PepsiCo to harvest water from spuds

Sensemaking / PepsiCo to harvest water from spuds

11 Mar 2011

Walkers crisps, part of PepsiCo, is looking to reuse the water lost from its spuds

You’ve heard of carbon capture and storage, but how about water capture and reuse? PepsiCo, which owns Walkers crisps, is perfecting a new technology to ‘harvest’ the water lost when potatoes are cooked, then re-using it to clean, peel and slice them when they enter the plant.

Spuds can be up to 80% water, with a huge amount of that being lost in the process of making crisps. However, by placing a cold lid above the steam to capture condensation and installing membranes in waste pipes to clean water, PepsiCo could harvest over 3,000 litres of water every hour.

PepsiCo admits it has made a “significant investment” in the technology, but it will be worth it: the cost savings could be huge, if the company succeeds in its ambition to unplug its main UK manufacturing sites from the water grid by 2018.

Ashok Chapagain, a water footprinting expert with WWF-UK, is impressed – up to a point. “It’s a good first step,” he says, “but the supply chain water footprint, which is much larger than the operational one, still remains pretty much the same.”

Technical fixes can help address water scarcity risks to business and the environment, says Chapagain, but better management of water at the river basin scale is the real key. Some companies, PepsiCo included, have started to realise that: in November it set out its goals for sustainable farming in the UK, including the use of i-crop, a new web-based crop management system helping growers to calculate both water use and carbon emissions.

Water is certainly rising up the corporate agenda. According to CDP Water Disclosure, a new programme from the Carbon Disclosure Project, a “significant number” of companies are now aware of current and near-term water-related risk to their operations and supply chains. Nowhere is this more acute than in the food and drink industry – which accounts for 10% of all industrial water use. As Forum for the Future’s Dan Crossley, puts it: “You only have to look at food companies like Unilever, with their recent Sustainable Living Plan, to see how much of a threat they think water scarcity can be – as well as an opportunity.”

- David Burrows

Image credits: Melhi/istock

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