UK food sector going green?

Related tags Environmentalism Defra

A government report published this month reveals that UK industry
spends £2.6 billion a year on environmental protection, with food
and drink manufacturing the highest spending sector at £429
million, writes Anthony Fletcher.

The report, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), reveals that operating expenditure accounted for 81 per cent of the total spend while the remainder was made up of capital expenditure. About 35 per cent of the total was spent on solid waste, with a further 30 per cent spent on wastewater, and the remaining 35 per cent spent on air, soil/groundwater, noise and nature protection.

The food and beverage sector was followed by the power industries at £429 million, and the chemicals and chemical product sector at £410 million.

Defra points out however that although the individual figures may sound extremely high, the total represents less than half of one per cent of total turnover of the industries concerned (0.4 per cent of turnover) and an average of £700 per industry employee for the whole year. And with legislation such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) coming through, it is questionable whether the industry is in fact spending enough.

EU ETS is just one of the policies being introduced across Europe to tackle emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and combat the serious threat of climate change. The scheme comes into force on 1 January 2005. The environmental regulator has cautioned food and drink manufacturers that if they fail to comply with essential environmental legislation they risk hefty fines.

Indeed, one reason why the food and beverage processing industry spends more than any other sector on environmental protection is that it is still a major contributor of industrial waste. According to the Environment Agency, the UK's food and drink sector produces between seven and eight million tonnes of waste per year, second only to the construction industry and consumes approximately 900 megalitres of water each day, enough to supply almost three-quarters of all customers' needs in London daily.

And on top of this, stringent legislation is coming into place that severely punishes the worst offenders.

"The Environment Agency is taking a careful look at some interesting schemes in use elsewhere in the world, such as black-listing of companies with poor environmental records when procuring services; imposing suspended penalties which double or treble if the fault is not corrected and the making of restoration orders to put right environmental damage at the expense of the offender,"​ said agency chief executive Barbara Young.

Environmental protection expenditure is defined by Defra as spending incurred by the company where the primary aim is to reduce environmental pollution caused during normal operations - that is, expenditure to reduce or prevent emissions to air or water, to dispose of waste materials, to protect soil and groundwater, to prevent noise and vibration or to protect the natural environment. This definition has been agreed by all EU countries.

The purpose of the survey was therefore to find out accurately exactly how much industry spends annually on protecting the environment - for example investing in equipment to clean up wastewater produced during processing, or investing in clean technology that makes production cleaner by reducing pollutant emissions.

The report covered 2002 and recorded expenditure by extraction, manufacturing and energy supply industries in the UK.

This spending was offset by estimated income of £230 million from the sale of by-products and estimated cost savings of £300 million from environmental protection measures undertaken during the year.

The department says that these figures cannot be classified as National Statistics because of the low response rate to the survey.

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