March 17, 2024

Crunching the numbers on brunch

Coffee’s ready! As you boil your breakfast egg, smell the freshly baked rolls and watch the milk foam crackle in your coffee, take a look at these crunchy numbers.

We have compiled for you the water footprint behind favorite brunch foods. As our freshwater resources are increasingly threatened by climate change and pollution, we at GEA are working on technologies to help reduce water consumption and wastewater volumes in industry on a large scale, especially in dairy and food production.

Let's look at the water footprint. It summarizes what is used for care and maintenance and, of course, the production processes: Rainwater, surface water and groundwater as well as disposal water contaminated by use.

You measure pleasure, we measure water-saving potential

Animal products tend to require more water because both the animals and their feed depend on water. The more complex the cultivation of the products and the animal husbandry, the higher the water balance.

Water footprint of common foods eaten for breakfast.

According to a study published in Ecosystems by Mesfin Mekonnen and Arjen Hoekstra in 2012, the increasing consumption of animal products will put further pressure on the world's freshwater resources.

  • Animal products account for nearly one-third of the total water footprint of global agriculture.
  • The water footprint of livestock products depends on the production system and feed composition of each species and country.
  • Due to the unfavorable efficiency of feed conversion, the water footprint of any animal product is larger than that of plant products with the same nutritional value.

Water is essential in dairy products

As one of the world's leading suppliers to the dairy industry, we are particularly concerned about water when it comes to dairy products. Compared to other popular items on the breakfast table, milk is in the middle of the pack. After all, a cow needs water just as much as it needs its feed in the pasture.

The more milk is processed, the more water is needed. Researchers calculate the water footprint of milk at 1,020 liters per kilogram, while cheese takes five times more water. Fresh water is essential for production and is closely linked to operational processes, from cleaning to cooling and heating with steam.
Water footprint of different dairy items

In Germany, the 165 milk processing companies have an annual water footprint of more than 32 trillion liters.

Water footprint per capita of dairy items in Germany

Globally, Americans consume the most milk per year at 89.1 kilograms (or around 86.4 liters), according to Statista Market Insights. Australians and Canadians have the next-largest milk consumption.

Per capita milk consumption by country
As the demand for milk and dairy products continues to grow in the coming years, forward-looking water strategies in dairy processing are one of the industry's most important sustainability issues.
World milk consumption projected in future
World cheese consumption projected into future
Innovative cheese production at the Crailsheim-Dinkelsbühl dairy, Germany, equipped by GEA. Image: GEA/The Nutshell

Saving water in the dairy industry requires innovation

GEA is holding an innovation competition at Anuga FoodTec 2024 to explore the path to a low-water and future water-free dairy industry.

“To overcome the environmental challenges they face, dairies must be able to recycle all of their process water. Besides fostering the development of innovative approaches, this challenge also encourages cooperation within the industry to achieve our common goal of making food production more sustainable.”

– Dr. Stefan Pecoroni, Vice President Process Technology and Innovation Separation, GEA

The competition is an example of GEA's commitment to establish water-free solutions in dairy processing by 2030 to reduce the environmental impact and make the industry more sustainable in the long term.

Cell-based chocolate in sight

As we look back at the breakfast table, oh dear! Chocolate has a significant water footprint. On average, it takes 1,700 liters of water to produce 100 grams of chocolate. That's the equivalent of eleven bathtubs of water. It’s no wonder when you count up the water-intensive journey from the cocoa plantation to fermentation, the conche and pouring chocolate mass.

If you're now questioning your choices, don't worry. GEA technologies are already helping to make these processes more economical.

GEA Hilge NOVALOBE chocolate

Biotechnological processes such as precision fermentation make it possible to produce chocolate without the cocoa plantations. Microorganisms then get to work in cell factories. The proteins for the taste and the melting can be produced in a bioreactor. It’s already happening, too. Our customer Solar Foods together with the Finnish chocolate company Fazer recently offered taste tests of a chocolate bar in Singapore.

Now that you know where your breakfast stands – enjoy your meal!

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