How pest control can contribute to sustainability in the food sector

After a year of trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences, the world is at a crossroads, according to the UN. Addressing the One Planet Summit in Paris on 11 January 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “2021 must be the year we reconcile humanity with nature. Until now we have been destroying our planet. … We have been poisoning air, land and water and filling oceans with plastics. Now nature is fighting back.”

This drive is seen as a chance to put new energy into the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all member states in 2015 and is centered on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are now just ten years left to achieve these goals. The UN has called for a decade of action, including a drive for sustainable innovation, financial investments and technology.

So much has been disrupted by the pandemic that people have had to adapt to new ways of working and living. At the same time, it has made more people realize that we cannot go on treating the planet the same way. The UN Secretary-General added, “As we rebuild, we cannot revert to the old normal. Pandemic recovery is our chance to change course. … Every country, city and business must adopt an ambitious roadmap to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.”

Food systems: an essential part of sustainability

woman looks at items in a grocery store

Sustainable food systems are an essential part of many of the SDGs because they impact numerous areas, including nutrition and health, poverty reduction, water security, sustainable energy, CO2 emissions and climate change.

In September 2020, to mark its 75th anniversary, the UN launched the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Food Waste, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The aim is to urge everyone to do more to reduce food loss and waste to protect food security and the environment. 

Every year, about 14% of the world’s food is lost to spoilage and pests before it reaches the consumer – valued at around $400 billion per year. On top of that is food waste, caused by the inefficient handling and use of food, including during transport, storage and processing, cosmetic requirements for consumers, and lack of planning and cooking skills by consumers. Food loss and waste, together, generate 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which amounts to 1.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent every year.

The situation mentioned above was what happened during a “normal” year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, food supply chains have been disrupted by movement restrictions and quarantine measures. These interruptions cause increased losses, especially of perishable food products. Buying habits have also changed by both consumers and countries, so as to build stockpiles of non-perishable food, which causes more waste of other foods. Measures that many countries have been taking to reduce food loss and waste in an effort to improve food security have been put at risk.

There are multiple ways that food businesses can contribute to sustainability, including those that reduce food losses and waste, lessen their impact on the environment and lower carbon emissions in all areas of their operations. Integrated pest management is a tried-and-trusted technique to help prevent food losses from pests at all stages of supply chains in an environmentally sustainable way. Combined with environmental policies extended to all products used, operations and services, pest control can contribute to every food business’s sustainability commitments.

What is net-zero?

Net-zero refers to achieving an overall balance of CO2 emissions into and removals from the atmosphere. Under the legally binding Paris Agreement, 196 countries and territories agreed to limit global warming to below 2°C and, ideally, 1.5°C by 2050 to reduce the devastating effects on the environment as much as possible.

In November 2021, the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held in Glasgow, UK. The purpose of the summit is to accelerate and coordinate action to tackle climate change and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement by moving the global economy to net-zero as quickly as possible. 

As part of the build-up to COP26, Rentokil has committed to reducing total carbon emissions to net-zero by the end of 2040 – ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement targets.

Our 20-point plan to drive sustainability

close-up of a person holding soybeans

In addition to net zero, we have also committed to becoming a leader in providing sustainable services, operations and workplaces by developing a sustainability plan that the company will follow for the next 20 years. This plan involves an in-depth analysis across every area of business to find ways to improve sustainability.

  • Reduce transportation emissions by moving to low-emission vehicles, using route planning tools, and reducing flights and business travel
  • In company properties, introduce green energy tariffs and prioritize energy efficiency measures
  • Reduce waste sent to landfill or incineration
  • Reduce packaging and move to reusable or recyclable materials
  • Lessen plastic use
  • Reduce the number of batteries sent to waste
  • Introduce new products made from recycled materials
  • Conduct a “cradle to grave” environmental impact analysis of all new products
  • Change to more environmentally friendly chemicals for fumigation
  • Reduce use of pesticides and eventually remove them
  • Inform and involve all colleagues
  • Work with suppliers to ensure they have suitable sustainability policies
  • Be an industry leader in providing environmentally friendly products and services to support customers’ sustainability policies

Rentokil offices around the world are creating local sustainability plans, drawing on specialists in areas such as transportation, chemicals, energy and waste. Here are a few examples of programs that are already being implemented and show the breadth of work required to achieve whole-business sustainability.

