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Grocery Stores Turn to Compost

Supermarkets generate a lot of waste, but that doesn’t mean it all has to end up in the landfill. More and more retailers are partnering with food banks, composting facilities and manufacturers to divert and repurpose all that would-be garbage.

As my colleague Matt Enis reported in last week’s Supermarket News, two Albertsons stores in Santa Barbara, California, currently recycle, compost or reuse more than 95% of the waste they generate. That’s impressive, especially considering what they went through to get there. According to Rick Crandall, director of environmental stewardship for Supervalu’s Southern California division, which owns and operates the stores, team members emptied the stores’ dumpsters several dozen times and categorized everything they found.

“If you don’t know what’s in there, how are you going to get rid of it?” said Crandall.

Brave man. By doing this, Crandall and others were able to separate waste into 35 different categories. Compostable items are sent along to a local facility. Perishable foods get divided amongst 100 nearby food banks. Even hard-to-repurpose items like waxed-cardboard boxes have found a home — in this case, with a company that makes starter logs.

There are all sorts of creative possibilities here. McCaffrey’s Market in Pennsylvania works with a local composting facility to turn its perishable waste into bags of fertilizer that it sells in stores. When I visited Market of Choice in Eugene, Oregon, they were working on a color-coded system of disposal bins that would separate waste and minimize what got hauled off to the landfill. Now, they’re blogging about the thousands of tons of materials they’ve diverted.

Ultimately, composting and repurposing is a way for so many supermarkets to live up to the claims about caring for the community they’re constantly making. That’s partly what motivated Stater Brothers Markets in California to change their operations. Last year, Stater diverted more than 39 million pounds of waste.

And according to CEO Jack Brown, the venture is cost-neutral, which means doing the right thing doesn’t have to sting the bottom line.