Beyond the Paper Straw: Aligning Your Manufacturing and Sustainability Goals

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Across the industry, sustainable food and beverage manufacturing is increasingly within reach

From plastic straw bans to non-GMO milk, sustainability is a trend across the food and beverage industry. But savvy producers know the practice goes beyond compostable packaging and ethical ingredient sourcing. Sustainability needs to be deeply rooted in manufacturing methods and facilities in order to create products that fully align with the sustainability goals of a company and their customers.

"All companies are being held toward a more sustainable supply chain for the full life cycle of a product,” says John Rake, Operations Manager, Manufacturing for Kerry North America. Working toward sustainability goals can also create pride and drive amongst employees, while producing a quality product that is safely manufactured. And there are other benefits: "When a plant is efficient, oftentimes costs are kept down and better pricing can be offered," says Rake.

Innovations in sustainable food and beverage manufacturing are large and small, and are being developed to preserve natural resources, reduce the impact on the environment and produce a product that consumers can feel good about. Kerry, which operates manufacturing facilities around the world, has integrated sustainability-focused processes, equipment and design into its existing facilities and new sites. For instance, sustainable solutions are built into a new state-of-the-art meat processing facility in Russia, and a savory ingredient plant in Clark, New Jersey, includes new-to-market features and machines.

While it’s important to look at a site’s carbon footprint data, sustainability goes beyond just the environment, says Gerry Ferrara, Vice President of Operations, Manufacturing, for Kerry North America. It includes providing a safe workplace, creating a safe and quality product, being a good neighbor and being involved in the local community.

Manufacturing site decisions, of course, involve many other factors, such as available equipment and capabilities and a facility’s record of service, including timely delivery. But, when considering the environmental sustainability of a facility and process, keep in mind the below categories.

Energy usage: It takes power to run all aspects of a plant. But even minor modifications—such as programming energy-efficient LED lights to automatically power down when a room is unoccupied—can impact energy usage, says Rake. So can the trend toward “light harvesting,” or using natural sunlight to illuminate a plant, says Ferrara. The transition from machines powered by large forced power motors to ones with soft-start motors is another way food and beverage production plants are reducing energy usage. “Instead of immediately going to operating speed, the machine ramps up, which means it doesn’t require a big surge in electricity right at beginning,” says Ferrara. "The variable frequency allows you to operate machines such as fans at speeds other than full power."

Water usage: Water is essential within food and beverage manufacturing. It may be a recipe component, used for cooling or required to wash equipment. A majority of water use tends to come from the two latter categories—cooling and sanitization. A host of new innovations help reduce the amount of water needed for both, say Rake and Ferrara. For instance, a CIP spray cleaning system washes out large tanks using a fraction of the water needed during more traditional methods. And, for cooling, some Kerry sites are installing systems that allow water to be reused: rather than dumping the once cool water used to pull heat from hot products, the warmed water is cooled using mechanical refrigeration then recirculated. Even faucets used for hand-washing can be made sustainable: for example, sinks with motion-detectors eliminate the possibility of leaving faucets running.

Waste creation: A growing number of plants are setting waste reduction goals such as creating zero landfill waste. The packaging ingredients come in and products go out in are two key areas of impact. Moving from hard to recycle packaging to materials that can be recycled, reused or up-cycled is important to meeting waste targets, says Ferrara. Because unnecessary waste can be created as a result of human error during batching or processing—such as adding too much of an ingredient or heating a product for too long—some degree of machine automation can also help reduce waste, says Rake. New innovations include computer-linked scales that sense when enough product is added and barcode scanning that can ensure the correct ingredient is about to go into a batch. (Rigorous paper-based systems can provide similar results in plants without high-tech systems.)

Pollution: Pollution can be thought of in terms of being a nuisance to your neighbors—keeping facilities and production methods from intruding on sight, sound, smell and so forth, says Ferrara. For example, quiet motors—even for rooftop ventilation systems—and downcast external lighting can reduce noise and light pollution. Manufacturing processes can create less visible pollution concerns, such as adding waste to local municipalities or particulates to the air. Systems can be installed to remove oil and grease from water and neutralize pH levels before discharging into the sewer. To keep particulates and odors from entering the air, pollution prevention equipment can be utilized such as dust collectors, regenerative thermal oxidizers and scrubbers, says Rake.

To discuss manufacturing needs, or learn more about Kerry’s global network of food and beverage manufacturing plants—including our new meat facility in Russian and  our recently expanded savory facility in New Jersey—contact us.

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