Ruffling Some Feathers

Establishing a comprehensive recycling program at Fieldale Farms Poultry Producers.

Founded in 1972, Fieldale Farms is a family-owned and -operated poultry-processor based in Baldwin, Ga. One of the world’s largest independent poultry producers, the firm produces fresh and frozen chicken products for sale in the United States and abroad. When Fieldale Farms decided to expand its recycling efforts, the aggressive program it put in place succeeded beyond anyone’s initial predictions.

Newly named sustainability director Shane Williams, who pushed for the recycling program and oversaw its implementation, says that prior to the project only a handful of Fieldale’s processing plants had participated in some sort of recycling. In summer 2010, the firm’s management sat down with an eye toward taking things a big step further.

“We wanted to take a close look at how we were handling our waste and recognize the fact that we need to be more environmentally friendly at all of our facilities, from office paper and corrugated cardboard to polystyrene and aluminum,” Williams says.

The 4,500-employee company is a vertically integrated operation, handling everything from chicken hatching to post-processing of chicken meat into breaded specialty products, although it contracts with outside farms for growing its chickens. Consequently, there are a number of levels of production waste to be considered.

“We ship a lot of our fresh product in corrugated cardboard,” says Williams. “Our Cornelia plant alone averages 10 tons of corrugated cardboard monthly ... and that is just for our three processing plants. Then, we have two corporate offices, plus our hatcheries and LPOs [live production offices, which manage the hatcheries].”

Hatching a Plan

When Fieldale began working with a consulting group to identify opportunities for financial improvements, it realized how much money it was spending to dispose of waste that could potentially provide income instead. Suddenly, the desire for “greener” initiatives took on an entirely new dimension. Dovetailing nicely with these realizations was Fieldale’s attempts at developing sustainability reports based on guidelines from the Global Reporting Initiative.

Atlanta-based Southern Waste & Recycling was introduced to Fieldale in early fall 2010. Once Southern Waste conducted an in-depth analysis of all facilities to determine the most logistically appropriate and cost effective service program, a solution was proposed to Fieldale for a true turnkey, comprehensive recycling program.

The Program Takes Flight

Fieldale implemented the recommended recycling program at its two corporate offices and three processing plants (hatcheries and LPOs are in a later phase). Deskside receptacles and larger 95 gallon totes were strategically placed in all administrative environments to capture mixed office paper.

“We had never recycled office paper before,” says Williams. “In the first quarter working with Southern Waste we saw a huge amount of office paper being recycled. We also have separate polystyrene and aluminum collection bins in each break area.”

Fieldale’s recycling volume is significant enough that each plant facility hosts full-sized ... trailers that are loaded with separated corrugated cardboard and plastics and picked up weekly.

Southern Waste and Fieldale decided that the historical baler system used at two of the plants was the most cost-effective and logistically rewarding method in which to process materials. Once materials are baled they are loaded onto tractor trailers which Southern Waste has provided at each of the three processing facilities. This offers a process that integrates with Fieldale’s current production system. To extend the program beyond the original group of five facilities, one of the hatcheries joined in the effort. Southern Waste was able to find a market for 7.42 tons of plastic egg crates that were unusable by Fieldale.

“Everything that is loaded on a palette at the plant is taken to the trailers via forklift driver,” says Williams. This creates a process that integrates with Fieldale’s current production system and is fully self-serviced.

Big Benefits

Williams says the program has been an unqualified success. “There was a reduction of approximately $10,000 in landfill costs in the first three months,” he says. “We recycled close to 100 tons in that period of time. We just wanted to see what the first three months looked like, but it was a surprise that it looked so good.” Even a hatchery joined in the effort (unofficially), recycling 7.42 tons of plastic egg crates that were unusable by Fieldale.

After the first report arrived, Williams sent out a memo to company employees, thanking them for their effort and stating, “The numbers are outstanding. In three months, your efforts saved approximately 1,663 trees, 37,172 gallons of oil, 293 cubic yards of landfill space, 391,280 kilowatts of energy and 684,740 gallons of water.”

“On an industry-wide basis, we need to do what we can for the environment. This shows that the collective effort of a huge corporation with a recycling program can make a vast difference,” says Williams. “We can improve on it every day and make it better with the plan we’ve put in place. At the same time, we’re educating people to be more environmentally friendly. When they are at home, it’s on their minds more than it used to be.”

Phil Kitchens is president of Southern Waste & Recycling, a turnkey solution provider and management firm specializing in waste and recycling services.

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