With this week bringing Earth Day, supermarket chains are spotlighting a range of sustainability and environmental initiatives, from recycling and food waste reduction to climate change and conservation.
Leading into the annual celebration of eco-consciousness, held April 22, Texas grocer H-E-B announced that it has joined the How2Recycle program to bolster recycling efforts across the state. The program brings easy-to-read product labels to store shelves to signify to customers if an item’s packaging can be recycled, which parts are recyclable and how to prepare the material for recycling.
Promoting more recycling
H-E-B said How2Recycle will enable it to better track and measure its recyclable packaging, promote shopper recycling efforts, and improve availability and quality of recyclable materials. How2Recycle labels are already on hundreds of store-brand products, including items under the H-E-B, Hill Country Fare, H-E-B Select Ingredients, H-E-B Organics and Central Market labels. Plans call for the labels to be on more than 1,500 H-E-B branded items by the year’s end, in addition to the national-brand products bearing the How2Recycle labels.
H-E-B plans to have How2Recycle labels on more than 1,500 store-brand items by the end of 2021.
San Antonio-based H-E-B added that it will share recycling tips via social media and in-store signage, as well as upgrade plastic recycling bins in stores to make the receptacles more visible and easier to read, encouraging customers to bring in plastics that cannot be recycled at home.
“At H-E-B, it’s important we do our part to be good stewards of our environment, and through this effort we’re proud to help our customers increase their recycling efforts at home,” Bonny Akers, director of H-E-B brand products, said in a statement. “We know our customers love the natural beauty of Texas, and together we can work to protect it for generations to come.”
Supermarket giant The Kroger Co. on Thursday said it has expanded its Simple Truth Recycling Program to encompass all of its private label brands, including Private Selection, Kroger, Comforts, Luvsome and Abound, among others. The Cincinnati-based company noted that the enlarged Kroger Our Brands Recycling Program furthers its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social and environmental impact plan.
“The Kroger Our Brands Recycling Program offers customers an easy way to enjoy their favorite foods and support recycling in flexible plastic packaging,” commented Stuart Aitken, chief merchant and marketing officer at Kroger. “Our industry-leading program advances Kroger’s commitment to more sustainable packaging and complements other efforts to help build a stronger recycling infrastructure in the U.S.”
Developed with international recycling leader TerraCycle, the Kroger Our Brands Recycling Program asks customers to mail in flexible-plastic Our Brands packaging, including potato chip and snack bags, shredded cheese bags, frozen food bags, pouches, deli meat and cheese bags, grain and bean bags, and pet food packages.
“Flexible plastic consumer product packaging, including multi-layer films, helps preserve food quality and freshness but is harder to recycle and not accepted in curbside programs,” explained Keith Dailey, Kroger’s group vice president of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer. “Kroger recognizes the negative impact packaging — including plastic waste — can have on the environment. This is why we remain focused on innovative solutions for reusing and recycling packaging materials.”
Reducing carbon emissions
In the area of climate change, Albertsons Cos. announced yesterday that, in line with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), the company will set an emissions reduction target supporting the United Nations’ Paris Agreement to cut down carbon emissions.
Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons said it will evaluate energy use and procurement, refrigerants, transportation and its supply chain to submit an emissions reduction goal to SBTi for approval. The framework requires all emissions reduction goals to support the Paris Agreement’s objective to limit global warming to well below 2°C, above pre-industrial levels.
Efforts under way to measure and reduce emissions at Albertsons span emissions reporting, efficiency projects and renewable energy sourcing. The company said emissions are third-party verified and reported annually to The Climate Registry (TCR) and CDP. TCR awarded Albertsons Cos. Climate Registered Gold status for leadership in reporting verified emissions. And last year, Albertsons Cos. implemented hundreds of energy efficiency projects that are estimated to save more than 2 million metric tons of CO2e annually. The grocer said its Southwest Division was recognized for Sustained Excellence in the Salt River Project’s 2020 Champions of Energy Efficiency awards.
In addition, Albertsons Cos. said it’s one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top 30 retail partners for their Green Power Partnership program. The retailer recently expanded its sourcing of renewable energy to more than 70 locations in Virginia and Arizona.
“We are passionate about making a meaningful difference in our neighborhoods and planet and are committed to continuing to reduce our climate impacts,” stated Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO of Albertsons Cos. “The SBTi framework will guide us in doing our part to minimize our impact within our own operations and beyond. We look forward to working with our supply chain partners to address this important issue.”
