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Composting And The Grocery Industry


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Solid waste composting is an important
component of an integrated solution for solid waste
management. Composting can divert organic, compostable
materials, not otherwise recycled, from the solid waste
stream and convert them into a useful product. Composting
is environmentally sound, technically and economically
feasible and meets local waste management needs. This
report, from the Grocery Compost Task Force to the Grocery
Industry Committee on Solid Waste (GICSW), is intended to
establish composting as a viable and sustainable component
of an integrated solution for solid waste management. To do
this the industry supports the development of composting
systems for grocery manufacturers and retailers, and the
development of the supporting infrastructure. Composting
can handle from 30 to 60 percent of all municipal solid
waste, including food waste, yard waste and paper and
paperboard waste. The grocery industry is committed to a
high level of product stewardship. This commitment includes
the environmentally sound management of wastes generated at
the retail levl as well as wastes from grocery products
after they have been sold and used by consumers. Much of
this waste is organic in nature and landfilled. From a
product stewardship perspective the grocery industry
believes that composting is a more environmentally sound
management practice than disposal for managing these
wastes. While single stream and segregated stream
composting may be more readily available for many
manufacturers' and retailers' own waste, MSW composting is
an attractive alternative for waste created by consumers.
This report focuses on grocery retailer composting
programs, but will also address goals and programs for
manufacturers. Food waste plus wet and waxed corrugated
from retailers alone accounts for 6.6 million tons per year
of waste that could be composted rather than discarded,
which is nearly 4 percent of all municipal solid waste
(MSW). Disposal of those wastes costs the grocery retailers
$482 million per year, eating up the pre-tax profits from
$34 billion of grocery retail sales. All food waste
produced directly by manufacturers and retailers, as well
as home food waste produced by grocer shoppers, comprises
nearly 20 percent of the entire grocery industry's wastes.
On a store level, over 90 percent of the solid waste is
deemed by this task force to be most representative of a
"typical" store, produce 43 percent of their waste as food
waste. Almost all corrugated is recyclable or compostable.
30 percent of the corrugated produced by a grocery store is
either wet or waxed, precluding its recyclabiliy.
Composting can achieve important benefits for the grocery
industry including:
1. Meeting the demands of grocery customers who are
demanding more environmentally sound and responsible ways
of managing solid waste; 2. Proactively controlling waste
disposal tonnage and expenses; 3. Supporting governmental
initiatives for landfill diversion and material recovery;
4. Encouraging recycling of other materials; and 5. Making
the best use of natural and man-made resources by
converting organic waste into compost instead of
landfilling them. Each grocery industry facility should
evaluate how best to handle its compostable waste. As
detailed in the report, there are several possible
approaches to handle mixed organics from the solid waste
stream. Regardless of the approach, it is important for the
industry to help establish a composting infrastructure.
Market development is a key element of this infrastructure
and the grocery industry supports market development
initiatives. Depending upon the compost program, compost
processors may require or prefer source-separated
homogeneous food wastes to obtain maximum control over
end-product quality. Source-separated materials may have
greater value to the end user because of the densification
and readiness for processing, and therefore may lead to
lowest collection and processing costs for the generator.
For grocery retailers, this report focuses on segregated
stream composting. Because the industry can generate a
source-separated product, free of harmful wastes and
relatively free of inert materials, it can easily be
integrated into whichever composting program is most likely
to be available locally. This report explains the various
ways to handle, collect, transport and process grocery
store wastes for composting. In general, the GICW
* Collection of compostables in dedicated barrels; * Pickup
and transportation of the compostables either by loading
barrels into a truck or by emptying the barrels into a
dedicated dumpster or compactor for collection by a hauler;
* Composting at the best locally available site; and *
Careful training of store employees to maximize
participation and minimize contamination. Several specific
recommendations addressing issues such as economic
analysis, health issues, facility flexibility and
recommended implementation steps are included. This report
also discusses Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) composting. MSW
composting, as described here, refers to the composting of
residential and commercial separated mixed organic waste,
with the recyclables and other noncompostable materials
removed. Separation may occur at curbside or the waste may
not be transported by conventional waste vehicles to a
central site for the site separation of compostable
materials from noncompostable materials. There are 15 MSW
composting facilities currently available in the U. S.
