Waste. Turn on the television, flip through a magazine, or scroll through your social media pages, and you’re bombarded with pictures of beaches that look more like landfills and rivers flowing with plastic. There’s no question that waste is bad for the environment, but it’s also just plain bad for business.
And that’s where the IGA Coca-Cola Institute’s Top 10 Waste Reduction Practices online training course can help. The newest course in conjunction with the Grocery Stewardship Certification (GSC) team, this 18-minute course teaches retailers and their staff how to divert waste from landfills and use it as a revenue source by recycling cardboard and plastics and donating food waste.
"In an industry that has such slim profit margins—a 1.7 percent on average—it's so much easier to cut costs than it is to make sales, " explains Peter Cooke, the GSC program manager. "So even a cost neutral thing like getting the plastic out of the waste stream—even if retailers are not making any money on it, at least they're not spending money to throw it out. If you can avoid the cost in the first place, it's so much more economically beneficial to avoid the cost than to try to cover it with sales."
Starting these sustainable practices is more than good for the environment—it attracts shoppers, too. Cooke says, "The market research shows that more and more customers are becoming interested in the environmental attributes of the products that they're shopping for and the businesses that they go to.
According to Cooke, independent retailers have an opportunity to differentiate from the competition through sustainable practices. "If a grocery store can focus on sustainability and figure out a way to communicate and demonstrate operational sustainability in a way that is authentic and measurable, it’s going to make an impression on shoppers," Cooke says.
IGA retailers can start their sustainability journey by watching the course through the Institute. After that, Cooke recommends starting small. "If I was a grocery store owner, I would be concentrating on cardboard, rigid plastics, and film plastics—which includes the bags," he says.
Preview the 10 best practices below and check out the course to learn how to reduce your store’s waste diversion and recycling rates while boosting revenue.
Litter Inspection in the Parking Lot Shoppers start their store experience in the parking lot. Keep it clean by checking for litter each morning and evening. Picking up the litter can also prevent a public health and water quality hazard.
Signs for Recyclables Designate a place in-store for recyclables and promote it with clear signs that discourage non-recyclable materials and communicate the importance of recycling.
Recycling Bins "The thing that we really like to see the grocery stores do is at least have a place to collect the plastic bags," Cooke says. Since plastic bags and other film plastics can’t be recycled by consumers at home in curbside pickup, shoppers can easily return plastic bags to grocery stores if they collect the bags. Designate a bin at the front of the store for plastic bags, along with other bins for commonly recycled items.
Locked Dumpster or Compactor Chute Keep a lock on the compactor chute and the dumpster, and assign a few employees to ensure recyclable items aren't placed in the trash or compactor by mistake.
Understand the Value of Commonly Recycled Materials According to Cooke, cardboard is "a big revenue stream for many grocery stores across the country." The course details how a small independent grocer can save nearly $10,000 a year simply by recycling bales of cardboard. Any bit of recycling helps, as your store can divert that waste from landfills and instead ensure it is reused, all while saving money.
Hazardous Waste Proper collection and storage of hazardous waste—including products sold in-store like lighter fluid or insect killer—is important for your store, especially in the case of a natural disaster like flooding, as it can prevent the waste from entering the water supply. Follow the tips for collection and storage offered in the course to keep your team and community safe.
Regulated Waste Streams: Handling Universal Waste Fluorescent tube lamps and electronic waste shouldn't be stored indefinitely at your business. Take inventory of these waste items and contact your lighting and computer vendors for proper and regular recycling options.
Conditions of the Compactor or Dumpster Assess the condition of your compactor, checking the hydraulic lines for leaks. Install rain guards to prevent rain water from gathering in your compactor, which can rust the bottom and add to your waste hauling costs.
Preventing Food Waste 20 to 40 percent of all food produced is wasted, according to the EPA. Food donation, composting, and livestock donation programs are great ways to divert your store's food waste from landfills. These methods are significantly more sustainable than simply throwing food away, and it saves your store money by reducing waste hauling costs.
Employee Engagement Engage your employees to make sustainable choices at the store, which can make them more productive and feel more satisfied with their jobs. Encourage them to sign a commitment letter to make sustainable choices for one week. This activity can have an impact long after the week ends and teaches the employees about sustainable options both at work and at home.
The first course, Top 5 Grocery Store Energy Savers, is still available at the Institute, and the third course by GSC will focus on hazardous chemicals. Contact GSC for help finding the right resources to start in-store recycling or to implement a larger sustainability effort.