Most know the initials P.C. as an abbreviation for the term “Politically Correct.” At WhiteWave, we reference those letters a lot, but they hold different meaning. Here, PC is short for “Portion Control,” specifically referring to the coffee creamers you see on tables at diners and convenience stores. Our International Delight and Land O’ Lakes brands kick out a bunch of these little cups a year. We’re the largest producer of PCs in North America, and it’s a significant part of our business. But until recently the PCs weren’t very, well, politically correct. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, let me first explain a little more about the cups and how they’re made.
Picture a long, thin sheet of plastic being fed into a giant machine that punches out, while simultaneously filling, little cups; not unlike cutting cookies out of a sheet of dough. It’s an impressive ordeal, but there’s a lot of left over material. And unlike cookie dough, you can’t just roll up the excess and make more cookies. There was no issue with the cups otherwise, they didn’t leak, they traveled well and kept the product from spoiling. But we were wasting tons of material (literally), and when your mission is to become the Earth’s favorite food company, being responsible for that material ending up in landfills is an issue that needs to be addressed.
So two years ago a cross-functional team started looking for ways to fix the problem. Yeah, two years ago. It wasn’t a quick fix item, because a simple solution didn’t exist. It was a custom job so to speak, and it was hard. That thin sheet of plastic was actually made up of seven layers, and it was one of those layers that was keeping the package from being reusable. Simple solution right? Just remove the layer. That’s where it got really tricky… that layer was also one of the major factors that allowed us to keep the product inside fresh for a long period of time. So the team actually had to solve two problems at once. Remove the non-reusable layer, without compromising the packaging’s ability to keep the product from going sour too soon.
The Research and Development (R&D) team was first able to find an alternative material to use, but determining how much of that alternative material to use presented another hurdle. It required a lot of real-time trial to figure out which new design would allow them to maintain line efficiencies on the existing equipment. Going back to the cookie analogy, this meant they had to experiment with a bunch of different recipes until the cookie came out just right, so to speak. The end result was a much lighter material, with a much better carbon footprint.
Here’s what the new Portion Control package helps us do:
- Eliminate more than one million pounds of material from ending up in landfills every year
- Because the new material is lighter, it means we can ship more rolls of material per pallet = more rolls per truck = less truckloads per shipment = fewer food miles for WhiteWave
- Later this year we’ll start reclaiming and reusing the left over scrap produced during the cookie cutting process – lightening the PCs footprint even more.