Why Frito-Lay Built The Cleanest Manufacturing Facility In The U.S.

Their new Arizona plant is a test case for every conceivable kind of sustainable upgrade to manufacturing. As they find out what works, they can move it to other factories, to keep pumping out delicious snacks.


Frito-Lay is best known for making tasty chips, but the company has long worked on making its manufacturing plants more energy, waste, and water-efficient. Last year, we named Frito-Lay as one of our Most Innovative Companies for its plan to move all 32 of its plants to zero-waste status. Now the snack giant has completed what is perhaps an even more ambitious project: a 75% net-zero energy plant that the company is calling the “greenest manufacturing facility in the U.S.”

The just-completed Arizona plant will produce Lays, Tostitos, SunChips, Cheetos, and more–and feature a water-recovery system that allows the plant to recycle 75% of its water, a biomass boiler powered by wood waste from local municipalities, and a 5 MW solar photovoltaic system. The plant also has a solar shade parking structure, high-efficiency tractors and trailers, and a solar Stirling engine. Suffice it to say, they’ve put a lot of tech in there.

The renewable energy and efficiency technologies are currently being used piecemeal at other Frito-Lay plants, but this is the first time the company has put them all together into what is essentially a research and development learning lab. Frito-Lay doesn’t have concrete plans to replicate all of the Arizona plant technologies in future facilities, but Al Halverson, Senior Director of Sustainability at Frito-Lay, explains that “we need to be able to have this technology ready to go for when local and current conditions dictate it.”

For example, if Frito-Lay suddenly found one of its plants in a drought-stricken area, installing a water-recovery system might be a better move than packing up and leaving. Think of the Arizona plant’s technologies as insurance against natural resource and environmental disturbances. And if we’re lucky, maybe others in the snack food industry will take a hint. Now, if they’d just bring back that biodegradeable SunChips bag, loudness be damned.


[Images: Top, Flickr user jugglerpm; Rest, Frito-Lay]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.