SAVANNA, Ill. — Elkay Manufacturing in Savanna, IL, has officially produced one million water bottle refilling stations.
The refilling fountains are what you might find in schools, airports, businesses, conference centers and more, across the country. Elkay first started producing the stations a decade ago, as a way to keep plastic water bottles out of circulation and to promote clean, healthy drinking water.
"A million of our units out in the field... if you do the math, it's about 40 billion plastic water bottles less in landfills, in the river, you name it! So that's a pretty big number," said Joe Lentini, Senior Director of Manufacturing at the company's Savanna, Illinois, plant. That's enough plastic bottles to circle the earth over 135 times.
While the company is based in the Chicagoland, the manufacturing plants for the refilling stations are in Savanna and Lanark, Illinois. But their stations go all over the country.
"Our motto is we want to bring water to life, so water can give life to families wherever they need it," explained Lentini. "That's our purpose and that's our why."
He says during the last three or four years, the fountain's demand has absolutely exploded, and the pandemic didn't slow things down at all. The touchless stations became so popular, overtime shot through the roof, and the company reached one million fountains by June, 2021.
When Elkay first began manufacturing the product, they were making 1,000 a year. Now, they make that many in one day.
"Hitting one million was a pretty awesome feeling because you work hard all day," said Lentini. "The teammates come to work and their fortitude and dedication is exemplary. And to see their faces looking at that millionth bottle filter... that, to me, was pretty satisfying."
"It's crazy to see how far even the design has come," said Amanda Yoder, an assembly floor worker at Elkay. "They brought the very first one out and you see it compared to the second one and you're like, whoa, we really have come a long way. So it was pretty cool."
When we caught up with Yoder, she was working on making the shells that go on the outside of the stations. She says when the one millionth one came off the line there were cameras and clapping noise makers all over the production floor.
"One of the jobs I do is run a test machine and the clappers sounded like my test machine was going off! I was like 'what is going on,'" she laughed. "But it was a good time. Everybody was really excited."
Yoder has worked at Elkay for three years and was born and raised in Savanna. She says every time she goes on vacation or travels, she'll see her own water bottles out and about.
"I find myself taking pictures, you know, just being silly with it. It's really something to be super proud of and I feel like the majority of us are just really grateful to be able to be like hey... I made that. Doesn't that look awesome? I made that!"
She will admit that all of the increased demand has meant the floor moves pretty fast and furious.
"We are flying by the seat of our pants - we really are. And you know it's comforting to see that everybody's working towards the same goal: to get as much of it out and to the world as we possibly can. It's really something that we definitely are very proud of," she said. "Tiny little Savanna... huge difference, huge. Worldly difference."
If you're interested in joining Elkay's team, they're currently hiring for both their Savanna and Lanark plants.