State of Cleaner Production in Australian Food Industry
Profile of Food IndustryCleaner Production was first conceived by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 1998 to create a link between the economic prosperity with the environmental well-being of a nation maintaining that economic gains can be achieved by improving the environmental impacts of a company (Hilson, 2003). In the past, it was believed that by introducing environmental improvement programs, a company is more likely to incur financial costs and make no economic gains from it. There has been a lot going on in the food industry that has influences the need to adopt cleaner production such as the following An increase in the number of people that do not prepare food at home An increase in the number of restaurants and takeaways Automation in food production An increase in the awareness to protect the environment A focus on ensure quality food to the consumersThese trends have put a pressure on the companies to deliver products through a safe and efficient mechanism. Food borne diseases can be controlled to a larger extent if strict quality control mechanisms are introduced in the industry itself (Newell et al, 2010). One of the key driving force for cleaner production is the fact that companies can save themselves millions by reducing the waste and improving their resource utilization.
Environment ChallengesIndustrial food processing plants can be huge resource utilizers and thereby can be responsible for putting in a lot of waste in the environment. In order to increase efficiency we can focus on reducing the waste and using cleaner production as a competitive advantage (Parfitt et al, 2010). A large number of products used on the food industry have a tendency of ending up as waste. Maridkar and Niranjan (1995) concluded that as much as 60-70% of some vegetables have to be disposed of as waste. Similarly, in industries like in seafood processing, there is a significant amount of waste that has to be disposed of properly. Considering the fact that most of the food products are organic, the waste was considered not a big problem in the past as people believed that it will naturally decompose (Refsgaard & Magnussen, 2009). However, as the scale of food manufacturing has increased, there has been an increase in the awareness that proper waste management practices are needed to be put in place. Because if it is not the case, it can result in polluting the rivers, air as well as damaging the natural habitat of other living things. Yet another challenge for the food industry is the packaging. It is one the most used raw material for the industry and ends up as waste once the consumer has the product. There has been a shift in the food industry to use packaging material that is more environmentally friendly (Gustavsson et al, 2011). There are issues related to the sourcing, usage and decomposing of chemical waste used in the production processes in food plants. Food processing plants are less energy intensive when compared to petroleum or mineral processing units. Yet, the costs related to maintenance can be a huge stress on the industry budget. In Australia, the cost of electricity is relatively low but it can still see improvements in utility costs due to cleaner production. Similarly, another key resource for food industry is water that is used for the production and later cleaning of the equipment. It has been realized by the authorities that they need to actively monitor the water supply not only to agricultural users but food industries as well. The water supply costs have been adjusted to reflect the fact that the councils in various parts of Australia are trying to push people to make smarter decisions regarding their water usage (Mead & Aravinthan, 2009). The food processing industry uses a lot of water for production and cleaning purposes. The discharging of waste water is yet another issue in its own light for food processing industries. There are costs related to the amount of waste (usually measured in BOD/COD) that again reflect the need to be smart with the volume of waste.These issues are the key driving features that press the need to increase the efficiency of the waste management. These efficiencies cannot be attained without the collaboration between the various stakeholders in the territory. It is for these reasons that the Queensland Food Eco-efficiency project was started.
Steps taken to implement CPThe Eco-efficiency in food processing and foundry industry project (2008-2010) was developed with the aim of best practices that can be used and developed to address the needs of all the players in the industry. There were a number of companies that participated in the project along with the active participation from the Australian Food Fisheries and Agriculture (AFFA), Department of State Development, The Australian Industry Group (AIG) and the University of Queensland. The project served as a great platform for various industry stakeholders to voice their concerns and provide real-word solutions to increase industry efficiency. The project was divided into several of the following stages In order to increase the awareness and bring acceptability to the project, develop a website. www.uq.edu.au/emc/cp/Food_Proect/ Developing and updating a resource manual Developing role model assessments that can be used to get the buy-in from other stakeholders Providing training and resources for people in the industry to learn the skills for effective cleaner productionThe second stage involved engaging with the people who are actually doing the hard work. Since they were closest to the process, they can provide insights that can help control the waste in it. This was complemented with industry visits, workshops and lectures to increase as well as create new knowledge that can later be shared amongst the stakeholders. During that time, the Queensland government had taken up another similar project that was run with the help of Brisbane City Council and Qld DEEDI. It consisted to workshops that focused solely on reducing environment waste to a minimum (Pagan & Prasad, 2007).
Challenges and IssuesThe major challenges that faced the project were related to gathering the various stakeholders for an insightful discussion. Most of the food manufacturers had varying needs and they had to be convinced to join the discussions and share their experiences. Fortunately, the benefits of this engagement were recognized by a large majority of the stakeholders in the very early phase of the project as it helps in reducing the costs and increasing the margin for profits. The second challenge related to collecting, storing and using information that can answer the questions related to eco-efficiency. The data collection points are scattered as the manufacturing plants are located in various parts of Queensland. The type of equipment used Is different and so is the case with the quality. So, the data relating to each equipment has to be sourced so the performance and efficiency levels can be calculated accordingly. Some plants use custom built equipment and it becomes increasingly hard to access them and recommend them to others since it was designed according to the companys specific needs. This is where the academics and experts in the field stepped and helped develop manuals and best practices that can be implemented by anyone in the industry. Since company were sharing their data with the project, this was a huge responsibility to ensure the security of it. Once the assessments were developed to test the various eco-friendly measures, the information relating to the company data had to be signed off before releasing it in the case study. Lastly, resistance to change was yet another factor as people had been doing their jobs a particular way and they had to be motivated and educated to adopt to the changes that were intended to be introduced as part of the change. The processes had to be redesigned in order to comply and meet the efficiency standards. Case StudyThe project used eight companies from various manufacturing interests for a detailed assessment to determine the suitability of cleaner production. They consisted of a couple of beverage and fresh salad, bread, honey and ginger manufacturers. In addition to these, various others were part of the study to develop the best practices. One of the participating companies was Harvest Fresh Cuts that produces fresh chilled salads along with meals (Pagan & Prasad, 2007). They are amongst the largest fresh meal producers in the country. It used concepts of cleaner production and the benefits it realized can be summed up in the following sections.Energy Total savings from the cleaner production amounted to $10,000 per annum due to the following Using duct air systems instead of split air conditioners Using heat exchangers in the production lines that utilized waste water to pre-chill water. Using good ventilation practices to reduce the operating temperature in the plant room
WaterThe company has been able to reduce its water consumption by as much 15.7% amounting to a net saving of $11,000 per annum. This was achieved through the following capital investments The water used for washing was reduced by 5% by using auto-cut off nozzles. Developing an environment friendly water cleaning processes that reduced the water consumption by 10% and the chemical usage for cleaning by up to 40%.There are significant costs associated with the installation of new equipment that needs to be performed to make use of the strategic benefits from the project. For example the heat exchangers installed by Harvest Fresh Cuts cost was $50,000 but the company will be saving $18,000 per annum. So, in less than three years the company would have recovered its capital cost and will be able to enjoy the benefits for the life of the heat exchangers. So, making a choic