Another 150 are in various stages of planning or
development (a new MSW facility can take 3-4 years to site,
build and become operational). Where they do exist, they
should be considered by grocers for composting. The
availability of an organic fraction from the grocery
industry will be added impetus for development of community
based facilities. The mixed organics method of collecting
compostables should require little or no change in
supermarket operating methods since material separation is
accomplished on the other end by the receiver or end user.
All composting facilities need to use the best technology
available to ensure production of compost that is safe and
marketable. Attention must be given to the separation of
compostable materials from recyclables and noncompostable
waste. Many state and local governments, federal government
through EPA and the Solid Waste Composting Council (SWCC)
are addressing composting. In addition, composting. The
GICSW should work with these entities toward the common
goal of developing composting as a viable solid waste
management tool. In order to develop end markets, the
grocery industry should demonstrate and confirm the
beneficial use of compost and aggressively promote the
marketing of the product, specifically to known end users.
Product standards and end markets for compost are in the
early stages of development. Standards for end-product
quality do not exist on a federal level but are beginning
to be promulgated on a state-by-state basis. Currently
market development is planned or in progress in 11 states.
The GICSW should become involved in market development,
establishing science- based standards, ensuring product
quality, establishing pilot programs and supporting compost
legislation. Specifically, the GICSW can play a role in
opening new outlets for compost in the agricultural
community. The industry should move towards setting and
measuring attainment of goals to support the development of
composting, such as:
* The production of recyclable and/or compostable consumer
packaging. * The recovery, through composting, of an
annually escalating proportion of manufacturer and retailer
wastes. * The recovery, through composting, of an annually
escalating proportion of consumer wastes The grocery
industry should make a serious effort to publicize the
GICSW's environmental philosophy and actions, and to
educate consumers, the general public, the grocery industry
and the solid waste community. In all cases, the GICSW
recommends extreme caution against overstating any facts,
expectations or interpretations. The GICSW recommends that
grocery manufacturers and retailers implement a list of
specific action items as soon as possible in order to
promote grocery industry composting. Composting is an
important emerging solid waste management method that holds
great promise for grocery manufacturers, retailers and
communitites. As the cost of disposal spirals upward, and
the economics of composting improve, composting is becoming
an increasingly cost-effective means of controlling waste
expenses. Composting is also a more environmentally
responsible option than landfilling and grocery customers
are constantly raising their level of expectations in favor
of this kind of environmentally responsible behavior. This
report should facilitate the successful implementation of
new composting programs, and addresses policy issues that
will support composting nationwide.
3.0 ROLE OF THE GROCERY INDUSTRY Significant Portion of the
Waste System As shown in Exhibit A, RIS estimates that 19.5
percent of the solid waste generated directly or indirectly
by the grocery industry by weight is food waste. This
analysis includes manufacturers and retailers, as well as
home waste from grocery shoppers. Containers and packaging
represent a significant portion of the waste stream, some
of which is organic and can be composted. While a grocery
manufacturer's compostable wastes are highly dependent upon
the products made by that manufacturer at any given site,
the compostable wastes from retailers are more consistent
from one grocery store to another. Keeping regional
differences in mind, grocery store compostable wastes
include food waste, waxed and wet corrugated, bakery waste,
dairy products, produce, floral seafood. From January
through April 1991, FMI conducted a waste composition
survey, with 27 food retailers and wholesalers responding.
The data represented in these exhibits should serve only as
a guide as waste compostion may vary depending on store
format and offering. The survey respondents were separated
into three groups: * wholesalers (Exhibit B); * large
supermarket chains, definded as having more than 50 stores
(Exhibit C); and * small supermarket chains having 50 or
fewer stores (Exhibit D). According to this survey, over 90
percent of the waste generated by each of these categories
is recyclable or compostable. Small chains showed a large
proportion of their wastes were comprised of food wastes
(43 percent). Wholesalers reported a small fraction of food
waste, since the wholesalers surveyed generally did not
trim or process perishable, unpackaged food as retailers
often must do. The small fraction of food waste (10
percent) among large chains is likely due to the fact that
many large chains have de facto wholesale facilities
in-house, and so the relative proportion of corrugated is
greater. This large corrugated proportion reduces the
relative proportion for food waste to only 10 percent.
However, if dry, non-waxed corrugated containers (OCC) are
recycled, then between 75 percent and 90 percent of the
remaining waste is compostable food waste and paper. (This
percentage fluctuates depending upon how much wet and waxed
OCC is available for composting rather than recycling.)
