A Sustainable Spoil

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So, you’re perusing through the meat aisle at your local grocer, and chances are you see a great deal of food that has a bright yellow clearance sticker – it must go by today.

But what happens to all that leftover meat? Most grocers send it to rendering companies, but even then, some of the cut meat gets landfilled, translating into thousands upon thousands of pounds of wasted food.

Some U.S. zoos purchase meat for its carnivores by the truckload. That's tens of thousands of pounds every month. Photo: Amanda Wills/Earth911.com

Some U.S. zoos purchase meat for its carnivores by the truckload. That's tens of thousands of pounds every month. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Let’s switch gears to another side of the story. While this meat is often wasted, animal caretakers and zoos across the country are spending tens of thousands of dollars on raw meat for their lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). See a connection yet?

Quest Recycling, a full service recycling company, also saw the connection, and it led to the launch of their sister company called Sustainable Selections.  This new venture created a liaison between retailers and zoos to handle this wasted meat. While the expired meat is not suitable for human consumption, it is still safe for animals. Grocers get rid of their “waste” while zoos and rescues save thousands.

The program is simple: Organizations (such as zoos and animal caretakers) pay a low monthly membership fee. Sustainable Selections matches the member with a local retailer based on the amount of meat needed on a weekly basis. 

Any type of organization is welcome to participate as long as it can consume at least 250 pounds of meat each week or can partner up with other groups to meet the required amount. Sustainable Selections reaches out to a variety of animal caretakers, including:

  • Zoos
  • Animal shelters
  • Individuals or groups of pet owners
  • Exotic pet owners

While the program is still in its pilot stages, we caught up with Quest’s Marketing Director, Jason Smith and Project Manager, Robin Sweere, to find out more about Sustainable Selections.

Earth911.com: We know Quest works with several major retailers and knows first-hand how quickly leftover meat can pile up, but how did the idea for Sustainable Selections come about?

Jason Smith: It came from the idea that some of our retail clients are moving to a zero-waste policy, and we were trying to find a better alternative [to meat rendering]. We had some test pilots with exotic farms around the country, and as we looked, there were a lot of zoos that were facing closures due to animal feed fees. We thought if we created a membership club, then everybody wins. The biggest issue is the amount of processed meat because zoos don’t want this, but you have to take everything.

Robin Sweere: One of the number one reasons for turning over animals to facilities is due to the cost of feeding. Also, there is a new trend of feeding raw meat to animals, even your house pets.

Earth911: Tell us more about the new trend in feeding raw meat to household pets.

Sweere: Well, exotic pet ownership is becoming a trend as well. You would be amazed at how many people have two or three pet tigers and are also feeding raw meat to their other animals, such as dogs and cats. But that’s not generally our target, as most people can’t process 250 pounds of meat [a week]. However, a couple of pet owners can go in together, you just have to have one person responsible for pick up, contracts, etc.

Smith: Feeding raw has its best of intentions, but most people can only afford chicken, but if you go in with other pet owners, you can have a choice: pork, beef, chicken and fish. It has a lot of nutrients and can be healthy for pets.

Earth911: Can you explain how this program works once you’re a member? Are you seeing a trend in the amount of meat animal caretakers and zoos are using?

Sweere: Each store has an average of 200 to 250 pounds of meat each week in leftovers, so we look at the individual member and his or her needs. We match them with the store that’s closest and has the volume of leftover meat that the member is looking for. The volume varies by size of the zoo and the amount of carnivores and herbivores. One barrel is 250 pounds of meat, so some zoos need as much as 44 barrels to feed their animals. But we are always up-front with the members about the potential risks with the program.Sustainable Solutions Logo

Earth911.com: Risks?

Smith: Too much meat is the primary risk.

Sweere: We’re very frank. If the freezer goes out at the store, members will still need to pick up everything. Although it’s not an everyday case, we have to have an outlet to get rid of it. You have to be able to lift a 200-pound barrel and have proper transportation for it, so it takes planning. But those who are spending thousands a month for feed are happy to do it. However, they have to be able to legally dispose of meat.

Earth911: So all members have to do is pay the low membership fee that covers administration fees, insurance and paperwork, and they can take all the meat they need? That seems like a pretty sweet deal.

Smith: Some of these zoos were bringing in meat by the truckload from bigger corporations. One of our pilot programs used to spend about $30,000 a month on feed! So, it’s definitely a good deal for both parties.

Earth911: All seven test pilots have been successful, and the program will be up and running on Nov. 1. Will there ever be a chance for consumers to get involved with Sustainable Selections? Could this possibly be something households could participate in?

Smith: I would love to say ‘yes,’ but there would be a lot of risks. Even in the retail store, the cold chain is well managed with meat freezers and coolers, and once it’s ready to be pulled, it will be put back into the cooler. As consumers, we don’t take those types of measures into consideration.

Earth911: The program sounds like a fantastic idea, and we can’t wait to see the impact it has. What’s in the future for Quest Recycling and this specific program?

Sweere: Quest started a new company called Landfill Diversion Innovations, a partner company that was formed in the spirit of a co-op, and we’re hoping to eventually incorporate produce, pet food, among other things. We’re trying to keep food out of landfills. We say people first, animals second, then reuse and recycle. As this program is proven successful, we can expect to roll out other initiatives in the future.

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