2015 Green Plant of the Year: Planters Goes Nuts for Sustainability

Sept. 9, 2015
This Fort Smith, Ark. Planters facility dropped double-digits in energy and water use and has been zero waste to landfill for three years.

Even as a Kraft Foods plant, the Fort Smith, Ark., Planters facility worked to exceed Kraft's corporate environmental goals. With Kraft and H.J. Heinz Co. merged, the plant looks destined to be a star in the combined company's sustainability efforts.

"This year, our facility is down 11 percent versus 2014 in energy consumption, down 20 percent versus 2014 in water use and has been zero waste to landfill since early 2012," says Drake McGruder, safety, security & environmental and commercialization manager. "Our waste is recycled, incinerated for energy or land-applied or used as animal feed. A third party picks up our wastewater sludge and trucks it to Oklahoma for application on farm fields."

The 409,000-sq.-ft. Fort Smith facility is the only Planters facility to perform dry roasting, the process Planters invented 50 or so years ago. It processes only peanuts and tree nuts. Nuts are brought in, coated in a drum with spices or brine, then roasted in an oven before finding their way to Planters packages for retail, club stores, vending and even the new Oscar Mayer P3 product (portable protein pack).

McGruder has been with the company since 2011. A year earlier, the plant created its first sustainability team, which has remained at about 10 members from such disciplines and job titles as senior project engineer, commercialization engineer, distribution supervisor, warehousing (both shipping and receiving), packaging and processing line workers – both salaried and hourly employees.

That year, a zero landfill project was started with the help of packaging supplier Sonoco Products Co. that helped the plant characterize its waste streams. "Packaging waste, product waste, ordinary trash," McGruder summarizes.

That project directed the plant in 2011 to convert its jars from glass to plastic, which can be recycled, resulting in landfill avoidance of 20 million lbs. per year and reduction in material usage by 25 million lbs. per year. The plant also converted metal nut containers to composite containers, which can be recycled, and used plastic band chippers to maximize the amount of bands that can fit into a tote box, resulting in fewer trailer loads and lower CO2 emissions.

The sustainability team also created "the Playbook," which looked at waste in every department and directs what every employee should be doing with the waste unique to his or her department.

Some other actions that helped the Fort Smith plant achieve these results:

  • Optimized sanitation cycle times and temperature, minimizing water use and reducing energy required to heat water.
  • Replaced inefficient motors with Baldor Super-E motors, an extremely energy-efficient motor lineup.
  • Replaced T8 lighting with LEDs in hallways, saving approximately 6000 kWh annually.
  • Replaced an existing inefficient chiller with a 400 HP chiller with magnetic levitation, resulting in energy savings of 583,000 kWh/year.
  • Installed variable frequency drives on all motors greater than 50 HP.
  • Installed motion sensitive lighting in the raw nut cooler.
  • Enacted compressed air sequencing with instantaneous capacity, resulting in energy savings of 203,000 kWh/year.
  • Recycled nearly 5,000 tons of waste over the past 3½ years.

Under Kraft, 2010 was established as a baseline year for most comparisons and projects at all plants. Three things are measured: Energy, Waste, and Water. Each plant was charged with reducing each measure by 5 percent per year.

The Fort Smith plant has been honored by Kraft and was a finalist earlier this year for the Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality's Environmental Stewardship Award. Informally known as the ENVY, the honor goes to an individual, business, organization or agency that has made extraordinary efforts to protect and enhance the environment. It took the entire city of Fayetteville and its “Recycle Something” educational and marketing program to beat the Planters facility.

Another finalist was Camfil Air Pollution Control (, the world's largest air filter manufacturing facility, for its overall sustainability program, including green elements in its new office construction, reduction of natural gas usage, LED lighting, sustainable manufacturing processes and pallet recycling program.

And the effort goes on. McGruder says the plant is continuing to adjust and monitor its waste streams and in particular is trying to minimize the amount of waste it burns and is reducing the use of wooden pallets.

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