Eagle Valley grocery stores part of City Market’s growing composting program | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley grocery stores part of City Market’s growing composting program

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times

ASPEN — Employees working at City Market stores in the Roaring Fork Valley are getting good at diversion. It's been almost three weeks since area stores began composting, and many of them are pretty amazed at the impact it is having.

"I had a rude awakening about how much we were throwing away," said Robynn Woodward, produce manager at the Aspen City Market, where so far close to 3,000 pounds of waste have been diverted from the Pitkin County landfill, which has an estimated eight years of life left.

The Glenwood Springs store is one of the top diverters in the region, collecting more than 3,500 pounds of compostable waste per week since operations began at the end of January. Eagle, Vail and Avon came in at 2,600 pounds, 2,600 pounds and 2,275 pounds, respectively, for the week of Feb. 12-17.

"It's pretty cool because you're taking something that would have gone into the landfill, and suddenly it's useful again," said Kevin Flohr, Glenwood City Market store manager.

"It's amazing what you learn when you start doing something like this," he said. "With the training we received comes a lot of questions and personal growth for our employees, and it gets people thinking how they can apply it to their own households."

Combined with the store's cardboard and plastic recycling, "and suddenly you start to become almost waste-free," Flohr said.

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Group effort

Collectively, City Markets in the Roaring Fork Valley, along with Rifle, New Castle, Vail, Avon and Eagle, compost about 30,000 pounds every week, said Alyssa Reindel, of EverGreen ZeroWaste, which contracts with King Soopers and Kroger, owners of the City Market stores, as well as Safeway Stores for its area locations.

EverGreen picks up material multiple times a week at the stores.

"Our drivers are so excited to see these dumpsters full, because we know that it used to be going to the landfill," Reindel said.

While Aspen's Woodward was pleased about the prospect of diverting tons of waste from the landfill, not all of her co-workers were. When the staff was informed of the new effort, the "resistance was immediate," she said, and realized it was partly because of the store's small footprint, meaning there's not a lot of space for separation.

It did not take long for people to realize that the extra step from separating what was going to be thrown into one container versus another one was minimal.

"Now people are saying, 'It's the right thing to do,'" said John Hailey, Aspen store manager, adding that instead of two dumpsters worth of garbage going to the landfill every week, now there is just one. "The concept of what we are doing is so easy."

Zero Hunger-Zero Waste

The composting program is part of Kroger's Zero Hunger-Zero Waste initiative, which has a goal of eliminating all food waste by 2025. The company for years has been donating to food banks across the country. As part of the initiative, it plans to feed 4 billion meals to hungry families annually by 2025.

"We said as an organization, 'How can we be part of the solution?' So we looked inside of ourselves and now we are contributing to society," said Adam Williamson, who works for King Soopers' corporate affairs office. "We are looking in every way possible on how to reduce our footprint."

Last year, the company's 152 stores collectively donated 4 million pounds of food, which provided 6 million meals.

The company also has been recycling cardboard for years. Hailey said the Aspen store sends out around 5,000 pounds every week for recycling.

There are 122 City Markets on board with composting. Williamson said the plan calls for all stores to be doing it by 2020.

Reindel said before contracting with Kroger, Evergreen Zero Waste was picking up 40,000 pounds of compost material a week; now it's 80,000.

"That's 320,000 pounds per month, and 4,160,000 pounds per year," she boasted on EverGreen's Facebook page.

By having grocery stores compost their food waste, "You're helping us keep 3,382,320 pounds of green house gas emissions out of the atmosphere and the equivalent of 365 cars off the road each year," she said.

And, "One commercial stop is the equivalent of 120 residential stops," she said.

Stores will also be bringing the effort full circle this summer by selling the finished compost product in the store.

"When it turns into dirt, it will come back as potting soil," Woodward said.

She said the new effort is in line with the values of the Aspen customer. Woodward recalled when the store got new produce tables, people noticed they were made from beetle kill trees. Some customers even return the mesh bags that hold produce.

"Its a very conscientious town," she said. "I have a lot of respect for the locals here."

Post Independent Editor John Stroud contributed to this report.

waste diversion at city market stores

For the week of Feb. 12-17

• Glenwood Springs — 3,575 pounds

• El Jebel — 3,250 pounds

• Carbondale — 2,925 pounds

• New Castle — 2,600 pounds

• Rifle — 2,600 pounds

• Eagle — 2,600 pounds

• Vail — 2,600 pounds

• Aspen — 2,400 pounds

• Avon — 2,275 pounds

Source: EverGreen ZeroWaste