Snickers and Waco’s Starburst Plant Significantly Reduce Water and Energy Use with New System | Local business news
The Mars Wrigley factory in Waco produces colorful products such as Starburst, Skittles and Snickers, but green has become a favorite there. Its latest nod to conserving and treating the Earth and its resources is a $15 million on-site water treatment plant designed to reduce the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions. while reducing water consumption and generating energy.
Just steps from the factory’s main entrance, across the well-maintained campus, a massive cooling tower is flanked by a building where anaerobic wastewater treatment now occurs.
Mars Wrigley has swapped the aerobic water treatment system in place since 1976, when the plant opened, for a more efficient and less odorous system. Engineering manager Grant Vowels, pointing to nearby school buildings, said the distinction was significant given Midway High School’s proximity to the Mars Drive plant and Central Texas Parkway.
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Site manager Chris Sgobbo said the new system will reduce water use by 37 million gallons per year and energy use by 62%. He estimated that the anaerobic system will produce biogas that meets about 15% of the plant’s energy needs.
Vowels said Mars Wrigley has had a mutually beneficial relationship with the city of Waco for years, and he expects that to continue. He said the plant pre-treats the wastewater it discharges into the city’s treatment system and agreed years ago to fuel the boilers using methane from the Waco landfill. The collaboration met with mixed results, as methane impurities “fouled” the boilers over time, and Mars Wrigley had to make repairs and stop using the gas. Now the company is interested in using methane from the landfill again, but would use a scrubber if that effort progresses.
By next year, the Mars Wrigley plant in Waco will produce 200,000 tons of food, more than any other Mars facility in North America, Sgobbo said. A plant in the Netherlands is Mars’ largest system-wide food producer, he said.
Mars in Waco produces 80% of the Snickers and Skittles products consumed in North America, and all Starburst on the continent. He now roasts peanuts in Waco, the big one shipped from Georgia, and the process requires a heavy dose of water, a fact that makes preservation even more of a priority, Sgobbo said. He said demand for Mars confectionery products, even during the pandemic, remained strong. Mars Wrigley recruits locally. It employs 775 people in Waco, but temps and contractors constantly on site push the total number of jobs to 1,000 to 1,200 at any one time, Sgobbo said.
“A new class is coming this week,” he said, referring to new recruits learning the ropes before joining the team.
Mars offers an apprenticeship program targeting people in the skilled trades. Sgobbo said experience in supply chain operations, maintenance and lean manufacturing gives candidates an edge.
“I like quality-minded people,” he said. “I meet every new associate. Everyone, regardless of job title, is a QA staff member.”
He said Mars Wrigley had his own way of doing things. The Waco plant has a cafeteria and would prefer that employees not go out for lunch. It is a 24/7 operation, and sometimes operates in three shifts, but not always. Public access to the inner workings of the factory, where the sweets are made and packaged, is restricted. And, yes, the Mars family that founded the company remains heavily involved, Sgobbo said. Family members have been known to visit sites.
Sgobbo said Mars Wrigley has a good working relationship with Texas State Technical College. He welcomes the news that TSTC, Waco and McLennan County have announced plans to build a multi-million dollar industrial training facility in the Waco Industrial Park that TSTC will own and operate. Officials said they were counting on private companies to get involved, possibly donating tools and machinery or meeting their costs.
The starting salary at Mars Wrigley varies by experience, expertise and position, but $18 to $19 an hour is in the ballpark, Sgobbo said.
Conservation efforts at Mars Wrigley in Waco are part of a company-wide goal to halve water use by 2025, Sgobbo said.