  • Electric vehicles use is currently hampered by the availability of charging stations and the lack of suitable electric commercial vehicles. In the US, we deployed 22 electric and 40 hybrid sedans and installed at-home charging stations. By the end of 2021, we are projected to have transitioned a total of 1,100 of our vehicles to Low Emission Vehicles. There is also a program to remove excess weight from up to 9,000 pick-up trucks used by the business to save fuel and reduce carbon emissions.
  • In Australia, the company has teamed up with a specialist recycling company to handle the 43 tons of batteries used each year in products supplied to customers, keeping them out of landfills.
  • In North America, waste collection from 189 locations has been consolidated from 60 down to one supplier, which specializes in recycling and sustainability. The company also provides a detailed sustainability report on the waste collected and advice on recycling.
  • In Australia, a trial program is collecting sanitary waste from customers and treating it in a bioconverter. The process reduces the volume by 36%, destroys pathogens and produces a safe, organic sludge that could be used for other purposes.
  • In the UK, the plastic bags used in washroom and medical services have been changed from 34μm thickness to 22μm and made with 95% recycled materials, saving around 56 tons of plastic.

How pest control contributes to customers’ sustainability

Pest control is one of the key factors in preventing food losses throughout food supply chains. As mentioned earlier, food losses are a significant contribution to CO2 emissions and are a major target in the UN’s sustainable development goals.

There are multiple areas in pest control that can contribute to sustainability, both in the focus across the whole business – such as reducing energy use in buildings and transport, minimizing waste, using sustainable products – and in the specific pest control solutions available to customers.

Integrated pest management is the foundation of sustainable pest control, focusing on prevention and smart solutions to deter infestations from occurring and avoiding the use of toxic chemicals. IPM saves costs, uses fewer resources – including energy and plastic – and is safer for the environment.

7 sustainable solutions to improve food safety

A wide range of non-toxic pest control solutions are available so that companies can make environmentally friendly pest control a part of their sustainability policies. These products and solutions include the following.

  • Heat treatments to eliminate pests in whole rooms down to individual small items
  • LED insect light traps that safely capture insects in critical areas more efficiently and use less energy
  • Intelligent traps that capture and dispatch mice humanely and safely in food environments
  • Fluorescent tracking gel to identify where rodents are present more effectively and to apply targeted control measures
  • Proofing technology to prevent rodents from gaining access to buildings
  • Biopesticides such as a fungus to control cockroaches and bacteria and sterile insect release to control mosquitoes
  • Digital technology provides remote monitoring, rapid alerts of pest presence, capture of vast amounts of data on pest behavior to provide new insights, and identification of pest hotspots to enable more targeted and effective pest control, which is especially important for food pests such as SPIs

The UN Secretary General has called for businesses to adopt a sustainability agenda, including the net-zero target for carbon emissions. Governments, the public, analysts and investors are increasingly expecting businesses to show they are taking sustainability seriously. By partnering with a pest control company with a comprehensive sustainability plan, food businesses can be assured that their pest control operations contribute to the sustainable development goals both by reducing food losses and protecting the environment.

Harry Wood

Harry Wood is a Technical Content Specialist at Rentokil Initial, creating long-form content across the organization's online channels. A writer and editor for 30 years, Harry started out in an academic environment as an expert in tropical forestry and environment before moving into the IT, healthcare and medical technology industry and finally entering the world of pest and hygiene in 2015. A return to his roots writing about wood-boring insect pest, or is it boring Wood writing about insect pest?

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