Sustainability has been a part of cidermaking for generations, but it’s only recently being talked about, finds Jaq Bayles
With climate change anxieties mounting in the face of increasing evidence that the planet is under threat, it’s no surprise that drinks producers across the industry are taking steps to mitigate their impact. And cider is a sector at the forefront of this movement.
While producers have long held sustainability practices, they have only relatively recently begun to shout about them, which is important for both customers and consumers who are now expecting their products to prove a commitment to the environment. From reducing reliance on fossil fuels and ensuring all packaging is recyclable, to introducing in-house canning lines, many cidermakers are finding innovative solutions to improve their sustainability standing.
Westons has put in place many initiatives in the past year, among them increasing the number of solar panels on its buildings, replacing diesel-fuelled forklift trucks with electric versions, and introducing its own canning line so it could switch from plastic rings to cardboard wraparounds for packs of cider.
But other initiatives have been in place for far longer. Head of business development Darryl Hinksman says: “What has become apparent in the past couple of years is that consumers are very much more aware of a company’s credentials as far as sustainability and synergy with the environment are concerned.
“We have been very in tune with our environment for a long time. We’ve produced cider in rural Herefordshire for 142 years, but it’s only in the past few years we’ve realised the environment is a lot more important to other people, not just ourselves, but we’ve never really spoken about it. It’s only in the last 12 months that we’ve really started to pull together summaries of everything we do, what our policy is, what our aims are.
“One of the big initiatives we kicked things off with was about three years ago when there was a CO2 crisis, a shortage of supply, and we investigated alternative methods of acquiring CO2. When we press fruit to extract juice what is left is the pomace. It was never wasted, it was often used as animal feed, however, if you feed that pomace into an anaerobic digester, it produces food-grade CO2. So, we were selling all our waste pomace which went through an anaerobic digester to produce CO2, which we then purchased back to carbonate our drinks.
“Previously when we acquired CO2, we used to bring tankers down from the north east of England from the big fertiliser plants, but the anaerobic digester is actually only six miles away, so we saved a lot of miles as well as using our own waste.”
The company also has 14 acres of natural ponds and reed beds where it processes all its waste water so it can re-enter the water course as pure water “because it’s been naturally filtered through these nine ponds”, says Hinksman.
“These initiatives we are now talking about, some of them have been in place for some time.” Indeed, fellow cider producers have been to visit these natural wetlands – which have a secondary environmental impact in encouraging a wide diversity of wildlife, such as rare birds and dragonflies as well as indigenous mammals.
A big focus across the sector is green energy, with Thatchers also having recently installed a further array of solar panels on its new distribution warehouse. Fourth-generation cidermaker Martin Thatcher says: “We are anticipating that the Myrtle Farm solar panels will provide a total CO2 saving of 301 tonnes a year, and an annual generation of 1,064MWh of electricity, contributing to the green energy that we already produce and is used across the farm all year round. In total we have over 3,000 solar panels on the farm.
“Producing green energy has become an integral part of our dayto-day life here at Myrtle Farm. We have a biomass boiler that uses wood chippings from our orchards, and apple waste left over from our cidermaking process goes for anaerobic digestion – although we do save some for cattle feed too.”
He adds: “Our retail customers place high importance on sustainability initiatives, in particular reducing the use of plastic, and using recyclable materials.”
And of course, packaging is an area in which improvements are continuously being made, with all Thatchers’ bottles being fully recyclable; cans lightweighted, and a new initiative being put in place to remove the plastic wrapping on palletised 10-can packs, replacing it with an adhesive application to stabilise the packs on pallets.
“Sainsbury’s has been the first retailer to take the plastic-free cases. It saves retailers time breaking down packs as well as alleviating the need for them to recycle the plastic wrapping.”
Alongside these longstanding producers, newer entrants to the sector are also aware of the need for their green credentials to be highly visible. Ten-year-old Napton Cidery, for example, says its strong sustainability ethos is central to its growing popularity, and makes a point of the fact that all its apples come from traditional unsprayed orchards, organic and biodiverse growers, so no unnatural chemicals are introduced into the ecosystem.
With the need to save energy and keep a check on the environment never more in the spotlight than now, it’s inevitable that more pioneering sustainability practices from cider producers will become apparent in the coming months and years.