5 World-Class Examples of Recycling Supermarket Organic Waste

The United States discards more food than any other country in the world: nearly 40 million tons – 80 billion pounds – every year.  That’s estimated to be 30-40% of the entire US food supply. In fact, food is the single largest component taking up space inside US landfills. It is estimated that about 30% of food in American grocery stores and supermarkets is thrown away. US retail stores generate about 16 billion pounds of food waste every year – representing $18.2 billion a year in lost value. All this food waste is a major source of the greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent to 37 million cars – that contribute towards climate change and the environmental impact could be disastrous.

Consider these facts. It’s calculated that the food supply chain wastes:

  • 45% of all produce
  • 35% of seafood
  • 30% of cereals
  • 20% of dairy and meat products

In the U.S., six states and several localities have passed waste bans or waste recycling laws for food waste. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, structure their laws as organic waste bans, while California has instituted a waste recycling law that requires commercial generators of organic waste to either compost or anaerobically digest organic waste. Washington state enacted legislation to cut food waste in half by 2030. And in July 2020, Vermont’s “Universal Recycling Law” went into effect banning food scrap waste entirely.

As a result of this advancing legislation, together with growing consumer pressure, supermarkets are searching for strategies to reduce food waste and incorporate organic waste recycling into their waste management programs. Many supermarkets have set goals to reach zero food waste by 2025.

Check out these examples of grocery stores that have created impressive food waste prevention and diversion programs that might serve as inspirations for your business!

Walmart and Kroger

Walmart and Kroger joined the “10x20x30” food loss and waste initiative, joining some of the world’s largest food producers and retailers. This initiative brings together these ten businesses to engage with 20 of their priority suppliers to halve rates of food loss and waste by 2030.


Here are two simple initiatives that the supermarket giant is taking to reduce food waste across its operations:

  • Simpler food expiration labels for customers – Walmart requires all of its suppliers to use standard expiration date labels. If the food is perishable then the date label is “Use By”, while nonperishable foods have a “Best if Used By” date label.
  • Cracked egg replacement – Walmart created a practice to identify and replace individual cracked eggs, so that the rest of the carton could be sold. This has saved millions of eggs from being thrown into the trash each year.

Walmart has also created their “Eden” program which is a new technology to drive savings. It uses a machine-learning algorithm to scan produce to assess quality and freshness.

Eden saved the retailer $86 million through reduced food waste within 6 months of launch. It projected additional savings of $2 billion over 5 years by improving the quality and flow of fresh groceries from farm to shelf.


Not to be outshined, Kroger launched their own “Zero Hunger, Zero Waste” initiative with the aim of eliminating food waste by 2025. The retailer is using its huge size, influence and distribution network to divert food that would otherwise have been wasted, in order to reduce food insecurity.

After conducting a two-year internal study on food waste, they implemented plans to automate their in-store ordering systems to reduce over-ordering of highly perishable items.

Kroger also established a $10 million innovation fund to support the development of solutions to reduce food waste in their supplier network.

While these large retailers have a vast financial resources to invest in food waste reduction programs, some of their biggest wins have been simple changes in procedure – something that any grocery chain or food retailer could replicate.

Whole Foods: Working Towards Zero Waste

In one their Green Mission reports, Whole Foods reported that many of their stores have achieved a diversion from landfill of more than 80%, with some approaching and exceeding the 90% level that the EPA defines as ‘zero waste’.

Every Whole Foods store in the Northeast has a program for usable perishable food, which is diverted to their prepared foods, cut fruit, or bakery departments to provide nutritious ingredients for salsa, muffins, coleslaw, and other produce.

In addition, every store has community food donation programs and composting as a critical part of their waste diversion program. In the South, Whole Foods is practicing full circle composting, where compostable materials are hauled from the stores to a site where it is made into compost that many local farmers use. This relationship keeps 25 tons of organic materials per week out of local landfills and the compost is then used to grow the vegetables they sell in their stores.

It’s important to be aware of the opportunities in your community that can help you to implement organic waste recycling. Partnering with food banks or local farms can aid your business in its endeavor to be environmentally friendly and can also positively impact your relationship with your community. Look for local opportunities to implement organic waste recycling to help foster environmental awareness and local collaboration.

HEB: Pro Compost, Anti Landfill

HEB has established a series of Organic Diversion Programs. These programs combined to divert more than 45 million pounds of organics from landfills by composting it or turning it into animal feed. HEB discovered that sending organic waste for composting can cost far less than landfill access, meaning that diversion from landfill not only improves their environmental stewardship, but also saves a significant amount of money from their waste management costs.

Researching local composting programs that turn organic waste into fertilizer or animal feed will save your business money by eliminating the cost of waste removal, while positioning your business as a sustainable, green operation.

Daily Table: A New Kind of Grocery Store

Daily Table, which was founded by Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, opened its first not-for-profit retail store in Dorchester, Boston in 2015. Their mission has been to provide healthy, low-price groceries to low-income urban areas. The company works with a large network of growers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and other suppliers who donate their excess, healthy food to them.

One of their concepts is to price their meals to compete with fast food options, making it easier for families to eat healthier and within their means.  This also reduces both the effects of poor eating habits caused by challenging economics, and the impact that food waste has on our environment. For example, in Boston, they work with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), so that low-income customers get 2-for-1 dollar match on fresh produce to help them eat more healthy food and stretch their SNAP budget further.

While Daily Table might not be available near your business, there are many other options available for you to donate your unspoiled leftovers.  Whether that’s a food bank, low-income grocery store, or elsewhere, food donation is an excellent way to reduce food waste.

What This Means for your Business

Supermarket organics recycling has become more than just a trending topic. While implementing a food waste diversion program may initially require an investment of time and effort, it has been proven to pay back financially when set up correctly. To see how you can reduce your organic waste at your grocery store or supermarket, click here.

For example, organic waste composting costs approximately $25/ton, while traditional landfill fees average about $66/ton. Using these numbers, a retailer generating 10,000 tons of food waste annually would save over $41,000 per annum with an organic waste recycling program.

In an even more recent trend, food waste donation and recycling play an important role in enhancing a company’s sustainability and corporate social responsibility image, or their ESG scorecard for investors.

How National Waste Associates can help

At National Waste Associates (NWA), our waste and recycling services are tailored for businesses with multiple locations. We understand that managing food waste and remaining in compliance is complicated in today’s marketplace, which is why we design customized minimization and recycling plans based on the individual requirements at each location.

We conduct an initial assessment of each location’s current practices, then set goals to reduce the quantity of food waste, developing a sustainable approach to allow for continuous reduction of volumes. To read how we did this for a regional supermarket chain, click here.

For more information on food waste recycling and to learn how NWA can reduce your waste costs with our professionally managed services and recycling programs, call 1-888-692-5005 x6 or email sales@nationalwaste.com

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