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Recycling catches on as a way to reduce solid waste costs.
“We put so much valuable resources into growing food that it should never go into landfill.”
— Michael Hewett, senior director of sustainability and environment, Publix Super Markets
'Enormous Amount of Greenhouse Gases'
According to research conducted for the groups by Business for Social Responsibility, 121.6 billion pounds of post-harvest food waste is generated annually in the U.S. — between 20% and 40% of all food grown and processed. Of that, about one-third, or 42 billion pounds, is diverted to useful purposes. That means that more than 79 billion pounds ends up in landfill, creating “an enormous amount of greenhouse gases” in the form of methane, pointed out Jeanne von Zastrow, FMI’s senior director of sustainability and industry relations.
The BSR study also broke out how post-harvest food waste is distributed. The largest share, 44%, comes from consumers. Supermarkets account for 11%; restaurants, 33%; institutions, 10%; and industrial, 2%.
Retailers of all sizes are getting involved. Rudy Dory, owner of one-store Newport Avenue Market, and a member of the FMI board, estimates that he sends about one ton of food waste per week to composting, plus hundreds of pounds per week in donations. He has reduced his monthly landfill contribution (including inorganic materials) from 251 yards to 104 yards, a drop of nearly 60% — which saved him about $1,000 in the first quarter of 2012, he said. In February, his store was recognized with the first Leadership in Composting Award from the Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association.
The potential for profit isn’t the primary motivator behind these waste reduction measures, but it certainly helps. At PCC, the Harvester costs range from $40,000 to $55,000 per store and monthly servicing can range from $350 to $800, compared to about $1,000 per month in hauling fees. ROI is estimated at about seven years, but that could be much less as fuel costs soar, according to officials. Initial capital costs are also offset by the profit from selling the organic fertilizer.
At this juncture, the industry’s three-year food waste plan is focused on what it alone can do about preventing and diverting food waste. But everyone involved has realized that recruiting consumer support will be integral to winning the battle against waste.
“Initially we need to be focused on our own four walls,” said Hewett. “But long-term, to tackle this issue, we have to deal with the large amount of food waste generated at the consumer level.”