Kettle Foods composts 2,500,000 pounds of vegetable matter annually
Chip factory built for efficiency saves lots of dough

Roof-mounted wind turbines provide electrical power at Kettle Foods’ Oregon facility.

While composting is now becoming the norm for many food processing companies, Salem, Oregon-based Kettle Foods has always diverted potatoes and finished product that didn’t make the cut for either composting or use as cattle feed.

Kettle Foods, which produces and sells millions of pounds of potato chips annually in North America, Asia and South and Central America, purchases and processes a great amount of vegetable matter.

At both its Beloit, Wisconsin and Salem plants, discarded potatoes and chips are sent to local compost operations for processing.

“None of our agricultural products go to waste,” says Jim Green, Kettle Foods community ambassador. “Ever since our founding in Salem in 1978, we have tried to do our very best to have as little impact on the planet as possible. Having our unusable agricultural products go to composting or animal feed has been part of our operations for years.”

Green notes that the company sends approximately 2,500,000 pounds of material annually to composters and/or animal feed processors.

Early on, the company has adapted “green” concerns in its production process, which has translated into several initiatives that have led to the use of alternative and renewable energy sources, recycling water and construction.

Kettle Foods is estimating more than $200,000 per year in costs savings with its new potato chip factory that it opened in Beloit last April.

The 73,000 square-foot plant is the first food production facility to receive Gold level certification for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction. It was designed to maximize renewable power and the recycling of water and cooking oil.

Some of the key design features include:

  • 18 wind turbines on the factory’s roof, which will generate enough energy to produce 56,000 bags of potato chips annually.
  • Filtering and reusing 3.4 million gallons of potato wash water.
  • Premium, high efficiency equipment to reduce the use of natural gas and electricity.
  • Offsetting 100 percent of electricity use with renewable wind power.
  • Converting used cooking oil into biodiesel.
  • Sourcing over 35 percent of building materials from within 500 miles of the project site.

“We anticipate approximately $200,000 in savings from all of our recycling and sustainability efforts,” says Green. “All of our waste oil is picked up by a local outfit that processes it into biodiesel. We do the same thing in Salem where we use it to run two cars and a local delivery truck. This has resulted in an annual reduction of eight tons in CO2 emissions.”

In Salem, SeQuential Pacific Biofuels processes the cooking oil into biodiesel.

Taking steps to recycle water is more than just good public relations, its good economics.

In the Beloit facility, Kettle Foods purchases water from the municipality and recycles millions of gallons of water from its potato washing process.

“The potatoes tend to be dirty and the wash water goes down into a filtration process and the water is re-used again,” says Green. “As well, a portion of that water is used as gray water, which is diverted into our plumbing system. Water is a concern for everybody and rightfully so. There is only so much of it - it is a precious resource.”

“We are estimating that we are going to be saving in the neighborhood of 3.4 million gallons a year in Beloit from our water recycling process,” Green says.

Constructing a LEED® certified building required the use of construction materials made from recyclables.

“You learn a lot when you are building a new facility,” says Green. “We built our headquarters in Salem in 1999 and we incorporated the lessons we learned then into the Beloit plant. We hope that it inspires other companies to build similar facilities.

“In 2006 we blew off conventional energy, offsetting 100 percent of our annual electricity use with renewable wind power and eliminating more than 16 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution (CO2), the major contributing cause of global warming,” he adds. “We also capture the power of the sun to generate 130,000 kilowatt hours of solar energy annually at our headquarters.”

In addition to recycling raw materials, the company also ensures that paper, plastic and e-waste are set aside for recycling.

“Every year we recycle approximately 364,000 pounds of cardboard, 10,000 pounds of plastic stretch wrap and 9,000 pounds of magazines and office paper,” says Green, “as well as plastics, glass, tin and electronic goods such as computer components, video tapes and CDs.”

The company is experimenting with the possibility of bringing in anaerobic digesters to generate biogas to its Oregon plant.

In terms of tax credits, the State of Oregon, according to Green, provides “significant tax incentives and depreciation allowances for sustainability efforts, specifically for photovoltaic solar power, which has greatly reduced the out-of-pocket costs. It’s the same with our energy efficient compressors.

“We have 616 solar panels in Salem that generate enough electricity to make 250,000 bags of chips every year,” he adds. “Installed in 2003 with the help of Energy Trust of Oregon and Portland General Electric (PGE), the solar array reduces Kettle Foods’ annual CO2 emissions by 60 tons. We installed new Next Generation compressors in 2003 to help increase the efficiency of the company’s energy consumption and since then, we have been able to reduce energy use by 180,000 kWh per year.”

Similar incentives are offered by the State of Wisconsin, as well as federal incentives.