GREEN FILES: Building a Sustainable Food Chain from Pennsylvania to Michigan

“We are very proud of what our members at Knouse Foods are doing,” said John Cakmakci, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 951 Secretary-Treasurer.

March 2, 2012
John Cakmakci, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 951 Secretary-Treasurer.

John Cakmakci, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 951 Secretary-Treasurer.

“Their efforts illustrate how management and union members can work together to leave our planet a better place for our children and their children.” – John Cakmakci.

As a 60-plus-year-old fruit grower-owned cooperative, Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc., with corporate headquarters in Peach Glen, PA, features well-known Musselman’s and Lucky Leaf brands of apple sauce, apple juice, and pie fillings. Additionally, the company produces over 200 private labeled and food service products and ingredients. The cooperative, with approximately 1,400 employees, operates six production facilities; five in south-central PA and one in Paw Paw, MI.

Knouse Foods relies on the environment for its livelihood, so it makes sense to minimize environmental impact by applying sustainable practices throughout their operations.

Knouse Foods strives to meet or exceed existing environmental regulations. They are also continually refining plans to reduce packaging, ingredient, and product waste and therefore prevent and reduce pollution at its source. Knouse Foods employees are working to address water, air, solid waste and hazardous material environmental concerns throughout operations. Here are some of the many things they are doing to reduce environmental impact:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Knouse uses every part of every apple, with peels and cores left over from applesauce and slice production going to cider mills for juice pressing. Apple pomace — the pressed apple material from juice production — predominantly ends up as cattle feed; 6 million pounds per year.

They send leaves and fruit residual floor waste back to nature where the materials are returned to the soil in normal farming operations with cooperating farmers rotating field crops such as soybeans and corn, thus saving valuable regional landfill space.

Recycling programs are operated at all Knouse Foods facilities. In Paw Paw, this includes a wide range of glass, plastic, metal and paper products. They also recycle fluorescent light tubes, fluorescent ballasts, fluorescent U-lamps, mercury devices, batteries and computer components at all processing plants. The list goes on. The

weight of recyclables recycled in 2010 exceeded 3,000 tons. Knouse Foods earned the Pennsylvania Governor’s Waste Minimization Award in 1990. Being sustainable at Knouse Foods Cooperative didn’t start yesterday. Annually, Knouse has reduced their potential solid waste or trash stream by 80% to 90% of what it would be without significant commitment to the program.

Water conservation is emphasized at all facilities. In 2008 they were awarded the Gettysburg Adams County (PA) Chamber of Commerce Environmental Stewardship Award and a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for conserving 60,000 gallons of water per day by modifying cherry processing procedures. Employees closely meter water at every site helping to ensure conservation at Knouse Foods means wise use. Employee creativity involved with rethinking ‘decades old’ practices in 2011 further reduced potable water use in cherry season by an additional 30,000 gallons per day.

They capture the wastewater from four Adams County, Pennsylvania fruit processing operations and employees irrigate it upon permitted sites in the same watersheds they operate in. Based on a five-year average, Knouse Foods returns 160 million gallons per year to the regional hydrologic cycle in this manner.

They own, and then use or lease 250,000 repairable wooden apple bins and 32,000 recyclable plastic apple bins. These bins are routinely repaired to support reuse and minimize waste.

The company is constantly examining and redesigning packaging to reduce waste, and in some cases has eliminated wasteful packaging lines completely. They are using more recycled content in their plastic containers than ever before. They have reduced the amount of corrugated cardboard in shipping cartons.

KF-PG-ENV-Comm-Solar-Proj-Oct-2011-medium

Workers at Knouse Foods are making big strides to go green

Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency 

Energy conservation with lighting retrofits by employees and contractors and ‘Green’ Energy projects are pursued at Knouse Foods. A 19-acre solar power project with over 14,000 panels was activated in Pennsylvania in 2011. Ten of the 19 acres involved are upon the Cooperative’s closed food processing landfill. The solar project will reduce energy purchased by 30 to 40% for the Peach Glen Plant and Cooperative headquarters.

The Lucky Leaf and Musselman trucking fleets use soybean-based bio-diesel fuel, and have incorporated a ‘NO ENGINE IDLING’ program for air quality benefits, as they operate Fleet tractors purchased with California certified clean burn engines.

“Environmental Awareness Committees”, (which includes UFCW 951 members at the Paw Paw facility), assemble to discuss all sorts of other environmental and sustainability related concerns. Each factory will complete at least one lighting improvement project a year, which reduces energy and saves costs. Pipe insulation

projects completed by the plants also contribute to energy conservation success. Employees are installing high efficiency motors in many motor replacement projects.

Knouse Foods has completed a Carbon Footprint baseline survey for the Cooperative.

This 3 year comparison of energy use and related air emissions with cases produced, water used, and other factors will be a tool that can be used in further self-examination for sustainability and cooperative improvements.

The Bottom Line 

This kind of commitment pays off. Efforts don’t go unrecognized. Additional Awards and Recognitions the Cooperative has garnered include:

  • WV DEP Environmental Stewardship Award (Most Improved Facility for factory size category)
  • PA House of Representatives Citation (Companywide water conservation Program)
  • PA DEP Commercial Recycling Award Category (Unique Ideas)
  • PA Fish Commission Award for Conewago Creek Restoration Work
  • PA Fish Commission’s Take Pride in PA Certificate of Merit (Orrtanna Fish Nursery)

Knouse Foods’ employees are an integral part of sustainability efforts and the success of the Cooperative. UFCW 951 members have good reason to be proud of their company’s legacy of reliance and respect for the environment.