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Adding to its portfolio of sustainability initiatives, The Kroger Co. has launched a new lightweight gallon milk jug that uses less plastic.
Kroger’s Westover Dairy in Lynchburg, Va., has manufactured 6.2 million gallon jugs since September for milk, water, juice and tea products and is distributing them to 92 Kroger stores in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina. Westover is the only Kroger plant in the nation making the jugs.
“The new milk jugs are a significant contribution to Kroger achieving its goal of reducing packaging for products and reducing waste,” said Eric Smarko, Westover Dairy plant manager.
While the new jug is made of the same 100 percent recyclable high-density polyethylene as the old jugs, its unique design allows them to use about 10 percent less plastic while retaining the same performance of the old jugs.
“Utilization of the jug is expected to save more than 5 million pounds of plastic per year when fully implemented across the country, resulting in less mass being dumped into landfills,” Smarko said.
The weight of the jug is 56 grams compared to 62 in the old jug, but customers shouldn’t notice a difference. “We have removed 81,500 pounds of plastic out of the waste stream since the start-up of the new jug,” Smarko said.
Kroger engineers developed several unique enhancements for the jug, designed by MidAmerican Machining, including a bigger handle, fill-level marks and a thumb pad for better handling. “Our consumer research indicated those are desirable features,” Smarko said, adding that comments from customers are virtually unanimous in their approval of the jug, which has a rectangular label designed specifically for Kroger products.
Smarko said Kroger’s investment in modifying equipment in the plant will be netted out by production savings over time. “In the long run, Kroger will be positioned to reduce costs to our customers for these items; of course, milk prices are controlled by the government,” he said.
One of Kroger’s key sustainability priorities is moving its facilities toward zero waste. “We constantly are looking for new ways to improve our business practices,” Smarko said. “Whether it is diverting waste from landfills, reducing our packaging, recycling plastic bags or donating safe, perishable foods to food banks, Kroger is increasing recycling rates and finding cost-effective and responsible alternatives for our waste.”
The jugs are contributing to Kroger meeting its sustainability goals for 2020. They include optimizing 100 percent of corporate brand packaging by reducing waste. “Our packaging engineers continue to develop new ways to reduce packaging for Kroger’s branded products,” Smarko said.
Westover was chosen as the first dairy plant to make these jugs because of the size of the plant and its “high performance” work systems,” Smarko explained. “We are delighted to be chosen for this ground-breaking test; our associates are recognized for their involvement in continuous improvement processes,” he said.
Bought by Kroger in 1979 and one of the grocer’s 38 dairies, bakeries and grocery manufacturing plants across the country, Westover is one of those classified as a “zero waste” plant.
Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic Division, based in Roanoke, Va., operates 121 stores, 118 pharmacies and 93 fuel centers in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.