October 25, 2005 | General


BioCycle October 2005, Vol. 46, No. 10, p. 51
Program by Mass DEP launches potent public/private partnership with the potential to divert 50,000 tons/year to composting.

“FIFTY-FOUR SUPERMARKETS are on board and hopefully more to come,” enthusiastically reports Julia Wolfe about the latest results of the Massachusetts Supermarket Organics Recycling Network. Wolfe is the Commercial Waste Reduction Coordinator with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). In August, MassDEP Commissioner Bob Golledge and the president of the Massachusetts Food Association (MFA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to get supermarkets and grocery stores across the state to increase their recycling participation – particularly to encourage composting such items as spoiled fruits and vegetables, floral and deli wastes, and waxed cardboard. The agreement outlines a collaborative effort between MassDEP and MFA to advance all recycling at supermarkets across Massachusetts. Adds Wolfe: “This has been a real public/private partnership – the individual supermarket and grocery chains, haulers, processing facilities and contractors to reach this tremendous milestone!”
Currently, it’s estimated that diversion rates to composting are currently less than 10 percent of the nearly 900,000 tons of commercial food waste generated annually in the state. Commercial food waste is about 19 percent of the total commercial stream. MA DEP has identified supermarkets as a major organics generator with over 400 supermarkets in the state generating an estimated 90,600 tons of organics material per year. With disposal costs at $80 to $100/ton, the stores have a major savings potential from composting. One pilot at Roche Bros. Supermarkets diverted 5 to 10 tons/week/store and showed annual savings of $10,000 to $20,000/store using a dedicated organics compactor process. This chain has since grown its organics program to include 13 of its 16 stores.
To accelerate the shift, MA DEP hired J.F. Connolly & Associates, Waste Recovery Solutions, WasteCap of Massachusetts and the Center for Ecological Technology to expand the Supermarket Recycling Organics Initiative (SROI) program and provide the assistance needed to move this program to the next level through the 2004 Supermarket Organics Recycling Network project. This project team worked with store managers, senior management, etc. at Stop & Shop, Big Y, Roche Bros., Shaw’s and Whole Foods to analyze operations, set up financial benchmarks, identify expansion, and provide technical assistance.
The team completed store visits to over 50 locations, established a baseline for organics diversion tonnage, completed site visits to composting facilities and hauling companies.
Another goal was to develop a collaborative, nonregulatory strategy for industry-wide growth of composting in Massachusetts and setting up the voluntary MOU for organics recycling. Lastly, the supermarket chains became part of MA WasteWise program. Team members helped the chains set waste reduction, recycling and purchasing of recycled content materials goals and develop systems for measuring these goals over three years.
From data collection projects, combined results indicate that approximately 53,300 tons of total waste annually are generated by 54 stores. Of this amount, 26,200 tons are recycled cardboard; 8,900 tons are source separated organics sent to composting facilities; and 18,200 are disposed of as trash. Total percentage recycled is 65.9 percent.
New stores added to the program would add 165 additional tons per year for each new location. An additional 65 new supermarket locations are currently available (total of 119) for diversion of a combined 50,000 tons of organics to composting. Projected percentage of organics and cardboard is 72.3 percent of the total waste stream for these 119 supermarkets. Across five years, this diversion would generate $2.5 million savings for the state’s supermarkets.
To coordinate operations, the team conducted site visits with these composting facilities: Recycle Away Group Services, Watts Family Farms, Martin Farms, WeCare Environmental, Greenleaf Composting, Lion’s Head and Brick Ends Farm.Other licensed composters were contacted via telephone that had expressed interest in receiving supermarket organics feedstock. Meetings were also held with haulers who service chains and expressed interest: Watts Family Farm, Harvey Industries, BP Trucking, WeCare, Triple T Trucking, BFI, Waste Management, Save that Stuff, Jet-A-Way, Suburban Companies and Waste Solutions. Discussions also took place about combining compactor and toter programs to achieve profitable route density and leverage geographic proximity of generators to composting sites. Opportunities for program improvements were prioritized. Because waste is a nonproprietary issue, chains were able to learn from experiences with each other.
