March 22, 2023  

How capturing rainfall is preserving freshwater in Colombia
PepsiCo’s Funza food facility created a truly circular water system by taking advantage of a resource that falls from the sky.

Maria Camila Rodriguez Garcia and her team track every single drop of water that flows through PepsiCo’s facility in Funza, Colombia. The Environmental Sustainability Coordinator for the Andean region keeps a close watch on exactly how many liters are needed to most efficiently wash the potatoes for Margarita chips. If the data shows there’s a way to conserve water when cooking the corn for Choclitos, on-site teams can make immediate adjustments.

That level of precision decreased the Funza facility’s freshwater usage by approximately half, from 2.03 liters per kilogram of food made in 2020 to 1.04 in 2021. That’s a savings of more than 21 million liters of water over the course of a year. But the goal was to cut freshwater consumption to zero.

Funza achieved that goal in 2022, as a result of the collaboration between sustainability, engineering and maintenance teams at the local and sector level. The facility has totaled more than 260 days without using freshwater in its operations since last year, and that number is still rising. Water conservation is one way PepsiCo aims to make progress toward its pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) ambition to become Net Water Positive by 2030 — that is, replenishing more water than the company uses.

The idea that made zero freshwater usage possible at the Funza facility practically fell from the sky. “It rains a lot here,” Maria Camila says. In fact, Colombia ranks as one of the rainiest countries in the world. “The thought was, if we can harness just a little bit of that water, we could really use it to our advantage.”

It rains a lot here. The thought was, if we can harness just a little bit of that water, we could really use it to our advantage.


The problem the team in Funza had to solve was how to keep the rain from seeping into the ground. Much of the water the facility required to make more than 52,000 tons of chips and cookies in 2022 came from the on-site water treatment plant, where water used during the production process is reclaimed and purified back to the highest international drinking standards. “Rain that falls from the sky can be treated the same way,” Maria Camila explains. “But once it mixes with groundwater, it collects additional minerals that we need to keep separate.”

The solution involved taking advantage of the building itself. The Funza facility was already equipped with basins that collected water that drained off the expansive metal roof, which helped to address the threat of flooding during heavy rains. Thanks to some inventive engineering, teams on site were able to install piping that diverted the water from those basins, preventing it from mixing with groundwater, and funneling it to the treatment plant. “It was actually a pretty low-cost project,” Maria Camila says.

But the significance of the results is anything but small. Adding rain to the water that was already being treated allowed the Funza facility to achieve zero freshwater usage in its operations for the first time. “That was such a beautiful sensation, to see that we were actually being sustainable,” Maria Camila says.

Funza is one of four PepsiCo sites in Latin America that have created a truly circular water system, being able to successfully go full days without tapping into the municipal water supply dating back to January 2022. Food facilities in Vallejo, Mexico City (249 days) and Itu, Brazil (133 days) have also accomplished the feat by collecting water from neighboring plants and treating it for reuse. And like the plant in Funza, a facility in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico has captured and treated rainwater to achieve zero freshwater use for 16 consecutive days. The goal is to expand those efforts to even more PepsiCo facilities across Latin America and the rest of the world.

And increasing water-use efficiency is just one element of PepsiCo’s Net Water Positive ambition. The company also aims to replenish more than 100% of the water it uses back into local watersheds. In 2021 alone, PepsiCo helped restore 6.1 billion liters of water through partnerships with conservation organizations and a series of environmental projects, such as an upcoming $2.1 million investment to support wetlands restoration in Winter Haven, Florida.

Another focus is safe water access, which PepsiCo and the PepsiCo Foundation have helped deliver to more than 80 million people globally over the past 15 years. Those efforts are continuing in Lagos State, Nigeria, and surrounding regions, where a $1 million partnership with WaterAid is funding the rehabilitation of water systems and building of new sanitation facilities.

PepsiCo is also participating in the United Nations 2023 Water Conference — being held this month for the first time in nearly 50 years — to share best practices and explore new solutions to address global water stress.

“Water insecurity is a growing global crisis that affects our business and the communities in which we operate today,” says Roberta Barbieri, PepsiCo Vice President of Sustainability. “At PepsiCo, we are responding to this crisis by innovating, collaborating widely and scaling water-positive solutions across our business and around the globe. The success of our team in Latin America to deliver solutions that move our operations to zero freshwater use is proof positive that it can be done.”