Pacific Foods is making big strides toward zero-waste goal

At its inception, Tualatin-based Pacific Natural Foods was an organic, all-natural food manufacturing company dedicated to sustainable practices. Now, 25 years later, the company is continuing that tradition while climbing the difficult road to become a waste-free facility.

'Recycling, waste reduction and sustainability, (they have) been a strong part of the company's DNA from early on,' said Rory Schmick, the company's sustainability manger.

Company leaders launched a 'zero waste-to-landfill' program in 2007 in an effort to eliminate the amount of waste they send to the dump each year. As of 2011, Pacific Natural Foods has managed to whittle its landfill waste down to 12 percent of its overall waste. According to Schmick, the only thing between the company and its goal of zero percent waste is a couple more years of steady work.

'We're in this very high-speed, dynamic manufacturing environment with over 300 employees. The trick is getting everyone on board, telling them, 'Maybe this isn't the way they did things at your old workplace, but this is the way we do things here.' Sometimes its two steps forward, one step back, but it's OK, that's what's exciting. We're engaged in this.'

When it launched its zero waste-to-landfill program, the company created a team with the sole purpose of collecting recyclable materials from around the campus.

Despite the effort, the company was only managing to recycle 40 percent of its total waste.

'We realized, 'Wow, we have a long way to go.'' Schmick said. 'So we really focused in on where the leaks were: What was ending up in the dumpsters that can be recycled,'

Since then, the company has pushed that 40 percent recycling rate up to 80 percent. The goal is to have zero landfill waste within the next thee years.

'It's cool to see where the rubber hits the road,' Schmick said. 'How do you really achieve this concept?'

Meanwhile, leaders at Pacific Natural Foods have discovered that while being all-natural and sustainable can be a costly practice, the long-term financial benefits are great.

'In 2010, by diverting all the waste materials, we not only saved about $100,000 in landfill tipping fees, but in selling those materials we were able to earn $65,000. Traditionally, it's a cost center. Now there's a revenue coming in.'

Nationwide, some larger companies, including Honda and Subaru, already boast zero waste-to-landfill production sites, but in a food manufacturing environment like Pacific Natural, the how-to's of sustainable practice are vastly different.

'We're a little unique in that a lot of the materials that come through have organic material on them, so they're a little more challenging (to recycle),' Schmick said.

Several years ago, when the company dissected a large portion of the waste produced at its campus, more than 90 percent of the waste studied consisted of materials that could not be cleaned due to remaining food particles. When they realized that many other companies were facing a similar issue, Pacific Natural Foods decided to commission an engineering company to help build a machine that cleans such materials. As a result, that waste category has been eliminated at Pacific Natural, and the company said goodbye to their trash compactors in September.

Other companies are on the road to achieving sustainability nirvana, whether company-wide or at select manufacturing sites, including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Stonyfield Organic, Burgerville and the Sunny Delight Beverage Company.

'I absolutely think this is a feasible plan for other companies, without a doubt. A lot of it has to do with good business sense, doing more with less, being more efficient,' Schmick said.

Schmick said being located in this area makes finding resources to help go green easier.

'It's wonderful being in the Portland metro area, because there's so many resources here to do good. There are people that come out and assist you, provide free receptacles and free advice. So we're really uniquely positioned in this part of the country. You almost have to try not to do it, in a way.'

Contract Publishing

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