Striving for sustainability has been a goal that many individuals, as well as businesses, have begun to take on. In the QSR industry, many restaurants have altered some of their operations to create a more eco-friendly environment, such as recycling and composting and/or going digital.
The grocery industry has not been exempt from this move towards a more sustainable future. In fact, grocery stores are responsible for 10% of all U.S. food waste, which is around 43 billion pounds annually. Although this seems like a scarily large statistic, we also have to remember that food retailers are essentially the gatekeepers of the food system, at least in the United States.
Granted, it’s not an easy battle to make a grocery store more sustainable, since food is the largest factor that makes up landfills, but as consumers, there are also steps we can take in our personal lives to contribute to a greener future. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of three tips that can be utilized on both a consumer and industry level to achieve a more sustainable business.
It’s no secret that plastic is detrimental to our planet if not disposed of properly.
Grocery stores obviously contribute a large amount to plastic waste considering most grocery stores still bag products with single-use plastic bags. In fact, around only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. However, the solution to this problem is not as far-fetched as it may seem.
Many grocery stores have taken on this challenge by banning single-use plastic bags or having the customer pay for bags. This encourages consumers to bring their own reusable bags instead of buying a new one every time they grocery shop. For example, nearly 14 towns in Massachusetts have some form of ban against the use of single-use plastic bags. By enforcing a restriction for plastic bags, whether it be implementing a fee or banning them altogether, grocers can help reduce plastic waste all around.
Also, as consumers, we can do our part to contribute as well. “Single-use” doesn’t have to be taken in a literal sense. These bags will survive after a trip from the store to your house. Consider reusing them, whether it’s saving them for another grocery haul, using them as trash bags, or just properly disposing of them by recycling. Aside from reuse shoppers can also invest in larger reusable bags. This way, you don’t have to spend the extra money on buying new bags every time you shop. Leaving a couple in the trunk of your car can make them easily accessible and is better for the environment.
Another way for grocery stores to reduce plastic waste is to eliminate plastic packaging. How many times have you gone to the grocery store and have seen individually wrapped fruit? Or multiple layers of plastic wrap on a single product? Though some of this packaging may be necessary for the safety of the product, there are other alternatives as well.
For example, fruit containers are usually made of plastic that people don’t think twice about recycling. Instead, stores should offer reusable plastic or glass cartons that customers can utilize again. Though some of these changes may increase costs by a bit, in the long run, the return on these investments will outweigh the small price you’ll have to pay in the present.
One strategy that has become popularized recently has been selling imperfect produce at a discounted price. Many grocery stores have become used to just throwing out products that are nearing-expiration, asymmetrical, discolored, too small, etc. without a second thought. However, this isn’t just increasing waste for the planet, but also basically throwing away money spent on these goods. In fact, “The USDA estimates that supermarkets lose $15 billion annually due to these so-called ‘flaws’”.
What many supermarkets have started to do is create a section of their grocery store, whether it be in the produce section, etc. that is curated for “ugly” products that most customers avoid. These goods are sold for a discount. These businesses will now make a profit off of what they would have originally just thrown away in the trash. This helps to prevent food waste, but also consumers who don’t care about the aesthetics of a product get fresh and organic foods at a discount!
Reducing waste isn’t just an industry focus. Both businesses and consumers can and should work to eliminate the amount of waste they go through on a daily basis. For example, supermarkets have begun composting on the store level. Composting is sustainable for virtually any company, like restaurants, but it’s incredibly beneficial for a food retail establishment, considering a majority of products sold and thrown away is food. Especially grocery stores that have prepared food sections or “to-go” foods, it can help reduce the amount of waste produced.
It may be hard for grocery stores to find a place in/near their store to compost their waste. Instead, many stores have started partnering with food banks, composting facilities, and manufacturers in an attempt to repurpose what would’ve been garbage. Employees can sort through unsellable goods into different categories, such as food that can be donated or food that can be composted. Perishable foods can be sent to food banks and expired or rotting goods can be sent to composting facilities. Diverting waste from landfills is a step towards a more environmentally friendly future.
Stores like Whole Foods have also taken on composting. However, instead, they take the compost from their stores and then hand it to local farmers and vendors that work nearby. These farmers and vendors can then compost these products for their own benefits, such as making fertilizer or food for farm animals.
Likewise, consumers can also work towards reducing their carbon footprint as well. It’s easy to take five seconds out of your day to recycle that plastic bag or container instead of just throwing it away]. Bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store and consider buying in bulk. Also, you can learn how to compost your own waste at home. There are many steps you can take to help create a more sustainable future.
It’s easy to just ignore these tips and go about your day without thinking about the impact your waste is creating. However, if you take just a couple minutes to switch up your habits, it can have a lasting positive impact on the environment. In both the consumer and business world, contributing to an eco-friendly lifestyle will only benefit both parties.
Looking at it from the industry perspective, having a sustainable company can also improve your business. Consumers have started to care more about what businesses they support. So, if they are intentional about being environmentally friendly, it can increase customer loyalty and satisfaction if you also have the same morals. In the end, our waste isn’t just magically going to disappear. Promoting sustainability is just the first step in a marathon for a healthier and safer future.