Nestlé USA, Glendale, Calif., is investing $7 million to help reduce the amount of water it uses at the five water bottling plants and four facilities in California. The project is projected to be completed by the end of 2016.

“Technology we have already deployed successfully elsewhere in the world to help address the challenges of water scarcity will improve our water use efficiency, relieving pressure on California’s water resources,” says José Lopez, head of operations.

Work is underway to transform the Modesto, Calif., milk factory into a ‘zero water’ factory, meaning the plant will not use any local freshwater resources for its operations. The project should save nearly 63 million gallons of water each year, equivalent to 71% of absolute withdrawals in 2014.

Nestlé identified savings of more than 26 million gallons of water each year at its Bakersfield and Tulare, Calif., locations, potentially reducing the plants’ absolute annual withdrawals by 12% compared to 2014 levels. And, planned investments in conservation measures to reduce the amount of water used in Nestlé Waters’ California bottling plants are projected to save 55 million gallons of water a year, a reduction of nearly 8% compared to 2014 levels.

Further measures to reduce potential water wastage at these plants are under consideration.

Technological solutions
Nestlé uses a phased approach to reduce water in its factories.

First, engineers look for ways to optimize the processes.

Second, they look for opportunities to reuse the water, for example using cooling water in vacuum systems.

In the third phase, such as in the zero-water factory, Nestlé deploys innovative methods to extract water from raw materials and then recycle it.

In California, Nestlé will apply a methodology called ‘Water Target Setting,’ which identifies opportunities to reduce water usage and defines the most appropriate technology to be implemented. This approach has been used in more than 80 factories worldwide, identifying opportunities to reduce water usage by 10-30% depending on the location.

For example, at a UK Nestlé factory, an anaerobic digestion system, which converts solid and liquid sewage waste into clean water and natural gas, reduced the plant’s water footprint, cut the amount of greenhouse gases emitted and significantly reduced solid waste.

Nestlé is carrying out assessments of its facilities in California as part of an ongoing effort to improve operational performance and the impact of its plants on the watersheds in which they operate.

The state of California uses nearly 13 trillion gallons of water a year, of which Nestlé’s nine plants use less than 1 billion gallons.

“Our water bottling operations in California have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks,” says Lopez. “We are focused on how to adapt our bottling and our manufacturing operations and our supply chain to make them more resilient and more resistant to drought conditions. We will test innovative solutions, prove they are efficient and effective and will share what we learn with others.”

The World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., is helping Nestlé to better understand water risks to the company’s food and bottled water manufacturing operations in their localities and identify water stewardship opportunities. Work is also underway to implement the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) international standard in each of Nestlé’s nine California factories within two years. The standard is a set of rigorous criteria for how water should be managed in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically beneficial. These efforts represent Nestlé’s long-term commitment to the state of California.

Water use reduction targets
Globally, Nestlé has already cut its total water withdrawal in absolute terms by almost one-third over the past 10 years, and plans to do more. In fact, it aims to reduce its withdrawal per ton of product by 40% by 2015, compared to 2005.

Nestlécurrently has 376 water-saving projects underway in its factories worldwide, which are projected to save around 1.84 million cubic meters of water this year.

Last year, Nestlé opened its first ‘zero water’ plant in Mexico, which extracts all the water it needs from milk used to manufacture dairy products.