Between irrigation in fields and processing, cooking and cleaning in our facilities, water is a critical natural resource to our business.
Water is essential to producing safe food. We aim to balance responsible water stewardship with protecting the quality and ensuring the safety of our products. To date, Tyson Foods has prioritized water efficiency in production facilities1, with a target of reducing our water use intensity 12% by 2020 against a baseline from FY2015. We have made progress toward this goal with efforts such as reusing process water, as Tyson Fresh Meats did in 2019 with water from carcass washes and other machinery. Since our baseline year, we have achieved a 6.8% reduction against our 12% target.
While these changes are making an impact, our processing facilities are responsible for only a small portion of our total water consumption. To broaden our water stewardship efforts, Tyson Foods worked with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to assess water risk and develop a water stewardship strategy. The water risk assessment focused on exposure to water stress across our processing facilities, locations where we source animals and locations where we source corn to feed animals.
- Municipal Water: 79%
- Well Water: 21%
- Fresh Surface Water: 45%
- Irrigation: 11%
- Publicly Owned Treatment
- This target does not include non-production locations such as offices, warehouses, hatcheries, feed mills or ancillary operations.
- This footprint includes data from our U.S.-based operations. Information from our U.S.-based Cobb-Vantress, The Pork Group, hog buying stations and Keystone Foods are not included in this footprint. American Proteins, Inc. and Tecumseh Poultry are only included in FY2019.
The water risk assessment helped us identify priority locations to set goals informed by the local watershed context. Because the majority of Tyson Foods’ water consumption is associated with producing animal feed or raising animals, very little of the water required for finished products is consumed at our facilities. To balance these priorities, we will set contextual water targets at our facilities, recognizing that we have significant influence on local watersheds at our processing facilities. Contextual water targets will be based upon each facility’s water withdrawal, exposure to high water stress and proximity to our supply chain. Our contextual water targets also connect to our land stewardship efforts, as one of the aspects of our definition of land stewardship is water quality and conservation.
The process of setting contextual water targets involves developing an understanding of shared water challenges of concern to Tyson Foods as well as surrounding communities. Read our water position statement to learn more about our prioritization scheme for contextual water targets.
More than 31 billion gallons of water enter our facilities annually, and the majority is returned to surface waters of the U.S. through our 41 full-treatment and 55 pre-treatment wastewater treatment centers. We use technology and reclamation systems to conserve and reuse wastewater in our direct operations. As we introduce new interventions to reduce the risk of pathogen contamination and keep our products safe, we are also working to mitigate the potential challenges that this creates for wastewater treatment. Our food safety and environmental teams are working hand in hand to manage this issue.
Wastewater treatment not only conserves water but, in some locations, also allows the nutrients in the wastewater to be used to grow crops and reduces the need to purchase manufactured commercial fertilizer. We reused more than 2 billion gallons of wastewater from three plants for crop irrigation in FY2019. Nearly 4 million pounds of nutrients were collected and redistributed by beneficial soil irrigation practices through this process.
Our procedures are regulated by EPA programs, such as Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits that govern the release of water that may contain chemicals or other impurities. Water that is released meets EPA’s Effluent Guidelines Program requirements and is safe for the environment. We report chemical data to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as required by the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program. Specific to wastewater operations, we report the amount of nitrate compounds along with other chemicals included in our wastewater, for the EPA’s annual TRI.