Tag Archives: supermarkets

Waste of the Week #14: Front of House Composting at the Grocery Store?

I was in the grocery store the other day grabbing veggies when I noticed this screaming opportunity: a “trash” can in the produce section.

Could this be a great opportunity for composting?  At first glance, it sure seems like it.

Using a toter system here would work pretty great- they’re on wheels and your employees wouldn’t have to empty them…this could be done by a compost hauler.

Paying attention to cleanliness of the toters would be a little tedious, but if you’re participating in a composting program it’s just part of the game.  Besides, if your waste receptacles are all nasty in the bottom you should be ensuring they’re clean as it is.

In this can, everything was compostable besides the red onion netting and the plastic film.  Education and signage for this would be a pain and you’d have some consistent minimal contamination for a while, but eventually this could become standard at grocery stores.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was happening somewhere already…would love to see it.

The main challenge with composting in public areas is simply the education.  Plastics are a major contaminant of composting efforts and it’s difficult to get everyone to comply.  However, it’s difficult to have a trash can that doesn’t have recyclables in it, so it’s more or less the same issue either way.  Pairing a recycling bin next to this compost can would help, but I wouldn’t expect it to get very full.

The more obvious opportunities are in the back of the house, but for this section out on the floor, it seems to be begging for a compost toter.  The same goes for those taste test sample tables.  It’s always a bunch of tiny single serve portions with paper cups or paper plates and a tiny napkin… done right the disposal could be monitored pretty well.  The trick is to control the materials being handed out to minimize contamination.

Anyway, I could sure use a nice load of green material like this to build a second hot compost pile…I might have to ask them for a bag or maybe I’ll conduct some new fast “food” studies instead.  Now’s the perfect time of year to get cracking on that, it’s not freezing out and it’s not super hot steamy garbage season either.

It seems like composting services have become more popular lately, but there’s still plenty of room for growth: pizza shops, hotels, coffee shops, all schools.  While I’ve seen examples in each of these areas, they’re definitely the minority.

One situation I keep thinking about: Most compost services require that compostable plastic bags are used, and this is definitely a barrier for participants.  What if vendors accepted regular plastic bags instead of just the pricey compostable ones?

You save money up front by using cheap plastic bags, but… you’re using plastic bags.  Yes, it’s the commonly used and accepted item but let’s face it- they really, really suck.  However, because of this cost avoidance, you are now composting.  You’re also landfilling (or worse yet, burning) plastic bags… which you’d be doing anyway if you weren’t composting.  Which is better?

The vendor has to take time to pick out and trash all the plastic bags (there are some great screening and vacuum systems available for removing contaminants), but they receive a lot more material because the cost of entry is lower for participants.

Further, I don’t know any composting company that likes to receive compostable bags because they take a long time to break down and they’re a frickin mess…not that regular plastic film being in the compost is any better, but still- bags are no fun.

What’s the next step?  I’m not really sure what it is, other than to start composting at home.  There’s no waste product, and you get soil as a result.

What else?  Eat all your food when you’re out?  Use handkerchiefs and your pants instead of napkins and tissues?  Don’t buy so much stuff?

This all seems to get redundant, doesn’t it?  I hate concluding my writing on this topic… it always feels the damn same.

All these things we either know or heard about that we should be doing.  Maybe instead of doing it because you know things can’t sustain themselves the way they are, try doing it just because it’s something to try.

As I’ve said a million times, once you set up a system it will do what it naturally does.  Participate in the earth’s oldest process and see what happens.