly such as tax relief or subsidised products, which can make a business more profitable and can give a competitive advantage. (21)

Collaborating for Sustainability – Governments and NGOs are continuously facing sustainability challenges that are too costly and too difficult to be addressed by individual organisations. therefore, collaborative approaches are being used to solve sustainability challenges with different models such as a company to NGOs, company-company or multi-sector collaborations. The main aim of this is to address social and environmental problems. (15) 

Economics Driver – world marketed energy consumption is expected to increase by 53% between 2015-2035, this will lead to increase the energy prices in the long term and has become a key driver for companies to minimise their energy consumption through various energy saving and energy management programs such as LED lighting – 16% reduction in energy bills, 95% Electricity from renewable sources and Voltage Optimisation minimises the energy consumption at the same time reduces their impact on the environment. (14)      

According to gov.uk, UK can save around twenty-three billion pounds a year and reduce their carbon emissions by using the resources such as energy, natural material and water more efficiently. (3) 

4.0 Use of Water in Food Industry Sustainably

Water is one of the most valuable resources around the globe; it is regarded as being plentiful in the Europe, but it is a limited resource in various part of the world such as Africa, India and America. Due to the poor management of water and the impact of climate change. The water crisis is one of the top risk identified by the World Economic Forum (17).

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The food industry around the globe uses a large amount of Portable water & Natural Waters each day from the public water supply. Therefore, the industry contributes significantly to the demand being placed upon water resources, which can affect local habitats and water quality. Therefore, the food industry is required to minimise their water consumption through efficient water management system and to adopt best practice without compromising food hygiene. Next part of this report will cover some of the current techniques being used by Kellogg and Coca-Cola in food manufacturing to minimise their overall water consumption. (2)    


According to Coca-Cola CSR report 2015/2016, they have come up with various strategies to reduce the amount of drinking and natural water used in their food manufacturing process by becoming more water-efficient, treating and reusing their wastewater and by investing in various water-saving technology. In 2015, Coca-Cola total water consumption was 8.24 million m3, approximately 16% less than 2007. (18)

Water saving technologies – As Coca-Cola can’t reduce the amount of water used in their products, they have invested around $543,000 in process optimisation and water-saving technologies to improve their water efficiency. The water saving technologies are: (18)

  • MES monitoring – Manufacturing Execution Systems, this is connected to the production processes and track the amount of water being used in real time and allow the operator to control it. Improves water management. (18)
  • Efficient Bottle washers – Machines for washing refillable glass bottles consumes a large amount of water in their lines. To minimise the Portable water consumption Coca-Cola have recently introduced more efficient bottle washers which will save around 25,000m3 of water each year. This program will have the greatest impact on reducing their water use ratio. (18)  
  • Air Rinsers – installation of new air rinser at various sites around the UK, able to save approx. 8000m3 of water per year. Coca-Cola has switched to ionised air instead of water for rinsing cans and PET foam before they are filled, able to save a significant amount of water. (18)
  • Water treatment –  updated water treatment plant has been installed in the UK to recover reuse water from processes such as regenerations, resin granules and cleaning filters. (18)

Coco-Cola is managing water sustainability through water-reduction technologies at their manufacturing sites, saved around 62,000m3 of water in the year 2015 and expected to save more in future.


Kellogg uses a mixture of external sources and internal knowledge to define total water risk score for each of their manufacturing facility. The internal information is built on site-specific surveys which include local knowledge on social, community and physical risk factors. The external sources referenced include three leading external datasets that consider exposure to current conditions (quantity, quality, regulatory, social) and projected changes in water quantity over time, based on indices such as population growth and climate change. (19)

Based on the risk assessment, a site with the greatest level of water risk was Michigan where a high level of well/natural water was used for cooling process equipment and flows into the creek. To minimise the well water consumption, Kellogg introduced a new closed cooler system with an outdoor evaporative spray, which reduced the well water by 500,000m3 per year. Roughly 65% of water use at plant site and 3% global water use for Kellogg. (19)

Kellogg also saved a great amount of drinking water at India’s manufacturing facility by installing 20 pressure compensating aerators in water faucets in admin block which reduced the water flow rate and minimise the water consumption. Also, treated wastewater used for gardening. Overall reduced the water consumption by 8000m3 of water in just 8 months in the year 2015. (19)

Kellogg is managing use of Portable/natural water sustainability through risk assessment for each of their manufacturing facility and installing new water reduction technologies at the site with the greatest level of water risk.

