Frito-Lay opens the bag on green factories

Eve Troeh Apr 26, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: We’ll get earnings from Pepsico this morning — which in addition to making Pepsi, also makes Quaker Oats, and Frito Lay. Analysts are expecting the company will be hurt by the rising cost of ingredients. So the push is on to be more sustainable and save resources wherever possible.

Marketplace’s Eve Troeh takes us now to a Frito Lay factory in Arizona that’s trying to do just that.

Eve Troeh: Sun bakes the dusty desert outside Casa Grande, Ariz. Frito-Lay makes all kinds of chips here. Technical manager Ronaldo Luna says that takes hundreds gallons of water per minute.

Ronaldo Luna: So most of the water we use is to clean or wash raw materials. Especially potatoes. They come straight from the field, covered in soil.

Before they’re fried crisp, the spuds get washed, peeled, washed, sliced, washed again.

Luna: We used to send the water to the city.

Dirty water down the drain, then more clean water for more washing. But now the factory filters and reuses most of its water.

Troeh: Does that save money?

Luna: It saves money, but I think that’s not the main incentive.

The main incentive is to get this Frito-Lay plant as self-sufficient as possible.

Al Halvorsen: Arizona is a place that will be challenged on water.

Al Halvorsen is senior director of environmental sustainability for Pepsico.

Halvorsen: It’s not really directly challenged today. We looked at that as an opportunity to go try that technology and prove it before we need to actually go roll it out.

Roll out water recycling in Texas, or California, and you’ll have water to wash your potatoes, even if the county’s fighting a wildfire nearby.

Cary Krosinsky is an environmental consultant at TruCost. He says conserving public resources is even more important in poverty-stricken nations. It can come down to:

Cary Krosinsky: A license to operate in countries where water is scarce. That’s been a big problem for Pepsi in the past.

And water is just one of the resources Pepsi needs to manage. The Arizona Frito-Lay plant is now mostly solar-powered. Instead of natural gas, it’s burning mountains of wood scrap in a biomass boiler.

Joel Makower heads the media company Green Biz. He says Pepsico is learning as it goes.

Joel Makower: There is no real institutional knowledge. This is really brand new territory.

But by getting one Frito-Lay plant to near zero-waste, Pepsico will see what’s possible.

I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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