It’s barbecue season, so workers and conveyor systems at Franz Bakery whirled at a frantic pace Thursday to package thousands of hamburger buns.
One byproduct was missing: production waste.
Since this spring, the Spokane Valley facility at 110 N. Fancher Road has adopted a sweeping recycle and reuse program to reduce trash significantly for all its operations, which make multiple lines of sandwich breads, buns and rolls. Franz’s bakery goods go to stores, restaurants and food service companies throughout Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana.
Operating since 1972, the 110,000-square-foot plant is the first among nine Franz bakeries in the Northwest to reach 100 percent landfill-free status, said general manager Tim Harper. He said the family-owned company, based in Portland, is challenging all its sites to reduce waste in a big way.
After nine months of studying ways to narrow its trash stream, the bakery in February launched a comprehensive recycling program that includes packaging waste, scrap metal from dented baking pans, used fleet truck auto oil, discarded bread bags, office paper and cardboard.
The Spokane Valley bakery, which employs 450, contracts with Sunshine Disposal & Recycling for its solid waste services, Harper said. This spring, Sunshine began collecting and recycling items the plant had previously discarded, including bread bags with minor defects or the few that fall to the production floor.
Sunshine also collects the plant’s paper goods, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Trash is still generated – Sunshine takes it to the Waste-to-Energy Plant, Harper said. “We probably cut it at least 50 percent.”
Because the business is privately held, he declined to say what the total amounts are.
Franz installed automatic hand dryers in heavily used areas of the bakery so workers required to wash their hands don’t need paper towels.
Employees now recycle used auto oil through an auto parts store. They also filter the bakery equipment lubricant oil to reuse as fuel for an EPA-certified heater in the company’s fleet shop, used for maintaining the facility’s fleet of about 40 delivery trucks.
Employees who sent in ideas or met team goals to reduce waste have received $25 bonus awards, called “war bonds” as part of the plant’s War on Waste campaign, Harper said.
Harper said some ideas included modifications to equipment as well as more efficient production line practices. Large, wheeled recycle bins now stand ready near equipment so employees working on the fast-paced production lines can quickly tuck away recyclables, including cardboard from packaging material.
“We did some recycling before, but the most difficult thing to deal with was the plastics – the bags, the bread ties, pallet shrink-wrap,” Harper said. “So much of what we do is fast-paced, so getting the bins closer and strategically positioned so people have the opportunity to recycle is probably the biggest thing.”
Ken Gimpel, the city of Spokane’s assistant utilities director, said it’s difficult for businesses to get all the way to zero waste. Some companies such as Franz come closer with internal policies to reuse and recycle materials, Gimpel added.
“Everyone in this industry is always working on it,” Gimpel said. “There might be a waste exchange where one business’s byproduct could be a feedstock for another industry. Things like that help with certain types of byproducts, but it’s still pretty challenging to get to zero waste.”