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Kraft Foods Continues a Successful Campaign Against Solid Waste

A number of years ago, Kraft Foods realized that too much waste from its production facilities and distribution centers ended up in landfills, which was affecting nearby communities and costing money to manage, especially in terms of waste hauling costs. “In short, we saw a need to find ways to create less waste and find better uses for the waste that was being produced,” explains Richard Buino, spokesperson, corporate external communications.

While Kraft Foods had been engaged in various sustainability projects for some time, these were more often thought of as efficiency projects. “In the past few years, though, we have become more focused by figuring out what matters most to our business and where we can have a significant impact,” he continues.

As a result, Kraft Foods began by mapping out the social, economic and environmental impacts of its business. The center, where everything overlaps, has become the key sustainability sweet spot. “This is where we are finding new ideas and unique opportunities for positive change,” says Buino. Kraft Foods has set some aggressive goals, and has pushed to accomplish a lot by building sustainability into its business strategy and changing its corporate culture.

The company's vision has been to make sustainability a part of every business decision. Sustainability is now part of how the company does business. “It is a priority across our organization, including, but not limited to, general management, marketing, operations and R&D,” says Buino. Each business unit has goals, road maps and projects, and each business unit is held accountable.

This also applies to manufacturing, since it is part of the business units. In fact, because solid waste generated from manufacturing accounts for more than 99 percent of the company's total waste, Kraft has focused its efforts on its plants. Now, each plant has waste, water and energy reduction goals, as well as environmental improvement plans. “Our strategy is simple,” he continues. “Generate less waste, and find new uses for the waste that we do generate.”

In 2007, the company launched a program with Sonoco, a global packaging and recycling company, to substantially reduce waste in plants, with the ultimate objective of sending zero waste to landfills. Today, Kraft is recycling and reusing about 90 percent of its manufacturing waste. In some cases, it is using manufacturing byproducts as energy sources.

Today, nine Kraft Foods plants in North America have achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status. Four of these are in Ontario, Canada: Mississauga, Oakville, East York, and Scarborough. Five are in the United States: New Ulm, Minnesota; Fair Lawn, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Suffolk, Virginia. In total, globally, Kraft has 26 plants in nine countries that have hit zero-waste-to-landfill status.

Examples of how Kraft plants have reduced waste:

  • Waste-to-energy projects at its cheese plants in Lowville, New York, and Campbell, New York, create enough renewable energy to heat about 2,600 typical homes in the Northeast for one year. The plants offset about 30 percent of their natural gas needs by generating biogas using anaerobic digesters that turn whey waste (a regular byproduct of cheesemaking) into fuel. This reduces the amount of solid waste that each plant produces and reduces non-renewable energy consumption. The U.S. Department of Energy recently named the Campbell plant an “Energy Champion” as part of its 2010 Save Energy Now award.
  • At the Allentown, Pennsylvania, plant, employees created a campaign to focus colleagues on a zero-waste goal, which they achieved in 2010 through recycling, reuse and raising awareness. For example, a few years ago, the plant was sending nearly five million pounds of mustard seed hulls (a byproduct of making Grey Poupon mustard) to landfills each year. Today, the seed materials are repurposed as animal feed.
  • The Columbia, Missouri, plant is diverting 1,600 tons of waste each year to the city's composting program. The plant sends used casings and wood ash from its hardwood smoking process (for Oscar Mayer hot dogs) to make compost for local residents' landscaping needs.
  • The New Ulm, Minnesota, plant has reduced waste by 40 percent over the past four years. In 2009, the plant recycled 2.4 million pounds of cardboard, cores and paper.
  • The Suffolk, Virginia, plant has been able to reduce waste to landfills more than 50 percent since 2006. Employees have found ways to divert plastics, cardboard, composites and organic waste from landfills to recycling centers. The plant is now zero-waste, as the remaining solid waste gets sent to a local waste-to-energy generator.

“Much of our work is about continuous improvement - replicating those projects that have been successful in more locations,” explains Buino. That is, as management and employees discover innovative ideas in one plant, these ideas are shared with other plants to see if they, too, can implement them.

As a result of its efforts, Kraft Foods has been able to reduce net waste from its manufacturing plants by 42 percent overall from 2005 levels (measured in kilograms of waste per ton of production). “By 2015, our goal is to reduce waste an additional 15 percent,” concludes Buino.

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