Plant Story: Sustainability in Action
Coca-Cola Enterprises’ production facility in Niles, Ill., is one of the plants leading the company’s sustainability efforts. The site, located just outside of Chicago, is one of the company’s centralized recycling facilities, features new lighting and water-saving equipment, and it now is home to 10 new hybrid distribution vehicles.
The Niles plant became part of CCE in 2001, and is one of the only production plants with both hot-fill and cold-fill capabilities. Three lines in the plant are able to fill products such as Vitaminwater, Powerade and Minute Maid juice drinks. In addition, the facility has a cold-fill can line and a bottle line for carbonated beverages. In all, the hot-fill lines turn out about 14 million cases of product a year, while the cold-fill lines produce 16 million cases.
“This is currently the only CCE facility in the United States that has hot-fill and cold-fill under the same roof,” says Paul Strickland, director of operations in Niles., adding that the company’s Bellevue, Wash., plant soon will join Niles with that distinction.
The hot-fill lines at the plant require the use of three 5,000-horsepower high-pressure boilers, which makes it unique among CCE’s production facilities. The company recently finished the installation of high-efficiency burners that it estimates will save 10 to 15 percent of natural gas consumption a year. For a facility that spends more than $1 million a year on process gas bills, that’s a significant savings, Strickland says.
“As well as conserving natural gas for this facility, it’s also a cleaner burning system, so our emissions will be less,” he adds.
The company also is looking at using heat exchangers to capture lost BTUs and use them to warm water and other operational needs.
Like most CCE plants, Niles installed more efficient T8 lighting with motion sensors throughout the facility last year, which has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in electrical costs. It also installed computer controls on its air compressors to improve efficiency.
“Air compressors are one of the largest electrical consumption machines in the facility, and now we can sequence those machines up against demand in the facility rather than ramp up full par all the time,” Strickland says.
Counting every drop
Water conservation is a company-wide initiative at CCE. The Niles facility is one of the plants that uses nano-filtration to purify its water. Nano-filtration results in a certain amount of water loss, and the facility has put in place systems to capture the lost water concentrate.
“We’re using that water to cool down our support equipment; we’re using that in our evaporative condensers, our cooling towers, and we’re also using it in our boiler blowdown,” Strickland says. “So all the water that was once used as fresh water to feed those systems is now water that we’ve recaptured, reused back into the system to support those three equipment entities.”
Strickland estimates the water savings from the first phase of the effort is about 100,000 gallons a week. A second phase, along with the installation of reclaim loops on its reverse-osmosis filtration system, has the potential to double the savings. With such significant water savings, Strickland says the payback on the initial investment in the new systems is less than one year.
The company also has installed an air rinser to replace water rinsing of bottles on the cold-fill production line, and is awaiting approval from Coca-Cola North America to install similar rinsers on the hot-fill lines. The company currently is testing the technology in another location.
It also added dry lubrication systems to its sparkling beverage lines where it had used water, and it has improved its clean-in-place cycles to reduce the water used for sanitizing production lines.
CCE’s Niles facility also is one of its centralized recycling locations, with a center set up across the street from the production location. The center services six sales centers, taking aluminum, PET, shrinkwrap, cardboard, wood from pallets, and any other material for which it can find a second use from those locations. The materials are consolidated in Niles and sold to recycling companies.
The company works directly with the mills that produce aluminum for Coca-Cola cans to recycle that material, as well as the paper companies that supply its secondary packaging. Shrinkwrap is sold to Trex Co. to be incorporated into patio materials and wood is sold to be made into garden mulch.
Strickland says the recycling center has gone from 870,000 pounds of recycled material a year, to a projected 4 million pounds this year.
Inside CCE’s facilities, recyclables are sorted and color coded by material. So much material is sorted out these days that the Niles facility has gone from a daily trash pickup for anything that cannot be recycled to one per month. CCE’s corporate-wide goal is to reach zero-waste status, meaning every bit of waste that leaves the plant goes to a recycler, not a landfill. Niles currently stands at 95.5 percent.
In addition, Strickland says, the program has an effect outside of the plant as well.
“Recycling sticks with the employees, and some of them have commented to me that even at home now, they tend to be more conscious of recycling than they were in the past because of the things that we’re doing here,” he says. “So maybe we’ve got a little bit of conservation spreading in the Chicago market because of our efforts.”
CCE also is making its sustainability goals known outside the plant in a new community rain garden located a short drive from the facility. CCE has estimated that it can reduce its water use to 1.3 liters for every liter of product it sends out of its plants. To gain water neutrality, and make up for the 0.3 liters it cannot eliminate from production, it is working with local communities on conservation activities such as the Niles rain garden.
The company teamed up with the Village of Niles to convert a piece of city-owned land into a rain garden. Planted in part by company executives and employees, the garden doesn’t just look better than the abandoned lot that previously stood in that location, it also is designed to direct rainwater back to the underground aquifer rather than storm sewers.
Rain gardens are thought to be especially helpful in capturing the “first flush” from rainfall, which contains more of the pollutants washed off the ground and surrounding buildings. The ground’s natural filtration process removes the pollutants from the water before it hits the aquifer so those pollutants do not run off into sewers and eventually into lakes and streams. In addition, it helps prevent warm water from entering those bodies of water. Rainwater that hits the ground or the roof of a building is heated by that surface, and can harm fish and water vegetation if it runs into lakes and streams at that temperature.
The Niles rain garden is the largest in Illinois, and contains plants native to northeastern Illinois, some of which have root systems several feet deep to absorb the rainfall. CCE also has planted a similar rain garden on land near its newly opened Rock Island, Ill., facility, and its St. Louis plant has a garden in the works as well.
In addition, the Niles plant is working with a nearby community on a rain barrel project that uses concentrate drums that once held soft drink ingredients for rain water harvesting. BI