SUNBURY, Pa. — Weis Markets here is expanding its composting and food donation programs in line with a year-old Environmental Protection Agency initiative aimed at reducing food waste sent by the industry to landfills.
The voluntary EPA initiative, called the Food Recovery Challenge, has attracted 126 organizations, including 13 companies that operate food, drug or convenience stores, but is seeking more participation from the food retailing industry. Besides Weis, current retail participants include Supervalu, Wegmans Food Markets, Big Y Foods, Hannaford Bros., Wakefern Food Corp. and Whole Foods Market (Northeast and South regions).
The EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge parallels the year-old Food Waste Reduction Alliance, established by Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association to increase food donations and reduce waste sent to landfills.
The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to track current levels of food waste, set specific reduction goals and pursue those goals with the help of free EPA data tracking tools and other EPA technical assistance, said Jean Schwab, senior program analyst for the EPA and head of the Food Recovery Initiative. Companies can join the free program at epa.gov/foodrecoverychallenge.
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“We like EPA programs because they give us guidance and a standard of measurement so it’s easy to document our efforts,” said Patti Olenick, sustainability manager for Weis and vice chair of FMI’s Sustainability Executive Committee. “The Food Recovery Challenge is another tool in our toolbox.”
Weis plans to use EPA tools — including a data management and reporting system called ReTRAC — to help it measure the amount of unsold food being donated and otherwise diverted from landfills.
“Ideally we would like to have zero waste going to the landfill, but realistically we need to determine the economics of the diversion methods and make the business case for those methods, i.e., composting and [anaerobic] digestion,” said Olenick.
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Last week, Weis, which operates 163 stores, signed a contract with American Biosoils & Compost, Skippack, Pa., to expand a composting program to 50 stores next year, following a year-long pilot at eight stores. In addition, starting in early 2013 the chain intends to sell at retail the compost it generates in what Olenick described as a “closed loop” process. The composting effort, encompassing waste from produce, bakery, floral and other departments, is expected to either save Weis money or be cost neutral (not including retail sales of compost), she added.
Weis currently donates baked goods to hunger organizations, but plans to increase the number of donated categories, beginning with meat. Other categories being evaluated include dairy and produce.
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