Based on summary data, five chains are source separating organic waste across 54 locations which include a mix of 19 compactor sites, 16 toter sites and 19 dumpsters. It was found that stores with compactor units diverted more material and had greater savings than stores with other collection systems. Compactor programs that used compostable liner bags diverted the cleanest materials to compost sites.
On average, stores that used compactor systems to recycle organics (other than cardboard) saved $7,000 annually. The compactor program allows the stores to include all of the organic wastes, including waxed and wet cardboard, in the materials diverted for composting. In addition, this process lends itself to a very efficient and effective store operation given the storage of compacted materials is located in a container outside of the supermarket building. It is also the most cost effective program for the generator, hauler, and the composter allowing the greatest diversion of material at the least cost per ton of material diverted.
On average, stores that used toter systems to recycle organics (other than cardboard) saved $2,400 annually. The toter and dumpster programs, though efficient and effective throughout the in-store source separation process are constrained by the lack of storage in the supermarket back room or loading dock areas and by a need to pick up and haul the organics multiple times per week. In addition, many stores that use the toter system for organics recycling are not recycling wet and waxed cardboard. Results include less material diverted to composting than in the compactor locations and lower savings from avoided disposal costs for the generator. Store space limitations, capital investment spending constraints on the part of the parent chains, and (to a lesser degree) the ability of the composting facility to receive/handle waxed and wet cardboard are key decision-making parameters of using a toter program over a compactor program.
Compostable liner bags are being used in the Roche Bros. and Whole Foods compactor programs. These bags serve as the vehicle to transport material out of the collection containers and into the compactor units. The purpose of using a liner bag, as opposed to no liner bag, is to keep the collection containers clean, reducing the need for in-store labor to wash, rinse, and sanitize the containers. The purpose of using a compostable liner bag, as opposed to a plastic liner bag, is that the bags can be deposited into the compactor and are designed to disintegrate and biodegrade quickly and safely when composted in a commercial facility. All composting facilities require the removal of plastics from the loads.
Although compostable liner bags are higher in cost to the chains, the increased organics diversion rates offset the incremental costs associated with the use of these bags. For toter programs, the use of these bags is cost prohibitive. A more economical, though less environmentally friendly process in toter locations is to use the noncompostable liners for the toters as a method of collecting organics and keeping the toters clean. However, in most cases, the plastic liner would need to be removed before entering the composting site.
There are 12 locations in the composting program using compactors, which generate 2,900 tons per year of organics. Roche Bros. currently has all but one store in the program that are operationally capable of diverting organics thorough a compactor process.
Because of the significant financial success of the program, Roche Bros. has added the remaining stores at their own expense. The contractor, John Connolly, completed store and composting facility visits. Connolly provided direct assistance during this project in moving both organics and trash disposal for the entire supermarket chain from a composting facility that was closing to a new company capable of handling both organics and trash disposal for the chain. Connolly analyzed the tonnage and hauling expenses for the program. The supermarket chain contact will be responsible for program progress and hauling and composting relationships.
The potential of four additional locations would generate 1,000 additional tons per year for a total chain-wide diversion of 3,900 tons per year. Roche Bros. is a mid-sized regional chain with plans for additional stores in Massachusetts that will incorporate their organics program. Roche Bros. has expressed an interest in completing a discovery process for three stores that do not have organics compactor capability due to physical plant limitations. Additional stores will be added as opportunities present themselves within the chain’s long-term growth plans.
There are 22 locations in the composting program including 3 with compactors, 8 toters, and 11 dumpsters. These locations generate 2,400 tons per year of organics for composting. With the exception of the compactor locations, organics tonnage is estimated by the composting facility and hauler and invoiced with a combination of disposal fees per ton, disposal fee per pickup, or set monthly fees per location. Stop & Shop has two dedicated employees in charge of waste in Eastern and Western Massachusetts, and they are actively involved with program oversight, solving problems, and program expansion.
