News | Sunday, 10 January 2010

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Borehole driller gets environment award

University institute defends choice of General Soft Drinks, which extracts 51,000 cubic metres of water for free from its boreholes, for ‘sustainability’ award

General Soft Drinks, bottler for Coca-Cola and producer of Kristal table water, has been regaled with an award for sustainable development by a University institute, despite extracting the equivalent of 26 million bottles of table water every year from the endangered water table – a practice that is unsustainable in itself.
Malta’s water table is already burdened by over-extraction from private boreholes, and risks becoming “unusable” by 2025 because of the increase of salinity in groundwater from borehole drilling, according to British geologist Dr Gordon Knox.
General Soft Drinks, which admits to getting half its mix to produce table water from its three registered boreholes, was awarded the 2009 Environment Award for Industry by the university-based Cleaner Technology Centre.
The award recognises Maltese organisations that make a significant contribution to sustainable development.
“As far as I know, the adjudicating board was not aware that the company extracts water from boreholes,” Anton Pizzuto, chairman of the CTC, told MaltaToday when contacted.
Pizzuto revealed that it actually is the company itself that applied for the award and provided the board with the relevant information.
But Pizzuto still defended the choice, insisting the award was granted as a recognition of improvements in the company’s new factory, which succeeded in drastically reducing its energy and water use.
Queried on the apparent contradiction in awarding a company which has publicly admitted to extracting groundwater for free with a sustainability award, Pizzuto made it clear that he believed “anyone extracting groundwater should pay for it, as water comes at a cost.”
The award to the company was also questioned by Alternattiva Demokratika’s spokesperson for sustainable development, Carmel Cacopardo. While welcoming the fact that the company had introduced an environment management system dealing with the operational impacts of the company, Cacopardo expressed regret that no reference was made to the extraction of groundwater by the company.
“It is not fair that companies like General Soft Drinks can extract water without being charged for it, while normal citizens have to pay for this resource,” Cacopardo told MaltaToday.
He also warned that Malta is already extracting 11 million cubic metres more than the sustainable rate of 23 million cubic meters, based on current rainfall patterns. “Due to climate change, which results in even less rainwater recharging the water table, we will have to further reduce the amount of water extracted from the aquifer. Thus we have to give priority to agriculture and potable water over other activities like the production of soft drinks.”
But General Soft drinks insists that it is presently extracting “less than 0.15% of the 34 million cubic metres of groundwater extracted annually in Malta” from its three registered boreholes – which would amount to an annual 51,000 cubic metres (51 million litres).
Contacted by MaltaToday, General Soft Drinks’ human resources manager Stephen Bonnici defended the company’s environmental record, saying GSD had reduced groundwater extraction by 66% in the past three years, as well as its overall water consumption.
“Through investment in new processing equipment and improved work practices, it has managed to reduce overall water use for all its operations, including the manufacture of soft drinks and table water, by 36.1% over the last three years.”
Last year, GSD also claimed that free groundwater extracted from its registered boreholes formed around half of the mix in its bottled water.
When the new factory was officially inaugurated last month, the company revealed that its two production lines for soft drinks and table water have a total capacity of 42,000 litres of water per hour.
Bonnici did not exclude reducing groundwater extraction in the future: “it is our interest to do so, both from an environmental and economical point of view.

GSD’s efficiency measures

Stephen Bonnici presented MaltaToday with a detailed breakdown of environmentally friendly measures taken since GSD relocated to its premises in Marsa, which won it its environment award.
These measures included: replacing its transportation fleet with fuel-efficient Euro-4 vehicles; automatic switching-off of air conditioning, ventilation and lighting when not in use; insulated wall panels, roofs, tanks and boiler economisers; double-glazing through the entire premises; and recycling of plastic, cardboard, paper, glass and metal and reuse of packaging boxes and pallets.
The company’s drainage system is also designed in such manner as to allow total inspection and repairs without the need to break up any floors or disrupt any process, enabling a quick identification of any leakages.
Rainwater is also collected in underground reservoirs and then used
for truck washing, toilet facilities, landscaping and road washing. The car parks are equipped with oil and solid interceptors to make sure any oil is trapped before being sent to the government’s waste-water treatment plant.
The company has also recycled obsolete plastic into distribution pallets, and 5,240 tonnes of obsolete glass bottles were exported for recycling.
The filling of carbonated drinks at ambient temperature has also minimised the use of electricity for chilling beverages.

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