Anthony Dilenno, president of HAVI Global Solutions Recycling and Waste Solutions, says that trash should be viewed as a resource, not waste.
What are current trends in recycling and waste?
Anthony Dilenno: There are a couple of macro trends at play that are impacting recycling and waste. China’s Operation Green Fence limited the amount of recycling commodities that could enter the country and subsequently put pressure on U.S. retailers to sell many commodities domestically. U.S. retailers are seeking opportunities to reduce the amount of food and packaging they send to landfills and recycling operations. Grocery operations are developing solutions such as composting their own organic materials or partnering with consumer goods suppliers to reduce packaging. As a result, they also are eliminating costs and lowering waste spend.
How do these impact/affect grocery retailers?
We are seeing greater synergy between consumers and retailers and this is having a positive effect on the environment and on consumers’ perceptions of brands. Increasingly, grocery retailers encourage reusable bags as alternatives to brown paper or plastic bags and offer recycling programs at their locations to facilitate consumers’ sustainability efforts.
Grocery retailers like Kroger are investing in anaerobic digesters to divert organics from landfills and many companies have increased their reverse logistics efforts to consolidate volumes of commodities within their distribution centers to recycle more commodities and drive recycling revenue. These efforts are helping reduce the amount of waste headed for landfills and enabling retailers to lower their costs. They also are building brand loyalty with consumers who feel good about supporting retailers that are taking steps to protect the environment.
What opportunities exist that stores can take advantage of?
Shifting mindsets from “waste equals garbage” to “waste equals resource” is one of the biggest challenges for the U.S. market, and one that will present additional waste and recycling opportunities for grocery retailers. Thirty-one percent, or 133 billion pounds, of food was wasted in the U.S. in 2010, meaning it was not available for human consumption at the retail and consumer level. These organics represent a tremendous resource in terms of potential for transformation into energy and fertilizers. A big reason for underutilization of this resource is a lack of organic food processing facilities across the country, but we expect this will become less of an issue as more facilities and technologies come on board.
Additional opportunities will come from collaboration across industry. Waste, recycling and sustainability are not competitive pursuits so it is beneficial for large and small grocery chains, retailers and even other industries to work together to leverage their scale for greater impact on the environment and their economics. We recently helped a large global chain divert three million pounds of organic material that previously was landfilled. This was accomplished through partnerships within the supply chain that significantly reduced freight cost, lowered the cost for disposal and created an alternate use as a recycling commodity.
Have retailers used waste and recycling to their advantage as far as building their brands?
Yes, and analytics are key to their success. Many large, national grocery chains do a great job recycling, but struggle to communicate their success because the waste and recycling industry itself has struggled to provide good data and reporting. Most retailers rely on local haulers and recyclers who are excellent at picking up waste and recycling but lack the resources, time and expertise to gather and analyze meaningful information and provide business insight beyond a local or regional level. By partnering with a professional recycling and waste management company, retailers can gain access to the analytics and narrative science they need to tell their sustainability story. They are able to communicate the success of their efforts to consumers and other key audiences to promote their brand and image.
How can retailers leverage waste and recycling for revenue or other advantages?
The grocery industry was an early adopter of recycling and really led the way in sustainability through standard corrugated recycling for 40 years. We continue to see that innovative spirit today. By designing sustainable packaging, adjusting mindsets such that trash is viewed as a resource and engaging with consumers, partners, competitors and even NGOs, grocers can work toward a more sustainable vision and achieve zero waste.