Between washing, production and packing, food processing facilities can easily use more water than any other industrial operation. Together, large processing facilities consume hundreds of billions of gallons of water annually, placing a major strain on the environment and local municipalities. These facilities can also serve as a major source for waste and leaks.
While some techniques (like recycling) might help conserve water in everyday processes, a combination of old or broken supply equipment and inefficient systems may be wasting a lot of water. This, in turn, leads to inefficiencies that can impact the environment and your bottom line.
To get ahead of waste, food production facilities should constantly audit their equipment for signs of leaks and disrepair. By implementing regular water audits your facility can act before waste becomes rampant.
The Realities of Water Waste
Commercial and industrial operations account for over 17% of all municipal water use, which means when food processing facilities waste water it can have a lasting negative impact on the local water supply. Waste not only puts local water resources at risk, but it increases operating costs, wears down equipment, puts employees at risk and impacts the local environment.
Waste that may at first seem small can eventually add up to large losses. The EPA estimates that the average water system wastes 16% of its water, with a majority of that waste being avoidable. Small leaks can lead to long-term losses in your water supply resulting in higher costs down the line.
Sources of Waste
Waste can occur anywhere, even in facilities that are regularly audited and repaired. As facilities grow and change, water delivery and storage equipment can become harder to monitor and repair, resulting in infrequent or ineffective audits. Groundwater or municipal services can also leak outside of your authority or responsibility, going undetected for longer. Storage, transfer and processing equipment can rapidly fall into disrepair between audits, or suffer hidden failures that cause leaks or loss. The smallest leaks and faults cause cascading issues, contributing to overall waste and threatening the integrity of the system.
Inefficiencies can also create waste (even if there aren't any leaks or failures). Older, less efficient water processing equipment, including pumps and fittings, may not be up to the task of moving or storing water without waste. Modern efficient equipment, on the other hand, can better protect against leaks and requires less maintenance.
Every source of waste puts your facilities and operations at risk, potentially resulting in shutdowns or injuries. Your facility should create a water audit plan to get ahead of the problem and avoid relying on occasional repairs when problems arise.
Auditing Your Systems
Your facility may already have a version of a water audit in place. Like other regular maintenance plans, water audits must be conducted frequently and with an extreme eye for detail, treating even small faults or minor leaks as signs of a bigger problem. Here are a few guidelines to follow when creating and implementing a water audit:
- Create an audit plan: Audits without a plan can miss crucial details and leave systems vulnerable. Protect your entire operation by creating an audit plan for water delivery that helps you establish a baseline for your facility’s health. A water audit works much like any other facility audit. The audit should account for municipal or groundwater sources, storage and processing equipment and all pipes, fittings and fixtures. The plan should sort water systems by risk and likelihood to break down, and highlight the areas most in need of immediate repair or replacement.
- Fix immediate issues: The most severe issues found in your audit need immediate action to prevent a crisis. Your team needs to be ready to take action to repair or replace critical systems proactively. Create an action plan to fix the most pressing issues in your water system. As you start, identify an owner for water delivery, list common risks and red flags and set up a response plan for the steps that happen immediately once a problem is identified. If your plan already exists, update it frequently to ensure that you have coverage over all critical systems and clear ownership over maintenance and emergency repair.
- Conduct regular maintenance: The last, and most important step of the plan, is to set a strategy for regular audit and repair of water systems. Regular review can prevent costly and wasteful problems before they occur, while keeping your facility efficient and operational. Maintenance should also look to replace outdated or inefficient equipment with modern, efficient alternatives. Beyond just looking for leaks, your maintenance strategy should review systems for proper insulation and construction, ensure water systems have redundancies to prevent loss and test control and emergency systems for proper operation. Time invested early to find problems prevents costly shutdowns and expensive leaks down the line.
The smallest leaks can have a big impact on the environment and your bottom line. By preparing a water audit plan, your facility can save water and lower costs. Learn more about which water saving equipment may be right for your facility, as well as Grainger's energy and water-saving solutions.