Weis Markets has hit on a great way to promote the measures the company takes to push sustainability.
The Sunbury, Pa.-based retailer this spring plans to sell bags of Weis Choice Compost. It is made from the retailer’s own waste stream.
There is a great article at Biocycle.net about Weis Markets’ efforts to compost its waste and reduce what is loaded into a garbage truck.
Weis Markets has 163 stores in five Northeastern states (Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsyvania and West Virginia). In 2009, it started a composting pilot program at nine stores.
Since then, the program has blossomed. In 2013, the company plans to add 40 stores to its composting program, bringing the total to 50.
The system involves 15 totes stationed in departments at each store that are filled with up to 200 pounds of waste: produce; bakery waste; deli meats and salads; floral plants; cut flowers; coffee grounds and filters. They are kept in coolers until pickup.
The system involves a partnership with a composting company, which has had to invest in new composting facilities near the stores involved.
This program works in concert with a food donation program, recycling programs and a deal for rendering waste from the meat department.
Creating this program is quite a feat for a company, but then the company’s mission statement includes the phrase “being good stewards of our environment.” That shows an uncommon commitment to going green.
This is no pie-in-the-sky salute to sustainability. The program had to make sense in terms of dollars and cents, so the cost of operations at each store before a composting program was started had to be taken into account.
The reduced cost of hauling off the trash had to offset the cost of the composting program. A waste disposal fee structure encourages Weis managers to make sure compostable waste gets diverted from the other waste.
Serendipity delivered some unintended beneficial consequences from the program. Store managers became more aware of the amount of food being wasted. Also, there are fewer odors because the compostable material is kept in coolers until pickup day.
Weis Markets isn’t the only retailer taking a stab at composting. The Washington Post reported online that Safeway has 125 stores along the East Coast that participate in a composting program.
The article said they ship spent flowers, coffee grinds and spoiled produce to a place in Maryland from which the waste is transported at least another 100 miles to where it will be composted.
Despite the long transport, Jack Jacobs, director of distribution for Safeway’s eastern division, said it still make good business sense. Still, it isn’t the system Weis Markets is putting into place.
At Weis Markets, the produce department is the biggest contributor to the composting program, said Patti Olenick, sustainability manager.
From my point of view, its making and selling compost is a nice way of building a relationship with the people who buy gardening plants at Weis Markets.
Consumers who come there for garden plants and compost also are interested in fresh fruits and vegetables. I bet Weis Markets is where they will come for what isn’t harvested from their own garden patch.
Weis Markets is putting together a plan to let consumers know about the program, and it will start with copies of the Biocycle.net article being reprinted for shoppers at the stores taking part in the composting program.
Earth Day tie-in
The company is gearing up for a major campaign starting on Earth Day. The compost will be featured in the store’s circulars, on the chain’s Facebok page and on its blog, Olenick said.
Weis is putting together a promotional campaign that includes giving consumers a bag of compost with the purchase of bedding and patio plants. The exact offer will change over the four months the campaign is conducted, she said.
The Weis Choice Compost bags have a tagline “Unmistakably green,” which is a riff on the tagline “Unmistakably Weis” that the chain has used for quite some time. “Unmistakably green” has been in use for a couple of years, she said.
That tagline along with icons representing the chain’s recycling, water conservation, energy conservation and community building efforts are being installed in new and newly remodeled stores, Olenick said.
Weis Choice Compost is certified by the U.S. Composting Council for use on trees and shrubs, flower and vegetable gardens, and on the lawn.
Weis also contributes to the Two Cents for Compost program, which helps fund the Composting Council Research and Education Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the U.S. Composting Council.
Weis Markets, through the council, plans to support the Million Tomato Compost Campaign, through which composters donate compost to community gardens for growing tomatoes. It is planned to start in the spring.
These are the take aways, as I see it:
- It takes real commitment to make a sustainability program work. Whitewashing normal operations won’t be enough.
- Neither will not making the program cost-effective. Weis Markets has provided a good role model.
- Connecting the produce department to gardening sales has to boost sales.
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