Supermarkets and Distribution Centers Gear Up to Divert Organic Waste

Commercial waste generators face barriers like limited storage space for organics awaiting recycling and little infrastructure to move food fast and see that it is put to beneficial uses.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

April 25, 2017

3 Min Read
Supermarkets and Distribution Centers Gear Up to Divert Organic Waste

Large commercial generators of wasted food are facing some of the tallest tasks to move forward. These two businesses are partnering with waste companies and food donation organizations and looking for economically and environmentally sound food waste prevention and reduction strategies.

Commercial waste generators face barriers like limited storage space for organics awaiting recycling and little infrastructure to move food fast and see that it is put to beneficial uses.

Meanwhile, large supermarkets will likely have an easier time than the smaller businesses. They will have lower costs to comply with the program. They can leverage their distribution centers and freight to backhaul organics to a central depot and then realize lower pickup and tip fees, says Steve Sutta CEO of environmental consulting company Green Planet 21.

Sutta will speak at a WasteExpo session called: Food Waste Reduction, Recovery, and Organics Recycling for Supermarkets, and Distribution Centers Tuesday May 9 at 5:00 PM in New Orleans.

“Single stores and small market chains will struggle with higher costs and spottier service [for collections and processing],” Sutta says. “There will be squawking from them. But they will have limited options.” He adds that they lack the economic power to get lawmakers to hear them out and to affect a call to action.

Meanwhile, grocery chains, including Safeway, Raley's and SaveMart, have service agreements with haulers or have backhaul systems in place at distribution centers.

“Ralph's (a Kroger subsidiary) has their own biodigester in place in Compton, California,” Sutta says.

Distribution centers face both challenges and advantages in preventing or reducing food waste, says Ryan Cooper, organics recycling manager for Rubicon Global, who works with distribution centers to divert from landfill and increase recycling. Cooper will also speak at WasteExpo.

Among this sector’s biggest challenges is packaging. For example, wasted food inside plastic bags, which are inside cardboard boxes that are shrink wrapped, must be de-packaged before being transported to processing sites.

Distribution centers must also obtain certificates of destruction across many waste streams when products are damaged, discontinued or rejected.

“We have some customers that choose to pay a premium to achieve higher diversion rates,” Cooper says. “But we also have many customers that save a tremendous amount of money by sending materials to anaerobic digestion and composting, and others who turn cost centers into profit centers by earning rebates.”

He anticipates advancements to minimize and prevent food waste over time.

“The improvement of packaging practices will help move the needle to reduce food waste,” Cooper adds. “Increasingly effective food donation networks and platforms will reduce food waste and benefit society. The most important development for recycling … at distribution centers is increased infrastructure in the form of animal feed operations, anaerobic digestion and composting facilities, and specifically de-packaging.”

 Cleanaway is an Australian waste and recycling company servicing large retailers in that region. The company’s national sustainability solutions specialist, Emanouel (Manny) Manatakis, says understanding economics of food waste is a motivator for change, and presents opportunity for recyclers.

“No supermarket wants to landfill their profits,” Manatakis says. “If you are a recycler, understanding the economics of supermarket food waste can help you deliver shareholder value to your supermarket customers and grow their profits.”

Waste characterization studies have helped identify source reduction opportunities and secure competitive advantage.

Emerging trends within the supermarket sector are driving food waste reduction. For instance, some are focusing their efforts on organic recycling, cattle feed and food donation. Other supermarkets are partnering with their waste providers and investing in education and waste characterisation studies. And still others are partnering with charities and food waste donation organizations.

But there are barriers to overcome, says Manatakis. For example, high staff turnover can make it difficult to instil a culture. Another challenge, he says, is a need to change the mindset that food waste is normal and just part of doing business.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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