ByChase Ezell

Jan 24, 2014
Not all food a grocery store carries gets sold. So what happens next? Photo: Shutterstock
Not all food a grocery store carries gets sold. So what happens next? Photo: Shutterstock

Grocers and retailers play a vital role in providing life-sustaining food to people each and every day. In 2012, there were 37,000-plus supermarkets in the United States, ringing up a total of more than $602 billion in food sales, according to Food Marketing Institute data. That’s a lot of food, no matter how you slice it.

Of course, not every pound of food that a grocery store carries gets purchased by consumers. Food waste losses (PDF) account for almost $100 billion per year, with $30 billion to $40 billion of those losses occurring in the commercial retail sector, reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Leading the Way

How can grocers and retailers do their part to reduce the waste in their sector? Several are stepping up to this challenge.

In 2004, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Massachusetts Food Association created a voluntary supermarket recycling program. Shortly after the program debuted in August 2005, participating supermarkets reported annual savings (PDF) of $3,000 to $20,000 by simply diverting organics.

Portland-based New Seasons Market implemented a recycle/compost program (PDF) in 2011 that resulted in a 30 percent reduction in overall garbage volume, composting of 2,410 tons of organic waste, and a waste-expense savings of $26,982.

In 2011, Quest Resource Management Group helped a national retailer facilitate the donation of more than 10 million pounds of meat to 125 animal parks across the country. (While still fresh, some meat is not eligible for distribution to food banks and is therefore given to local animal shelters and zoos.) Quest also helped recycle more than 800 million pounds of food waste in compost and animal feed additives to aid a national retailer’s quest toward zero waste.

Next page: Financial Incentives for Reducing Food Waste

By Chase Ezell

Chase has served in various public relations, communications and sustainability roles. He is a former managing editor for