Produce companies waste no time on no-waste programs

01/17/2014 10:44:00 AM
Jim Offner

In the produce industry, “recycle and reuse” has become a common mantra.

Grower-shippers often look for new ways to use old materials, said Eric Halverson, executive vice president of technology with Grand Forks, N.D.-based Black Gold Farms.

He said efforts are ongoing to turn potato waste into methane, which can be used as fuel.

“There is a big push there, because you reuse waste and you’re spinning off some power,” he said.

In Wenatchee, Wash., fruit grower-shipper Stemilt Growers LLC has achieved nearly a zero-waste rating, thanks to a number of conservation efforts, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

He pointed to the company’s composting operations as one example and close scrutiny on water and power use as another.

“We have done some projects with the utility district to reduce electricity, which is the big thing we’ve done during this off-season,” Pepperl said.

Rio Farms LLC, based in King City, Calif., and a growing operation for Oxnard, Calif.-based Gills Onions, also has had a compost program going for years.

“Our compost program has been a huge asset, and it’s turned out to be a great strategy,” sustainability director Nikki Rodoni said.

Recycling is central to Salinas, Calif.-based Mann Packing, said Gina Nucci, director of healthy culinary innovation.

“At our facilities, wash water is reclaimed into industrial waste systems for use on golf courses and city landscaping, and 90% of our facilities’ waste is recycled,” she said.

Nucci also said electrical usage at the company’s Salinas plant is the same as it was in 2001 despite a 50% increase in capacity.

“All of our corrugate and plastic packaging is recycled. Mann has zero packaging waste,” Nucci said.

Packaging is a key component in achieving zero-waste status, and it takes planning, said Samantha Cabaluna, vice president of marketing and communications with San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm.

“For example, when we looked at the carbon footprint of producing clamshells of spring mix, we looked at everything from seed production on through to the consumer’s disposal of the container,” she said.

Waste generation affects entire communities, so the contribution of a produce supplier that can achieve no-waste status is notable, said Afreen Malik, director of technical services with Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms.

“Efficiencies in waste reduction and diversion of waste materials to recycling help reduce our carbon footprint and conserve limited resources within the community,” she said.

Soquel, Calif.-based consulting firm SureHarvest has been working with numerous produce groups on sustainability issues. The group just finished its first sustainability program report on the Modesto, Calif.-based Almond Board.

The report didn’t address the no-waste issue, but it is certain to come up as the program develops, said Joe Browde, senior research associate.

“They will develop as we develop self-assessment side for the growers,” he said. “The waste side would be an excellent fit for development, especially for the processors.”



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