Reducing Food Waste, Saving Money, Protecting the Environment

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By Pete Pearson

I’m Pete Pearson and I’m the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU, a national grocery retail and pharmacy company. I’m responsible for developing and implementing the sustainability strategy for all ten SUPERVALU chains. I recently recorded a podcast with Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. We discussed the important issues of wasted food, and what SUPERVALU and EPA are doing to reduce food waste, save money and protect the environment, and our participation in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

In 2010 and 2011, for the first time in the company’s history, SUPERVALU’s recycling income was greater than its landfill expenses.  Our stores across the country are participating in food bank donation programs, giving millions of meals to hungry people; food that would have otherwise gone to waste.  Our stores are looking for ways to divert food waste and organic material to secondary uses, including compost facilities.  To date, over half of the SUPERVALU network of stores is composting and/or diverting organic material away from landfills.
I am working hard to encourage our stores to “know their garbage” and recognize the valuable commodities in the waste stream. Through our programs, we’ve found that with operational changes such as asking departments to source separate, 90 percent or more of the “waste” from a typical grocery store can be reused, recycled or used to feed people in need.  What initially starts as a behavior change quickly becomes the “new normal.” Our stores can’t imagine going backwards to the old days of throwing everything in a compactor.
By participating in EPA programs like the Food Recovery Challenge, our business is improving the measurement and transparency of critical data. This partnership also spawns a much needed culture where the private sector and government can work together to solve issues. Building relationships is paramount, since business and government are not going to solve our country’s problems alone.
Changing what we throw away not only reduces our expenses, but it changes our attitude towards waste in general; a new attitude that can also be applied to the products and services we provide. We are working with produce suppliers to package products in reusable/recyclable containers instead of unrecyclable material. SUPERVALU believes that what we waste defines what we value. We are committed to achieving zero waste and placing value on people, planet, and profit.

About the author: Pete Pearson is the Director of Sustainability for SUPERVALU which is an EPA Food Recovery Challenge participant. He is responsible for the sustainability strategy and execution for all 10 SUPERVALU grocery chains, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Hornbachers, Shop n’Save, Jewel-Osco, Save-a-Lot, Shaw’s, ACME, Shoppers, and Farm Fresh. Pete’s interests include developing closed-loop waste cycles (Zero-Waste) and creating an effective logistics program through which grocery stores can more efficiently source fresh food from local farmers.