‘Regulations and incentives’ needed to reduce trillions of tonnes of hidden water use globally

By Shane STARLING contact

- Last updated on GMT

Curbing food industry water use: “There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment and lifestyle changes,” say UK engineers
Curbing food industry water use: “There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment and lifestyle changes,” say UK engineers

Related tags: Water resources

Governmental and institutional actions are needed urgently to reduce the estimated 1.8 million tonnes of water – per person - used in food production around the globe, a UK group has urged.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) said “regulations and incentives”​ were needed  to meet a targeted reduction of 20% by 2020 or face major water shortages by 2050.

It called for a €677m annual investment in infrastructure, technology and other measures and advocated the imposition of 'water footprinting'.

“Estimates suggest that we will need to produce 60% more food by 2050. Agriculture will need around 19% more water to produce that extra food,” ​said Andy Furlong, IChemE director of policy. 

“It is clear that current production methods are unsustainable and there are genuine risks of food shortages, rising food prices, droughts and social unrest for future generations unless we make more efficient use of water.

watersnip
Some methods outlined in IChemE's water usage report

“There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment and lifestyle changes.”

Government push

He added “a combination of regulations and incentives should be introduced to require industry to monitor their water usage, as well as be rewarded for using alternative and sustainable water supplies.”

Renewed planning and investment efforts were required for better facilities, infrastructure and technology along with better education. 

Water use facts

Per person there is between 2,000-5,000 litres of water embedded in food, every day – or between 730,000-1,825,000 million litres annually.

90% of all freshwater is used by agriculture (70%) and industry (20%), leaving 10% for domestic use.

Manufacturers should be incentivised to use alternative, sustainable sources of water such as water in food, rainfall and saltwater.

“None of this will be cheap or easy, but like the mitigation of climate change, it will be necessary to guarantee our quality of life,”​ said Furlong.

IChemE's report is here​.

Related topics: Sustainability, Policy

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