How Meijer Tackles Manufacturing and Composting Waste

Minimizing food waste is an important sustainability goal for Meijer at the store and manufacturing level. Preparing fresh food for millions of Meijer customers presents us with a sustainability challenge that’s familiar to the entire retail sector.

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In 2016, Meijer began sending some of its food waste to Hammond Farms in Lansing, Mich., where it is turned into compost.

In the past, most of the food discarded in the course of our manufacturing activities would have ended up in a landfill or been incinerated. Recently, though, Meijer has put the food waste created during the manufacturing process to better use.

For example, waste from our dairy facilities in Tipp City, Ohio and Holland, Mich. is being turned into animal feed. Fresh food byproducts from our Middlebury, Ind. and Lansing Fresh Assembly facilities, meanwhile, are sent for anaerobic digestion and being turned into compost.

In 2016, our Lansing facilities composted nearly 5,000 tons and sent 1,620 tons of fruit and vegetable waste to the Michigan State University anaerobic digester at its East Lansing campus. Simply put, an anaerobic digester is a sealed tank – at MSU, it resembles a large pot – that is deprived of oxygen. Food waste is placed in the tank that is kept at a temperature of roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Within 90 to 120 days, the food scraps are transformed into a rich compost that can be used for landscaping and gardening.

Also, in 2016, our Middlebury Central Kitchen in Indiana recycled more than 1,430 tons of would-be waste through anaerobic digestion. Middlebury sends  items like vegetable peels, meat and cheese scraps, extra bread dough, pasta, prepared salads, and other prepared deli and bakery items, while Lansing sends fruit and vegetable scraps (mostly pineapple peels).

In addition to sending food waste to MSU, we began a pilot program during summer 2016, to send waste to nearby Hammond Farms where it is turned into compost.

While turning waste into energy is a good first step in reducing our environmental impact – it reduces our landfill and emissions footprint – we thought more could be done to maximize the amount of organics that are recycled rather than sent to landfill.

As a result, MSU biosystem and agricultural engineering students undertook a comprehensive evaluation of our food waste management system in Lansing and came up with a plan to create a new waste-to-resource product in the form of compost.

Meijer is transporting food waste (76 percent of which is pineapple trimmings from our fresh fruit preparation operations) to nearby Hammond Farms, where it is actively composted for 90-120 days in windrows with yard waste. Once the composted product has been tested in accordance with the U.S. Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) Program, it is then ready to be sold for commercial use.

Our Purple Cow Creameries in Holland, Mich. and Tipp City, Ohio send waste and excess milk to animal feed operations.

“Reducing food waste is an important goal at Meijer,” said Erik Petrovskis, Director of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability for Meijer. “Closing the loop by recycling food waste from our manufacturing operation into compost that our customers can use in their own gardens is a terrific sustainable solution. Beyond producing a product from waste, we reduce landfill use and production of greenhouse gases.”