Sustainability at Gills Onions and Crunch Pak

April 23, 2010

Nikki Rodoni from Gills Onions and Tony Freytag from Crunch Pak spoke about what their companies are doing that is sustainable during the Sustainability in Fresh-Cut Processing session of the sustainability conference.

Gills Onions used to apply the onion waste to nearby fields, but that was becoming expensive. It cost nearly $500,000 a year in labor, transport and liability, so the company built an energy system that uses all the juice from the onion skins to create 600 kilowatts of power. The leftover skin, from 300,000 pounds of waste a day, are sold to cattle farms as feed. The energy system cost $10 million to build, but Rodoni said the payoff was only six years due to state and federal grants and cost savings ($700,000 a year alone from electricity cost savings).

Gills also is working with universities in the area to go zero waste, and already has seen landfill diversions go from 25 percent to 53 percent, and water usage cut by 30 percent. Onion waste was 99 percent of the waste generated by the company, but the company is trying to eliminate the last 1 percent.

At Crunch Pak there are environmental initiatives – GAPs increasingly include sustainable practices, energy savings, using rail – but the company is focused on social sustainability. The agricultural area the company is based in usually has seasonal fluctuations, but Crunch Pak has grown and created year-round jobs. Education is important to everyone at the company, so it donates $250,000 a year to local schools and charities, because growing the community helps grow the business, Freytag said.

Processing plants can benefit from sustainability initiatives, and even a small effort can result in big savings. Freytag said the installation of a second door into a processing room resulted in an energy savings (because the one door wasn”t always opened) and increased efficiency by 20 percent in getting people in and out.

There”s always more to be done, but as Rodoni said, “It feels good to do the right thing.” These two companies should feel good as a result of the sustainable initiatives they”ve put in place.