Up on the third floor of the century-old Quaker Oats plant, Stephen Loch points out a set of doors next to a panel of high-tech measuring devices.

This is the brain of Quaker’s waste measurement and control system. Steel “containment vessels” brought from production lines two floors below hold waste material from a run of Quaker Oats, granola bars or whatever was being produced.

Each container has an RFID tag, a radio-frequency identification device similar to those inserted under the skin of cats and dogs.

When the doors open the container is pushed into a set of arms, picked up and weighed. The measuring device records the weight and reads a radio signal from the tag that identifies what production line the container came from and the product it was running.

“Then we would enter it in our tracking system,” explains Loch, the plant manufacturing manager. “So then we understand where our waste losses are coming from.” RFID tracking helps cut production costs. It also helps make the plant more sustainable, says manufacturing director Terry Labrash, a Peterborough native whose parents still live in the south end of the city.

“We strive to be what we call a zero landfill site,” Labrash says. “Less than one per cent of our total waste goes to landfill. Part of that is our strategic partnerships that we have with our food waste byproduct stream.”

Food waste includes oat hulls and “fines,” powdered material that Loch defines as “basically different grades of flour.”

Eight years ago Quaker invested in a new building attached to the 12 large grain silos at the back of the plant. Trucks from Quaker’s waste management partner, SPB Solutions Inc., drive in and are loaded with hulls, fines and “wet” waste from the chewy granola bar and Instant Quaker Oats lines.

SPB Solutions, a national company with a local location in the Pido Rd. industrial park, processes the material for use in animal feed.

During an interview in his office Labrash sketched an overview of the company’s current modernization plan for its oat milling process, which he describes as a “substantial investment.” Milling oats is still the heart of the operation. Oat grains are hulled and the seeds (the hull is a husk; the seed is a groat) are cleaned, sorted, separated, graded and processed with heat and steam.

“We are going to take 68 pieces of equipment and replace them with nine pieces of equipment,” Labrash explains. “And there will be a significant reduction in our energy consumption.”

The plant has cut annual energy use by five per cent (1.7 million kw/hours) and water use by eight per cent (nearly 10,000 cubic metres) over the past five years. Modernizing milling operations will significantly improve those numbers, he says.

It is easier to grasp how 69 machines can be reduced to eight as Loch takes us through the plant. On one milling floor, wood frame “aspirators” continually shake the grain while blowing in air to help sort it. Each is about four feet high and four feet wide.

On another floor a new stainless steel Buhler aspirator is waiting to be assembled. About two-thirds the size of one of the old wooden machines, it will replace six of them.

Some of the old, single-function milling machines date back 80 years. The modern replacements are multi-taskers. Loch mentions that one of the new energy-efficient processors will replace 18 old pieces of equipment.

Another step toward conservation is the application of ideas from a “resource conservation summit” that brought experts from within the company – Quaker is owned by beverage and food giant PepsiCo – and outside consultants to Peterborough last year.

“We just blitzed all of our processes in the entire facility looking for areas of opportunity on conservation,” Labrash says, “and identified some 160 action items that we are now prioritizing for execution.”

As that happens Quaker will further reduce the amount of water and energy it uses, and the waste it produces, while continuing to help feed the nation.

This is one of a series of articles commissioned and paid for by Sustainable Peterborough and published in partnership with The Peterborough Examiner. By Jim Hendry, Peterborough Examiner, original article published Saturday, July 2, 2016.