Grocery stores are responsible for a lot of waste, but increasingly, companies are figuring out better ways to use food that would otherwise end up in landfills, at least here in Durango.
Every year, the U.S. throws away 30% to 40% of the food it produces, about 133 billion pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And grocery stores, specifically, are responsible for 10% of that waste.
But interviews with some of Durango’s grocery stores show they are coming up with inventive and creative ways to put spoiled or expired food to better use, whether through composting, using it for chicken feed or donating items to the food bank and soup kitchen.
Jessica Trowbridge, a spokeswoman for City Market, which has two locations in Durango, said the company instituted a “Zero Hunger, Zero Waste” program that seeks to get food to those in need, while at the same time, eliminate waste from operations by 2025.
In Durango, City Market regularly donates to local food banks, Trowbridge said.
“In the U.S., with how much food is wasted, as a grocery store, we feel it’s just absurd that 40% of food is thrown away, and 1 in 8 Americans still go hungry.”
For food past the point of being safely consumed, City Market has compost programs in 130 or so locations in Colorado, but not in Durango. As a result, food that spoils here ends up in the landfill.
“In Durango, we don’t have a partner there we can work with for a composting program,” Trowbridge said. “As soon as there is, we want to get on board.”
A potential solution may lie in a recent partnership announced between Albertsons and Durango-based Table to Farm Compost, which takes the grocery store’s food waste to the farm at Twin Buttes to be used as compost.
Taylor Hanson, co-owner of Table to Farm Compost, said the partnership diverts about 52 tons of waste a year from landfills, which reduces landfill methane emissions and provides nutrient-rich soils to farm operations.
Ryne Hayes, Albertsons store manager, did not return calls seeking comment. But in an emailed statement, Hayes said the store hopes to expand its composting efforts.
“We are eager as an organization to continue our partnership with Table to Farm Compost in a joint effort to reduce food waste and greenhouse gas emissions,” he wrote.
John Davis with the Bondad landfill did not return calls seeking comment about the amount of avoidable food waste in Durango’s main dump site.
At Natural Grocers, Cori Oliver, nutritional health coach, said it’s rare for any food to end up in the trash.
The store offers wasted produce to people who use it for chicken feed, with 20 to 30 people showing up a few times a week to pick it up.
Any food that may be expired, but is obviously edible, is donated to Manna, Durango’s soup kitchen. Oliver said Natural Grocers supplies Manna with 20 to 100 items every week.
“We try to prevent waste as much as we can,” Oliver said. “I rarely see anything thrown in the trash.”
The story is much the same at Durango Natural Foods Co-Op, said operations manager Brian Gaddy. The store puts food in compost bags people can pick up. And like Natural Grocers, anything edible goes to the Durango Food Bank or Manna.
Gaddy estimated that 1% or less of the food at the co-op ends up in the landfill.
“It’s pretty rare,” he said.
A store manager at Nature’s Oasis said he was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
The better management of spoiled or expired food by grocery stores is indicative of a larger movement to reduce food waste, said Monique DiGiorgio, co-owner at Table to Farm Compost.
Table to Farm Compost has about 340 residential customers and collects 205 tons of compostable waste a year. But that’s only a small fraction of the food waste from La Plata County’s nearly 56,000 residents, not to mention businesses, schools and other facilities.
“We’d like to scale-up production,” she said. “That’s where the Albertsons idea came from.”
The food waste from Albertsons used for compost at Twin Buttes will help the farm grow about 15,000 pounds of produce a year.
“For anyone following organic practices to grow food, composting effectively becomes a second job,” Twin Buttes Farm co-manager Jack Leggett said in a written statement. “Having a local source of affordable, quality, plant-based compost would be a game changer for farmers and gardeners alike.”