Thus, even for a "large chain" that generates a relatively
smaller percentage of food waste, the waste actually being
disposed is mostly compostable. This task force believes
that the composition shown for small chains (Exhibit D) is
most likely to represent the composition of most typical
retail grocery stores, excluding distribution and
warehousing operations. Accordingly, it is significant that
such a large percentage-43 percent- of this waste is
compostable food waste. From a waste management
perspective, recycling of food waste via composting at the
retail level is as important as recycling corrugated boxes.
The FMI composition survey did not differentiate between
recycled, wet or waxed corrugated. Based on a sampling of
three grocery stores in 1991, 70 percent of the corrugated
containers are compostable (Exhibit E). These statistics
enabled the task force to estimate the volume of
compostable food waste, wet and waxed corrugated produced
by grocery retailers at 6.6 million tons per year. * The
conclusion is that the grocery industry as a whole is a
large producer of wastes that are potentially very
compostable. The compostable food waste and corrugated
alone from grocery stores comprise nearly 4 percent of all
municipal solid waste (MSW): * Retail grocery food waste,
compostable wet and waxed corrugated /all MSW (EPA, 1990) =
6.6 million tons / 179.6 million tons =
3.7 percent. Financial Significance of Compostable Wastes
Futhermore, disposal of these wastes is increasingly
expensive. The National Solid Waste Management Association
(NSWMA) has not completed its recent national landfill tip
fee survey. However, extrapolating from the 1988 national
average tip fee to 1991 based on the recent FMI disposal
expense survey yields an average tip fee of $58 per ton for
landfills. Tip fees for incinerators may be significantly
higher. After adding a conservative hauling charge of $15
per ton, grocery retailers alone are paying $482 million
each year to dispose of their compostable wastes:
* 6.6 million tons per year of compostable wastes X
($58/ton tip fee + $15/ton hauling fee) = $481.8
million/year in grocery retailer disposal expense. To cover
the expense needed to pay for their $482 million per year
disposal cost of compostable wastes, grocery retailers
must, at an FMI-estimated pre-tax net profit rate 14.3
percent of sales, sell $33.7 billion in groceries:
*$481.8 million disposal expense / 1.43 percent pre-tax net
profit = $33.7 billion in sales. Because individual grocery
manufacturers have such product-specific waste streams, a
similar expense for the industry overall is difficult to
estimate. However, it is clear that, for retailers and
manufacturers, the cost of disposal is spiraling upward.
FMI documented a 26.6 percent increase in disposal costs
for its members in 1988 and a 29.2 percent increase in
1989. This is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing
expense items for manufacturers and retailers. It is
interesting to note that by simply recycling corrugated
boxes and composting all compostable wastes, a grocery
store can reduce the amount of waste being landfilled by
approximately by 89 percent (Exhibit D). The Composting
Option Composting grocery store waste is an attractive
option since this waste is consistent in quality and
quantity. These materials compost readily and are
especially effective when co-composted into existing
programs with yard waste, wood waste, manure, with other
clean corrugated. However, they are compostable and can
provice necessary bulk to the composting process. By
supporting and participationg in local composting
operations, the industry can serve to encourage broad-based
development of composting as an integral part of local
solid waste management. Initially, pilot projects could
serve as working examples that composting can be
accomplished successfully in order to reduce the
landfilling of grocery industry wastes. While grocery
manufacturer and retailer wastes may be composted in a
segregated stream process, MSW composting is an important
option for the wider range of organic materials that are
produced by other businesses and by grocery consumers. 4.0
GROCERY INDUSTRY OBJECTIVES The grocery industry can set an
example for the community by practicing sound recycling and
composting activities. Some significant objectives that the
grocery industry can achieve by composting are: 1. Meeting
demands of grocery consumers that stores and manufacturers
be environmentally responsible; 2. Proactively controlling
waste disposal tonnage and disposal expenses, which are
increasing rapidly; 3. Supporting EPA, state and local
government initiatives for landfill diversion and material
recovery; 4. Encouraging and enhancing recycling of other
recyclable materials, such as plastic, wood, glass and
metal through improved separation; and 5. Making the best
use of natural and man-made resources by converting organic
waste into compost instead of landfilling them.



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