5.0 Energy use and Carbon Reduction

Climate change is a long-term change in earth average temperature or shift in weather patterns. (20) Global warming is the term used to describe a gradual increase in earth average temperature. Increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbon, methane, etc. are believed to be the primary source of global warming. According to the recent research, earth average temperature could rise between 1.4 and 5.8oC by the year 2100 which could lead to rising sea level and adverse weather conditions. (21) The DEFRA report 2016 shows that the food industry in the UK contributes around 30% of the total greenhouse gas emission. Therefore, urgent action is required. (2)  

To tackle the climate change, a global climate agreement (COP21 PARIS 2015) was signed by 200 countries on the need to cut greenhouse gas emission and limit global warming to well below 2oC. To welcome the agreement food/drink manufacturer such as Coca-Cola, Kellogg and many more companies signed the Parris pledge, to reduce their carbon footprint by introducing low carbon technology, increasing energy efficiency and minimising CO2 emission throughout their value chain. (21) 

Coca-Cola has strengthened their commitments to reduce greenhouse emission associated with food manufacturing. The company have committed to reduce their total carbon footprint by 50% and generate 40% of the energy used in manufacturing operation from renewable and low carbon sources which include (18):

  • Combined Heat Power CHP system –  Produces high-efficiency clean heat and electricity from natural gas. Coca-Cola has installed CHP system at 20 sites around the globe. CHP system can reduce the greenhouse emission by 6% at the site and can save around 1500 tonnes of carbon per year. (18)     
  • Solar Panels – In the year 2015 solar panels on the manufacturing sites generated more than 300MWH of electricity. Coca-Cola Hellenic invested around $200million and installed rooftop solar panels in all of its bottling plant sites in Italy with CHP systems which reduced the carbon emission by 66% (18).
  • Water turbine – Coca-Cola UK, installed their first water turbine next to Chaudfontaine Plant. This supply 3% of the sites electricity/330MWh. Saved 1200 tonnes of carbon emission in the year 2015. (18)
  • LED lightening –  Coca-Cola is installing more energy efficient lighting at their manufacturing operation around the globe. In the year 2015 saved around 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission by the use of LED lightening at manufacturing operations. (18)  
  • Energy Managing System – Coca-Cola control/manage their energy and carbon emission through monitoring processes (MES systems) which are connected to production processes. The advanced system provides live data on water and energy consumption, gives information to the line operator to meet consumption target. (18)
  • Efficient Cold Drink Equipment: $50.4 million invested in effective Cold Drink Equipment, installed with energy reduction devices such as EMS, LED lighting, doors and plug and play energy timers. Estimated energy saving of around 66000 MWh per year and 468kg reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of equipment since 2007. (18) 

In 2015, Coca-Cola invested around $70million in low carbon technologies. Achieved 52.6% reduction in the Carbon dioxide emission g/litre of product produced against their 2007 baseline, 32.8% of the energy used in 2015 came from renewable/low-carbon sources, saving more than 56962 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission and 41% reduction in carbon footprint of their efficient Cold Drink equipment all in their food manufacturing plant. They are well on their way to meet their 2020 target. (18)

Kellogg Energy use and commitment to carbon reduction

Kellogg commitments for 2020 includes; increase the use of low-carbon energy at manufacture site by 50% and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy by 20% per tonne of food produced. Current and up to date example includes:

  • Fuel cells Plant – Kellogg has installed fuel cells at New Jersey site, to help power a part of the production facility and to reduce the carbon emission in food manufacturing site. Fuel cells which work like batteries use chemical energy/fuel to produce clean and efficient electricity. They do not need to recharge as they produce clean electricity as long as enough fuel is present. This project at New Jersey reduced the greenhouse emission by 8% on site. (19)  

Finally, Food manufacturing sites in the UK and around the world are managing sustainability in Energy use and Carbon reduction by the use of renewable and low carbon energy sources, for example, CHP systems, Solar Panels, Fuel cells plant, LED lighting, voltage optimisation and water turbine. These efficient and low carbon sources have allowed the food/drink manufacturing sites to reduce their total energy use and greenhouse emission to meet the current demand.  

6.0 Improvement in Solid and Liquid Waste Management

According to waste and resources action programme (WRAP), food and drink industry produces more than 15m tonnes of food and packaging waste each year. Therefore, good waste management is required as it can have a severe impact on the environment. Moreover, disposing of waste to landfill is getting expensive due to increasing landfill tax. (27)

The waste management is often arranged in a hierarchical manner to reflect their desirability. The first priority is “reduction at source” or “clean technology”, the next priority is to maximise reuse or recycling, once the possibility of waste prevention has been exhausted then the next option is treatment and the final choice (least desirable) is to dispose of the waste either to the air, water or land.   

