The EU sugar sector is on a journey to sustainability, at the heart of rural communities. While it is already contributing to the objectives set by the European Commission in the EU Green Deal, the sector is continuously working to reduce the environmental impacts of sugar production while guaranteeing a steady supply to the market. This constitutes a balancing act between resource efficiency, process optimisation, and delivering high-quality products.
Respecting the Environment
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Beet sugar production is environmentally sustainable. Sugar beet is always grown in rotation with other field crops. Crop rotation helps conserve soil fertility and reduce levels of soil-borne pathogens and pests and thus reduces the requirement for plant protection products.
The sugar industry strives to minimise primary energy usage in order to mitigate climate change. Energy is used throughout sugar manufacturing to extract the sugar from the beets and to dry the beet pulp. Energy use is minimised by Combined Heat and Power Systems (CHP) and heat recovery. CHP systems produce steam and electricity, which are used in the sugar production process. Water usage is also controlled by recycling process water and keeping freshwater use to a minimum. In fact, up to 90% of the water used during processing comes from the sugar beet.
Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy
The EU beet sugar sector has a long tradition of using every part of the sugar beet to produce a wide range of products in addition to table sugar. Other applications include food ingredients, animal feed, and renewable ethanol for food and non-food uses. Other products such as lime fertiliser, agricultural soil, and stones serve as inputs to agriculture and the construction sector. Increasingly, sugar producers are also diversifying into the production of bio-based products used by such industries as plastics, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. The sector is thus a key contributor to the bio-based economy in Europe.
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EU Beet Sugar Sustainability Partnership
In 2013, the EU sugar sector collaborated with farmers and trade unions to found the EU Beet Sugar Sustainability Partnership. In line with the Europe 2020 strategy for a “smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive growth”, the partnership aims to highlight and disseminate good agricultural, industrial, social, and environmental practices in the sector, while taking into account economic sustainability, and the need to provide a steady supply of beet sugar in the EU.