The source-separated quality of the organics diverted at the stores meets the operational needs of the composting facilities. The program experiences very little contamination and when contamination is found, the hauler communicates with the store management team. Efforts are underway to define a process for effectively recycling waxed cardboard in the toter locations on Cape Cod. Success in this effort is dependent upon an efficient and cost-effective hauling component and a composting facility capable of receiving waxed and wet cardboard.
The short-term potential of 8 new stores in the chain would generate 900 additional tons per year for a total chain-wide diversion of 3,300 tons per year. Stop & Shop is a large regional chain with numerous stores in Massachusetts. There is commitment to add new stores as the operational and economic opportunities present themselves within the chain’s long-term planning process.
Locations are in Hadley, Newtonville, Wayland and Bellingham; Compost facilities are WeCare and Martin Farms; Haulers are Harvey, BP and Waste Management.
There are four locations participating in the composting program using compactors. These locations generate 1,500 tons per year of organics for composting. Organics tonnage is determined by the weight of the organics compactor units at the composting facility and invoiced with a combination of disposal fees per ton and hauling fees per haul. Whole Foods has a dedicated chain employee who is actively involved with program oversight, resolving problems, training, and program expansion. Whole Foods is aggressively seeking opportunities to incorporate organics diversion is all its locations within Massachusetts.
The contractor assisted in identifying equipment, installation of in-store baled cardboard units, installation of organics compactor units, with training of store management teams and employees, and analyzed tonnage disposed and hauling expenses per ton. The supermarket chain contact will now be responsible for oversight of program including monitoring hauling and composting facility relations.
Short-term potential of 10 new stores would generate 3,800 additional tons per year for a total chain-wide diversion of 5,300 tons per year. Whole Foods is a large national chain with plans for additional stores in Massachusetts. Nationally, the chain is committed to marketing this program.
The potential environmental and economic benefits of composting organics across the supermarket industry are significant. However, there are a number of barriers to overcome, both internal and external to the chains, which make it difficult for supermarkets to initiate and implement an organics-to-composting program without external assistance. Effective programs will need:
o Support from senior chain leadership. Particularly those in Retail Operations. Absence of senior management support will send the message to the stores that organics diversion is not a priority.
o Effective communication to all employees. Senior management, store management, and store employees will ensure success and it is important to target communications appropriately to each of these levels regarding recycling programs development, implementation, and success.
o To develop comprehensive composting training. Stores need to have adequate systems for training in place. Management team changes and high rates of employee turnover can degrade results without the integration of organics program training into the overall store/chain training process.
o To dedicate compactor for compostables: Stores with compactor units diverted more material and realized greater savings than stores with other collection systems. Each store should be evaluated for conversion to compactor units over time.
o To include waxed and soiled cardboard in compost program: Processes and infrastructure for waxed and soiled cardboard recycling is key to long-term success and participation for the supermarkets. Many stores are not incorporating waxed and soiled cardboard due to either in-store logistics or the inability of the composting facility to receive and process this product. This will have an adverse impact on generator costs and could be the critical component leading to a positive financial return of this program for the store.
o To develop comprehensive recycling program: An optimal organics program should also include processes to recycle shrink-wrap, hard plastic containers, and other recyclables. Logistics of these programs are sometimes difficult to execute for the chain without outside assistance but will assist in keeping loads of compostables clean.
o Effective communication between composting facility and supermarket store manager: Timely feedback to the stores from the composting facility is critical for success. A lack of feedback to the stores from the composting facility related to contamination issues and load quality may hinder maximum organics diversion and, as such, maximum savings for both the generator and the composting facility.
o Effective long term monitoring and oversight. The long-term success of the program is dependent on consistent source separation practices day to day and week after week. To ensure the long term success of the program and quality material for the composting facilities, a commitment towards ongoing monitoring, quality control, and feedback to associates is very important.
o To recognize composting program publicly. Recognition of the programs at the industry level and within the communities the supermarkets serve will lead to continued growth of organics recycling through positive motivation, community awareness, positive public relations, and the creation of a competitive advantage for chains using this recognition to advance their programs.

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