Meanwhile, Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market has adopted Honeywell’s Solstice N40 (R-448A) lower global-warming-potential (GWP) refrigerant to reduce refrigerant emissions at stores under the EPA’s GreenChill program. Plans call for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods to retrofit commercial refrigeration systems at more than 100 stores with Solstice N40, replacing high-global-warming-potential refrigerants R-404A and R-22, according to Honeywell.
“In the past decade, we’ve implemented several innovative measures to reduce our CO2 emissions, and the use of Honeywell’s refrigerant to retrofit our stores will contribute significantly to this goal,” reported Mike Ellinger, principal program manager for engineering, compliance and sustainability at Whole Foods. “After reviewing all of our available retrofit options for our refrigerated cases, R-448A was the clear winner, based on its performance, energy efficiency, reduced GWP and ease of conversion.”
Whole Foods, a founding member of the EPA’s GreenChill Partnership, has 12 GreenChill-certified stores. Under the partnership, food retailers help lower greenhouse gas emissions by using alternative solutions and minimizing refrigerants that deplete the atmosphere’s ozone layer.
Distributor C&S Wholesale Grocers is lessening its carbon footprint through more efficient energy use, especially in its core transportation operations. In the latest C&S Sustainability Report, released Thursday, the nation’s biggest grocery wholesaler said it’s improving fleet fuel efficiency via such efforts as piloting trailer reefers on zero-emission technology and tractor fleets on non-fossil fueled power units in key markets.
Keene, N.H.-based C&S said that, over the last four years, it has followed a perpetual replacement cycle, introducing 750 new tractors and 2,250 new trailers with the latest efficiencies, such as cutting-edge transmission technology that regulates speed and enhances fuel consumption, electric standby for refrigerated trailers that reduces emissions, roof-integrated trailer solar panels, and smart refrigeration profiles that bring more efficiency and reduce food waste.
According to C&S, the reefer emissions technology will reduce carbon greenhouse gases by 55%, particulate matter by 58% and hydrocarbons by 45%. The company, too, said it has eliminated 2.4 million gallons of diesel fuel consumption annually.
“One of our core values is to continuously make our communities better. We live this value every day from the core of our business, which is to feed our families and neighbors — to ensure that the communities where we live and work enjoy a healthy environment,” C&S Wholesale Grocers CEO Bob Palmer said in a statement. “We consistently look at ways to support sustainable operations to preserve the environment, eliminate waste and lessen our carbon footprint. We are proud of our efforts to create a better planet and world. We are planning today for a brighter tomorrow, not because we have to but because we want to.”
The food waste challenge
Grocery stores of all stripes are already known for their annual efforts to fight food insecurity through monetary and food donations. But they continue to come up with innovative ways to simultaneously reduce food waste, a pressing national problem.
The EPA estimates that up to 40% of all food in the United States is wasted in going from farm to table, ending up in landfills and generating greenhouse gases. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nation’s per-capita waste has risen 50% since 1974, and the average person discards 250 pounds of food per year.
Helping to try and reverse those trends is Hannaford Supermarkets, which this week announced that each of its 183 stores in Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont donates or diverts all food at risk of going to waste, sending no food at all to landfills.
Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford, part of Ahold Delhaize USA, noted that the achievement — a decade-long effort — makes it the first large-scale grocery chain in its market area to meet that goal. Hannaford’s multi-pronged approach includes preventing food waste through strategic product ordering and management at the store level, responsible handling of food to avoid damage and vigilance in controlling food storage temperatures.
Each Hannaford store also adheres to the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy, which prioritizes the rescue of surplus product for donation to food insecure people, generating millions of meals donations annually, the retailer said. Other elements of the chain’s food waste diversion program include donations to local farmers for animal feed and food-to-energy conversion efforts.
Hannaford said its practices kept 65 million pounds of food waste from reaching landfills in 2020. Also key to the grocer’s zero food waste goal was a partnership with Agri-Cycle, a Scarborough-based food waste recycling firm, to turn food unsuitable for human and animal consumption into energy.
