Grocery Store Uses Two Strategies To Avoid Sending Food Waste To Landfills

Nov 24, 2017  | 6 min  | Ep4314

Most chefs recommend figuring one pound of turkey per guest. But estimates don’t always meet expectations and there are usually leftovers. Americans discarded the equivalent of 6 million turkeys last year according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Not all food is being wasted and can even be converted into cash as one Midwest company is discovering.

Peter Tubbs reports our Cover Story.

The Hy-Vee grocery store in Waukee, Iowa makes fresh salsa by the gallon. Separating the seeds and stems from vegetables generates a lot of food waste, which normally has a single destination: the local landfill. 

Hy-Vee, which operates 245 grocery stores in eight Midwestern states, is among several companies seeking alternatives to sending organic waste to landfills. The zero waste goal is a growing trend among businesses, and has opened a market opportunity for the recycling company.
Scott Amendt, GreenRU: “We are a company that takes food waste, that would normally go into the landfill, instead of getting put into a trash dumpster it goes into our orange bins. We pick it up either once or twice a week depending on the account, and it gets taken down to our site in Eddyville, Iowa to be composted.”
As the volume of material available for composting increases, the demand for inexpensive compost also is growing. GreenRU has targeted their product compost for landscaping and residential locations, as well as a soil amendment in agricultural settings. 
According to Hy-Vee officials, composting is favored by customers and employees instead of sending food waste to a local landfill.
A grocery store generates a large amount of waste in nominal terms. Employee participation is a key to diverting appropriate wastes into the compostable stream. 
Pat Hensley, SVP Non-foods, Hy-Vee: “We quickly learned that our employees felt very engaged in the whole sustainability effort. they knew the value of diverting to lower the methane that is coming out of the landfill. They understand the importance of lowering your carbon footprint and to work for an employer that cares about that was important to him is important to him. so we know it's more the right thing to do is to maximize around opportunities landfill diversion.”
The grocery industry estimates that 15 percent of the food that comes into a supermarket will go unsold, which can translate to 30,000 pounds of material into the composting stream each month. Products are routinely pulled from shelves ahead of their “Sell By” dates. Some of the pulled products are distributed to social services groups and non-profits that focus on food-insecurity. 
Pat Hensley, SVP Non-foods, Hy-Vee: “So that’s our first priority, is to get the edible unsellable to consumers who can use it. Once it gets to the point of spoilage, that it’s no longer viable for human consumption, of course, then we put it in the landfill diversion compost and that was 12 million pounds.”
Ninety percent of Hy-Vee stores have a compost stream, which generates 17 million pounds of material each year. Compostable materials are collected in the back of the store in a separate dumpster from the landfill-bound trash. A custom built service truck from GreenRU empties the specialized receptacle several times a week depending on the volume of waste the store generates. Trucks travel with their own water supply for cleaning the empty dumpsters after each load. 
More than two hundred tons of organic waste a week is blended with ground wood products to achieve a specific mix that encourages the decomposition process. At this 18 acre GreenRU facility near Eddyville, Iowa, windrows 700 feet long are slowly turned to aerate the organic material. Some compost recipes can become finished product in as little as 8 weeks, while others require 12-14 weeks to finish.
Food waste is valuable to the chemistry of composting, with its high nitrogen and moisture content. The nitrogen and water speed the decomposition process. As decomposition proceeds, the carbon to nitrogen ratio shifts from 30:1 to the 15:1 range, which is valuable for both agricultural and residential consumers. 
While demand for finished compost is important, Hy-Vee officials are always seeking a competitive rate compared to sending everything to the landfill. 
Cost-neutrality may be a long term advantage produced by GreenRU. The company essentially bids for different types of compostable waste using a sliding fee scale. Some waste streams are more valuable to GreenRU for what the stream brings to the composting process. 
As landfill tipping fees increase over time, the composting option may make more and more economic sense. Slowing the volume of waste destined for landfills means lower garbage costs for homes and businesses, and fewer acres of rural America devoted to the burying of trash.
For Hy-Vee, reducing the waste stream also involves bringing to market what otherwise would be thrown away. Robinson Fresh, one of the largest food distributors in the country, has introduced a line of produce branded ‘Misfits’. 
John Griesenbrock, Hy-Vee's Vice President of Produce/HealthMarkets: “It’s a program where all of the cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables, which are typically discarded into landfills, are rescued, repackaged and brought to retail operations like Hy-Vee, where we sell this misfit produce at a discount. It’s a program that has done very, very well, and it resonates extremely well with the consumers.”

The Misfit line of produce is discounted at least 30 percent compared to the visually perfect fruits and vegetables sold in the rest of the produce department. Hy-Vee sells an average of 250,000 pounds per month of produce that would have otherwise been sent to a Minnesota landfill.
John Griesenbrock, Hy-Vee: “We know that this is important to a lot of the consumers, as so that is why it is important that we continue to build on this, and promote that program so that one and a half million pounds becomes five million pounds next year.”
A five million pound reduction in the produce waste stream by consumers looking for a deal. 
For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs

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