Supermarkets can Lead the Way in Water

Walk through the aisles of your local supermarket and it soon becomes apparent: There are a lot of ways water is being used in that store. Start in the produce section and watch as rows of fresh vegetables come to life under a refreshing cold-water spray. Move on to the dairy section and you’ll see refrigerated display cases whose condensers are cooled by water. Ditto for the condensers in the frozen food display cases. Turn into the seafood section and see the lobsters chase each other around the giant tank while fillets of salmon, flounder and tuna stay fresh on a bed of ice. Stroll over to the prepared foods area and see the employees rinsing off the mixing bowls and utensils they’ve been using. “Clean-up on Aisle 4!” rings out over the loudspeaker as a young man runs there with a bucket of hot water and a mop. If you brought the kids on your shopping trip, you can count on stopping in the restrooms. And that cool, comfortable atmosphere you feel in the store wouldn’t be possible without water circulating through the store’s air conditioning system.

Grocery stores and supermarkets work on very slim profit margins, so reducing operating costs can go a long way toward increasing the bottom line.  With water rates continuing to rise dramatically across California, food retailers who use large amounts of water can cut their utility bills significantly by lowering their water use through conservation and efficiency. Since much of the water used by supermarkets for sanitary purposes must be heated, using water more efficiently has the added benefit of reducing energy bills in the process. Here are just a few ways grocery stores can recognize reduced operating costs:

  1. Refrigerated and frozen food display cases and areas are responsible for about half the water consumption of a typical supermarket – up to 1.5 million gallons a year – thanks to their evaporative condensers. With that amount of water use, proper maintenance is essential to keeping the condensers operating as efficiently as possible. This includes setting controls to regulate the rate at which old water is drained from the system and replaced with fresh water (a process known as “bleeding”) and preventing the build-up of minerals that can create scale on condenser coils and reduce their efficiency.
  2. Restrooms can account for up to 17 percent of a supermarket’s water use (and even more if careless customers and employees leave faucets running). Install faucets with motion sensors that limit water flow to half a gallon per minute when the sensors detect that someone is washing their hands, high efficiency toilets that use 1.3 gallons per flush and urinals that use one gallon per flush.
  3. Many supermarkets are turning to iceless seafood display cases to replace traditional cases that feature a bed of ice. An iceless seafood case can save more than 100,000 gallons of water a year and about $800 in water and energy costs.
  4. In kitchen areas where food is prepared, low-flow pre-rinse spray valves can save water and money. These devices remove food particles from dishes, pots and pans prior to full dishwashing, but older models use as much as three gallons per minute to do the same job as low-flow valves can do with half the flow rate.
  5. One practice that’s gaining increased popularity is collecting alternate sources of water – like rain water, storm runoff or air conditioning condensate – and using it in place of potable water for non-potable uses. These uses include irrigating the landscaping or flushing toilets and urinals.

While these technologies can go a long way toward reducing water usage, supermarket owners shouldn’t neglect one of the most important tools they have at their disposal in the battle against water waste: Their employees. By educating employees on the importance of saving water and the actions they can take as part of their jobs, store operators can enlist an army of leak spotters and drip stoppers that are just as important to the conservation effort as any piece of equipment. Teams of employees can even compete for recognition or prizes to see which can achieve the best results.

Many supermarkets are already employing these best practices – and others – to reduce their water use. Those that aren’t can implement these measures now to help reduce their operating costs and conserve a precious resource.