As consumer awareness of global warming heats up, supermarkets are doing their part to make sure they don't contribute to the problem.
Some retailers are joining the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership, an initiative being headed up by the Environmental Protection Agency. The official launch of the program is this month, though officials announced the plan about a year ago at the Food Marketing Institute's annual energy conference.
Made up of supermarket chains, refrigeration equipment manufacturers and chemical makers, GreenChill is designed to help supermarkets phase out current refrigerants that contain hydrochlorofluorocarbons and implement alternative refrigeration methods. HCFCs have long been pointed to as a significant contributor to atmospheric ozone depletion.
So far, Food Lion, Giant Eagle, Publix Super Markets, Hannaford Bros. and Whole Foods Market have signed on to the GreenChill partnership, and the EPA expects more supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers to sign up.
The current generation of refrigerated cases and walk-in coolers found in today's supermarkets rely on “Direct Expansion” refrigeration technology, which uses R-22 refrigerant. This coolant damages the earth's ozone layer, and the EPA plans to phase it out starting in 2010.
Because of all the piping and valve systems in the refrigeration systems, grocery store systems leak about 15% to 20% of their R-22 in a year, said Julius Banks, team leader of the EPA's Refrigerant Recycling Program.
“Food Lion started phasing out R-22 in 2005,” said Gina Rye, the retailer's energy manager.
The chain is testing two alternative refrigeration technologies. One store in Dinwiddie, Va., is trying out a Hill Phoenix medium-temperature secondary coolant system that uses water and glycol. Another store in Montpelier, Va., is testing a system that uses low temperatures and naturally occurring carbon dioxide.
Better refrigeration may also lead to extended shelf life and improved product quality, according to Banks.
“Our partners that have implemented some of these technologies say they have the potential to improve the quality of food and the shelf life,” he said.
The specific role the EPA plays will vary according to the type of partner. Overall, the agency states it will assist with transitions to non-ODS refrigerants and new technologies by promoting research on alternatives; facilitate information-sharing among partners to develop best practices; implement steps that ensure confidentiality of all partner information; and promote a company's participation to the general public.
The EPA's Banks said that potential, annual industrywide reductions of carbon dioxide could top 4 million tons, equal to removing 800,000 cars from the road.