How Wegmans is Working Towards Zero Waste
While there are still many deniers, the scientific consensus is clear — the Earth is on the brink of a climate emergency. Weather is becoming more extreme, and the amount of pollution filling our oceans and landfills has reached crisis proportions.
In the name of convenience and aesthetics, humans generate a staggering amount of waste. The average American throws away nearly four and a half pounds of trash every single day, most of which ends up in a landfill. While some of this trash will break down over time, even more will sit for decades. A big part of the problem is found in single-use plastic, such as in packaging, where most is thrown away the moment it's brought home from the supermarket. A staggering 40% of plastic is produced for packaging.
This is leading governments and brands to take serious steps to reduce the amount of waste we produce. The UK, for example, has introduced a charge for plastic carrier bags and many bars and restaurants — including big names like McDonald's — have swapped out plastic straws for paper, bamboo, or metal ones.
As a leading supermarket brand, Wegmans is taking its responsibility to the environment seriously and has been introducing several initiatives to help it work towards zero waste and a more sustainable future. In 2019, the brand announced a commitment to reduce its use of single-use plastic by two million pounds, and ten million pounds by 2024.
"We're taking measurable steps to improve and implement programs that increase our recycling rate, minimize waste, and help make a difference in every community we serve," said Wegmans Packaging and Sustainability Manager, Jason Wadsworth. "One area we're paying particular attention to is packaging. We need to ensure packaging is functional and performs as expected, which is key to reducing food waste. But it must also use materials efficiently and responsibly and be recyclable whenever possible."
One way in which Wegmans is working towards zero waste is by following the UK's lead and introducing a ban on free plastic bags in its supermarkets. Wegmans ceased giving out the bags on January 27th, in preparation for a statewide ban due to begin on March 1st. Shoppers will be able to buy reusable bags for a nominal charge that they can bring back and use time and time again.
Pallets of leftover bags have been sent out to Wegmans stores to be used up before the ban comes into play. Any unused and unopened boxes of carrier bags will be donated to food bank charity FeedMore WNY to help package their food parcels. This prevents the leftover bags from going to waste and helps Wegmans do some more good in its community alongside its zero waste commitment.
The ban will not apply to foods prone to leakage such as fresh meat products. These types of products will be wrapped in smaller plastic bags to prevent them from contaminating other food products or the new reusable bags. Wegmans is also working on a plastic-free alternative for much of its fresh food packaging.
"Wegmans is working on alternatives with the Center for Sustainable Packaging at the Rochester Institute of Technology," said Samantha Christmann for Wegmans. "The grocer has also switched from plastic straws and stir sticks to renewable-fiber ones at all of its stores and work sites. The chain's food bar containers are now recyclable and contain 40% less plastic than they used to. Some bakery boxes are made from 100% recycled paper content, the store's produce bags are made from 100% plant-based renewable materials and its rotisserie chicken pouches use 75% less plastic."
Other initiatives include switching to reusable plastic shipping containers for Wegmans' case-ready meat products. The supermarket currently uses corrugated cardboard boxes which must be disposed of after a single journey. The new policy promises to eliminate package waste, as well as increasing supply chain efficiency and lowering transportation costs.
"Switching to RPCs eliminates significant packaging waste and helps Wegmans reach its packaging goals," said Wadsworth. "Other American retailers that have moved from corrugated to reusable plastic containers for perishable food include Food Lion and Kroger. Inside stores, Wegman's says it has stopped using foam packaging where alternatives exist. The company has a partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology's Center for Sustainable Packaging to look for meat trays that can perform as well as the foam ones and protect the food throughout the supply chain."
Zero waste is a noble cause for any brand and supermarkets arguably have a greater responsibility than many other sectors due to the enormous amounts of packaging which pass through their doors. Seeing companies such as Wegmans take such innovative steps to address the problem is encouraging indeed.
Sustainability is set to be a hot topic at Digital Food and Beverage 2020, taking place in July at the Hilton Austin TX.
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