Nestlé moves towards 'zero water' factories

Wednesday, 13 May, 2015

The Californian drought has prompted Nestlé to invest heavily in technology to reduce water use in its five water bottling plants and four food and petcare product manufacturing facilities.

Last year, the company opened its first ‘zero water’ plant in Mexico, which extracts all the water it needs from milk used to manufacture dairy products. Work is now underway to convert the Nestlé USA milk factory in Modesto into a zero water factory, meaning that the plant will not use any local freshwater resources for its operations.

The project is forecast to save nearly 238,000 m3 of water each year, equivalent to 71% of absolute withdrawals in 2014. Nestlé has invested around US$7 million in the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.

Savings of more than 100,000 m3 of water each year have been identified at Nestlé’s Bakersfield and Tulare factories, potentially reducing the plants’ absolute annual withdrawals by 12% compared to 2014 levels. Conservation measures at its water bottling plants in California are projected to save 208,000 m3 per year.

The company employs a three-phased approach to water reduction:

  1. Engineers look for ways to optimise the processes.
  2. Engineers look for opportunities to re-use the water, such as using cooling water in vacuum systems.
  3. Innovative methods to extract water from raw materials and then recycle it are deployed.

In California, Nestlé will apply a methodology called ‘Water Target Setting’, which not only identifies opportunities to reduce water usage but also the most appropriate technology to be implemented. Used in more than 80 factories worldwide thus far, the approach identifies opportunities to reduce water use by 10 to 30%, depending on location.

“We are focused on how to adapt our bottling and our manufacturing operations, and our supply chain, to make them more resilient and more resistant to drought conditions. We will test innovative solutions, prove they are efficient and effective, and will share what we learn with others,” said Nestlé Head of Operations José Lopez.

The company has already cut its total water withdrawal in absolute terms by almost a third over the past 10 years and has publicly committed to reduce its withdrawal per tonne of product by 40% by 2015.

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