When we watch a glitzy soft drink ad on TV, our first thought has probably to do something with the quality of the commercial. A comfortable second about the taste, flavours and we wonder about any artificial flavouring. But we never stop to consider how much water goes into making a bottle of cola. And yet this is one of the most pressing questions facing the beverage sector today.
According to the Water Footprint Network, on an average, it takes at least “170 litres of water to produce 0.5 litres of soda,” “30 litres of water to produce 1 litre of beer” and “140 litres of water to produce the ingredients that go into one cup of coffee.”
The beverages industry is a water-intensive industry primarily because it needs water at its bottling plants but more importantly, its suppliers need water to grow the crops that go into making the beverages. Water shortage and water quality challenges, driven by climate change and a growing global population, have made water management technologies a crucial topic in the beverage industry.
“The food and beverage industry is a $5 trillion one.” The stakes are high and water scarcity can adversely affect the reputation of a company depending on how they manage water. There could be spikes in procurement and operating costs. Big beverage companies are finally waking up and smelling the coffee. General Mills, Coca-Cola Company, Molson-Coors Brewing Co. and Campbell Soup Company are the big beverage companies that have done something about it. These companies are all known to work with agricultural supply chains, in California’s San Joaquin Valley for instance. California’s punishing five year draught prompted this. In collaboration with Valley farmers, these companies are involved in a groundwater recharge project. Floodwater is captured by farmers and is left in the fields to recharge the level of groundwater underneath.
Coca-Cola Company implemented water reclamation and waterless processing technologies at all their 53 plants in California to save 280 million gallons of water. They also replenish water to watersheds and communities wherever they have operations.
PepsiCo, Coca Cola’s biggest competitor, also recorded a 20 percent improvement in water-use efficiency across operations throughout the world. PepsiCo also adapted the practice like Coca Cola to replenish watersheds in places where they have operations.
MillerCoors company, another beverage company, leads by example when it comes to water management practices. They have a comprehensive sustainability program in place that involves a stewardship strategy with a focus on efficient use of water in direct operations. Their aim is to reduce water-to-beer ratio to 3:1 by 2020. In 2015, they were able to attain a 3.29:1.0 water-to-beer ratio, a 2.1% reduction from the previous year.
Brewing companies have also started paying attention to this problem that may seem innocuous now but could prove to be detrimental to the future of business. Many companies now want to focus on sustainable use of groundwater and freshwater that is becoming increasingly scarce. Water treatment and reusing wastewater is increasingly becoming a part of corporate social responsibility in the beverages industry.
By 2030, demand for water, globally, is estimated to be 40% greater than the supply. Water, according to several scientists and environmentalists, is going to get scarce for reasons like growing population across the globe, an increase in wealth in the developing world and climate change that could lead to more drastic weather and erratic rainfall patterns. It is the call of the hour to conserve sources of freshwater. The beverage companies are in a position to tie up with local governing bodies to regulate sustainable use of groundwater and minimise water wastage in the irrigation sector which is its supply chain.
Reuse, recycling and treatment of wastewater are possible ways of minimising the carbon footprint in the beverages sector.