Earth month is a time to celebrate our planet and take stock of our relationship with it. An important part of caring for our planet is limiting the amount of waste we produce and diverting as much as possible to destinations other than the landfill.
It's a big job
At Harmons this is a big job. In 2020, we produced over 13,000 tons of waste at our 19 stores. Fortunately, we have been working on our waste diversion strategy for a long time and we managed to divert over 50% of our waste from the landfill. We do this through three primary programs: cardboard recycling, food rescue, and green waste. We started our first cardboard recycling program in the 90s. In 2020 we recycled 3270 tons of cardboard. The program alone had the impact of saving 55,590 trees (according to the EPA, recycling 1 ton of cardboard saves 17 trees).
Food waste is one of the most important materials for a grocery store to keep out of the landfill. When food ends up in the landfill it decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces methane gas. When methane is released into the atmosphere it is 40 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 over time. Since it makes up about 25% or more of grocery store’s waste stream it is a high priority for diversion.
The first thing our associates start doing is reducing waste. Analyzing sales, month over month, year over year, helps us fine tune our ordering process so we are anticipating our needs and are reducing the potential to generate waste from the start.
Feeding Hungry Utahns Through Utah Food Bank
We have donated 20,000,000 lbs. over the last 10 years
That is approximately 1000 tons per year
1000 tons equals 1,666,667 meals
It is 7% of our waste stream
EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy
Next, we use the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy to help guide us in diverting any food waste we have generated. The top priority is always feeding hungry people first. Since 2010, we have had a strong relationship with the Utah Food Bank to divert any food fit for human consumption. Harmons is unique in that we don’t mark down food when it is nearing its expiration date. We donate it. This means it is fresher, healthier and has a longer shelf life. We have donated over 20 million pounds of food to the food bank through this program in the last 10 plus years.
The EPA’s next priority is feeding livestock. We have five stores outside of the Salt Lake Valley that divert their green waste to animal feed. We diverted about 847 tons of food waste to animal feed in 2020. This includes fruit and vegetable cuttings, dairy, prepared foods, and baked goods that are not fit for human consumption.
We Also Divert Food Waste to an Anaerobic Digester
In 2020 15 Harmons stores diverted 1878 tons of food waste to a digester where it was converted into enough gas to heat 179 homes for a year.
In our last carbon footprint assessment in 2016, our waste diversion efforts resulted in about 14,053 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions reduction: the equivalent of taking 3036 passenger vehicles off the road for a year.
So, little by little we are working to trim our waste. We have made significant progress over the years and are proud to reach the 50% mark in what we divert from the landfill. Next stop, 60% diversion!
Kate Whitbeck is Harmons’ director of sustainability. She is a profound believer in the powers of the plant-based diet as a solution to climate change. Unfortunately, her bacon habit continues to thwart her ability to embrace plants for every meal.