“The health and well-being of our planet are a top priority for all of us at Hannaford, and we recognize that our role in the food supply chain comes with great responsibility,” stated Mike Vail, president of Hannaford. “The impact food waste has on our environment cannot be overstated. When we first established this goal, it was with the greater purpose of making a real and positive impact on our communities. Eliminating hunger and food waste are essential to improving the world we live in.”
Technology also is being leveraged to help drive food waste reduction. Fellow Ahold Delhaize chain Stop & Shop has launched a pilot for the Flashfood mobile app at four of its Worcester-area stores in Massachusetts. The free app gives shoppers access to exclusive deals on products — including meat, produce, seafood, dairy, deli and bakery — that are nearing their best-by date.
Stop & Shop is the first retailer in Massachusetts to offer the program, which is expected to help the Quincy, Mass.-based grocery chain reach its goal of halving its food waste by 2030.
“The Flashfood app is well aligned with Stop & Shop’s health and sustainability ambitions, as it gives our customers access to fresh food at even more affordable prices while helping us in our goal to eliminate food waste,” according to President Gordon Reid. “About $161 billion worth of food is thrown out each year in this country, and as a grocer we must do our part in reducing that number. Flashfood helps us do that, while also helping our local shoppers save.”
Similarly, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeastern Grocers said Thursday it’s deploying Date Check Pro software at all of its Winn-Dixie, Harveys and Fresco y Más supermarkets. The solution is designed to help retailers flag and rotate out expiring products, ensuring fresher items and a better shopping experience for customers. Southeastern Grocers noted that the software allows to “drastically reduce food waste.”
Grocery chains also have been upping the ante in protection of land, water and species. Publix Super Markets, for example, said yesterday it will contribute $2 million to remove invasive trees and plants in 1,000 acres of wetland in the Florida Everglades.
The Lakeland, Fla.-based grocer is funding projects at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the saline glades in Everglades National Park that will restore the health of these habitats and return an estimated 174 million gallons of water per year to the local environment.
“A clean water supply is fundamental to the health and wellness of our communities,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a statement. “Through these collaborations with the National Audubon Society and the National Park Foundation, we are deepening our commitment to water stewardship by protecting, restoring and conserving an area that supplies nearly 8 million Floridians with fresh water every day and provides a critical natural habitat for endangered native species.”
Part of the donation will be provided to the National Audubon Society over five years to help remove invasive willows and other plants from about 500 acres in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the western Everglades, protecting Florida species like the wood stork.
Publix also has pledged a three-year donation to the National Park Foundation to help remove and control Australian pine trees in approximately 500 acres of the saline glades region in the eastern portion of Everglades National Park.
Restoration work at the two sites is slated begin later this year, Publix reported.
The plants Publix is helping to remove disrupt Florida’s natural water process by absorbing water from rainfall before it can seep into the underground aquifers that provide South Florida residents with drinking water. They also displace native species like mangroves, which help convert salt water to fresh water. The Everglades also acts as a natural hurricane barrier and helps reduce the impact of flooding, and the area is home to 39 federally protected and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile and Florida panther.
In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, Wakefern Food Corp.’s ShopRite chain is helping to protect bald eagles and bees while planting more trees in communities served by its stores.
To that end, the Keasbey, N.J.-based grocer is supporting the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey’s (CWF) Bald Eagle Project, which aims to help eagles overcome challenges such as loss of their natural habitat. Over the past two decades, ShopRite has donated $100,000 to the project. The company noted that, in 1982, there was only one active bald eagle nest in the entire state; in 2020, there were 220 active nests.
ShopRite, too, is now in its third year working in partnership with One Tree Planted to help plant 25,000 saplings annually in areas where its stores operate. By the end of 2021, more than 75,000 trees will be planted in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland. The retailer also has teamed up with America’s Grow-a-Row to create a bee and pollinator garden at the organization’s Pittstown, N.J., farm. The effort will raise crop yields for apples and various fruits and vegetables harvested annually at the farm.
Sustainability initiatives at ShopRite span efforts to reduce food waste, step up recycling, safeguard wildlife and support nearly 30 environmental organizations, such as the Delaware Estuary Partnership, Clean Ocean Action and The Audubon Society.
“We believe it is important to take a holistic approach to sustainability that involves working in our stores and our communities,” commented Robert Zuehlke, manager of corporate social responsibility at ShopRite. “ShopRite associates often volunteer to plant trees, clean beaches and encourage recycling efforts. We are proud of everything ShopRite does to help the environment.”