WRAP is helping the food and drink industry in all part of it sector, by creating an efficient circular economy which helps to deliver competitive industry, that creates sustainable growth. (28) Circular economy covers the entire product life cycle from production to use to waste management to the secondary material. An efficient circular economy helps to reduce the waste & (zero waste to landfill), minimise the environmental impact and drive greater resource productivity. (29)  

There are many innovative waste management technologies are being used in the food manufacturing to manage solid/liquid waste by converting it into valuable products such as fertilisers, animal feed and renewable energy. Leading toward “zero waste to landfill” and circular economy. Innovative technologies include:  

Composting is an aerobic treatment where micro-organisms, in the presence of oxygen decompose the organic fraction of solid waste. The final solid product consists of minerals and humus (complex organic material). It closely resembles soil and can be spread on land or used in gardens. (21)

Anaerobic Digestion: has grown in popularity, particularly for the processing of agricultural waste. The use of microbial organisms, in the absence of oxygen, to convert organic material into methane and carbon dioxide. (21)

Below are some of the current example on how the food manufacturing companies have managed to improve their solid and liquid waste, achieved zero waste to landfill and also the circular economy.

McCain Foods

McCain Foods have placed innovative waste management techniques in all areas of the supply chain, and they have ensured it is fully integrated at all sites to minimise waste, or convert it into valuable products. (26) These include:

  • Anaerobic Digestion – McCain Food has built an Anaerobic Digester at Whittlesey, which converts the solid organic waste into a useful product.  Waste Potato, starch and Potato particles in wastewater are sent to an Anaerobic Digester on site, which is anaerobically fermented to produce biogas and provide 40% of the electrical requirement at their site. And, the remaining solid waste from the Anaerobic Digestion is used as a fertiliser. (24) (25)     
  • Animal Feed: 10% of the total raw material waste is used as an Animal Feed at Whittlesey site.
  • Water treatment Plant – installed to make sure that the wastewater from the process is cleaned and re-used. This reduces the water usage by 25%. (24) (25)  
  • Waste Oil: McCain sells their sunflower oil used in cooking for biofuel for transportation purposes to reduce the liquid waste on site. (24) (25)       

The introduction of innovative waste management techniques such as anaerobic lagoon and reverse osmosis plant has allowed McCain to use their Potatoes more efficiently and enabled them to reach “Zero waste to landfill”. 100% of their organic waste food recycled into renewable energy, animal feed and fertiliser. (25)  

Jordans & Ryvita

The company have used the strategic methodology to waste management at Stockport site. Currently, employs 1 waste contractor, who focused on the re-use of waste packaged food product on site into a component such as plastic, cardboard and food. (24) The idea includes:

  • Mechanical Processing: This process remove food from the packaging, and the food waste is used as an animal feed at their manufacturing site. (24)
  • Jet Shredder waste technology: this further separates and recover carton, plastic, metals and foodstuff which are then recycled separately. used in a number of ways – landscaping and soil pH treatment. (24)
  • Liquid waste management: the wastewater from the process is cleaned and reused after appropriate treatment. Instead of discharging the treated water is used to irrigate fields and as a fertiliser. (23)

In 2015, 50% sites of Jordans & Ryvita in UK, achieved zero waste to landfill while the other are constantly working towards the zero-landfill target. 76% of the waste generated in the year 2015 were recovered for beneficial purposes (circular economy). (23)

Finally, according to 2016 FDF progress report, all the members have sent zero food waste to landfill by the use of innovative waste management techniques such as composting, anaerobic digestion, incineration, liquid treatment plant and jet shredder. This has allowed the food manufacturing sites to convert the waste to a useful product such as biogas providing renewable energy. (22)

 7.0 Conclusion

 This report on “sustainability in the Food Industry” covers the most important UK & EU environmental legislation and key drivers that promote sustainable practices within the public and commercial organisations. Also, current examples on how the food industry is managing sustainability practices in the use of portable water, use of energy and improvement in solid/liquid waste management.

8.0 References

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9. A guide to legislation, policy, directives and plans directly affecting the UK energy industry. 1st ed. UK: Legislation in the UK energy industry; 2010.

10. Energy Efficiency Directive: An assessment of the energy efficiency potential of Great Britain’s gas and electricity infrastructure. Ofgem. 2015;.

11. About the Carbon Trust [Internet]. Carbontrust.com. 2017 [cited 16 March 2017]. Available from: https://www.carbontrust.com/home/

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13. Strategic CSR Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability [Internet]. Csrquest.net. 2017 [cited 17 March 2017]. Available from: http://www.csrquest.net/default.aspx?articleID=13133

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16. Cite a Website – Cite This For Me [Internet]. Bmpa.uk.com. 2012 [cited 17 March 2017]. Available from: http://www.bmpa.uk.com/_attachments/533_S4.doc

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19. Sustainability Milestones 2016 [Internet]. kelloggcompany. 2017 [cited 18 March 2017]. Available from: http://www.kelloggcompany.com/content/dam/kelloggcompanyus/corporate_responsibility/pdf/2017/Year%20End%20Sustainability%20Milestones2017.pdf

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