If your company is producing a lot of waste, look into ways to divert it from the landfill. Source reduction decreases the volume of waste material and by-product generated, which can greatly reduce your disposal costs.

By Ashley Cabrera and Vaughn Cassidy

The proper disposal and/or reuse of industrial food waste are a constant challenge for Tennessee food manufacturers. From location and average distance to a food recycling facility to the type of waste produced, manufacturers always seem to be hitting some barrier. Several manufacturers have started to take action to deal with this waste and make good use of it. Unilever, American Snuff and General Mills, have targeted the problem and found partnerships within the industry to reduce the waste that they produce.

Unilever of Covington

Unilever, a global sustainability leader and one of the world’s leading ice cream makers, solved a major problem with their ice cream facility in Covington, TN. For more than a year, they hauled food waste to a site to be used for energy recovery many miles away. To better cope with the amount of food waste that they were producing, Unilever worked with NALCO Water’s Engineering and Industrial Outsourcing team to install a system, which allows for the liquid and solid wastes to be land applied locally. This system increases sludge dryness from 7 percent to 22 percent solids using a mechanical belt press.

Since the introduction of the belt-press drying system, more than 12,600 tons of waste haulage was reduced with 675 fewer truckloads leaving the facility per year. This means a reduction of 141 metric tons annually of CO2 emissions and a tremendous savings in fuel costs. The nutrient laden water from the process is nearly 600 gallons per day. The solids can be used in products that contain whey or as animal feed. At the moment, the solids are being incorporated into local agricultural lands. This new system also allows for the plant to have a $78,000 reduction in operating costs. The Covington area is primarily agricultural, so Unilever is in an excellent area of Tennessee to be able to use their production wastes in the highest and best use locally.

General Mills Murfreesboro Plant

The General Mills Murfreesboro plant produces Yoplait, including Greek yogurt. Production of Greek yogurt involves separating whey from the heavier cream in milk, and 60 to 70 percent of the milk becomes an unusable waste by-product called acid whey. Working with their corporate sustainability office in Minneapolis, MN, and Chief Sustainability Officer, Jerry Lynch, General Mills found an environmentally friendly solution.

The General Mills Murfreesboro plant began operating an anaerobic reactor in 2015, which converts whey by-product from Greek yogurt production into a biogas. This keeps 15 tanker trucks per day of unusable whey out of the landfill while producing 10 percent of the plant’s power.

Biogas generation from the acid whey generates 1.6 megawatts of electricity, which powers a little more than 10 percent of the yogurt processing facility. The anaerobic reactor converts acid whey into a methane gas, which is dried and compressed and then used to run a 2,000 horsepower generator. When the generator is running it produces heat, some of which is used in the sanitization process; this means that there is also a 10 percent decrease in the amount of natural gas used to provide the necessary heat.

Murfreesboro Electric has been an important partner, installing a switching mechanism to ensure that the power generated supplies the factory and does not go back to the grid. The reactor generated 3,000,000 kilowatts of electricity in the first four months of operation, resulting in a 9,000 metric ton decrease in carbon dioxide as well as a significant decrease in the plant’s electrical bill. In addition, the 15 truckloads of whey by-product that are kept off the road every day translate to a 95,000 liter annual decrease in diesel fuel consumption as well as a decrease of 250 metric tons in annual carbon dioxide emissions. The alternative processing of the waste whey and energy generation create a total of approximately $2.4 million in benefits annually.

American Snuff

In 2014, the sustainability team at American Snuff’s Memphis facility conducted two dumpster dives to educate employees on the American Snuff solid waste reduction program. In the first dive alone, employees sorted through more than 2,400 pounds of trash, including more than 1,000 pounds of tobacco and over 700 pounds of recyclable material.

They approached the problem of the tobacco waste through a partnership with The Compost Company in Ashland City, TN. Since tobacco is an organic substance, it is easy to return it to the land, but they were having a hard time finding someone nearby that could help them do this. It was made possible when American Snuff found The Compost Company. The partnership has allowed both companies to succeed in a safe and environmentally friendly way. Since 2014, American Snuff has reduced the waste they send to landfills by more than 85 percent in all of their facilities in Tennessee, which brings them closer to becoming landfill-free.

Diverting Waste to Reduce Disposal Costs

Not only is recycling waste a good choice for the environment, but it can also save money for companies in the industry. The cost to dump 1 ton of waste into a landfill can range from $25 to $80, depending on where you live. The average dumping fee for Tennessee is $35. If you reduced the amount of waste you were sending to the landfill, it could save you thousands of dollars a year. For instance, Unilever’s 675-truckload reduction might have saved them an average of $23,600, which can be used for other important things in their company.

If your company is producing a lot of waste, look into ways to divert it from the landfill. Source reduction decreases the volume of waste material and by-product generated, which can greatly reduce your disposal costs. Other options are to use food by-products as animal feed or for composting and land application. Join companies like Unilever, General Mills, and American Snuff and strive to be zero landfill.

Ashley Cabrera is a Creative Services Coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in the Office of Sustainable Practices (Nashville, TN). She can be reached at (615) 837-5063 or e-mail ashley.cabrera2@tn.gov.

Vaughn Cassidy is an Environmental Specialist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in the Office of Sustainable Practices at the Jackson, TN field office. He can be reached at (731) 512-1343 or e-mail vaughn.cassidy@tn.gov.