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BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) here last week introduced a new certification program that will reward stores with regulatory relief if they voluntarily develop sustainable programs for reusing organics and other wastes, rather than discarding them.
The government agency developed the initiative, the Supermarket Recycling Program Certification (SRPC), in collaboration with supermarket operators in the state. It is part of a larger ongoing cooperative effort between MassDEP and the Massachusetts Food Association (MFA), an industry group representing supermarkets and other food retailers.
"Diverting organics and other wastes from disposal to reuse is good not only for the environment, but also for business," noted MassDEP commissioner Robert W. Golledge Jr. in a statement. "We expect this incentive-based, voluntary approach to change the supermarket industry's waste-management culture for the better."
Organics, consisting of such items as spoiled and out-of-date food, cardboard, plants, soil, and renderings, make up more than three-quarters of the waste generated by a typical supermarket, MassDEP said. Recycling and composting the material can save a store between $20,000 and $40,000 in avoided disposal costs on average annually, the organization added.
Although most supermarkets have been recycling cardboard for some time, the current effort has helped 62 stores, including units operated by Big Y, Roche Bros., Shaw's/Star Markets, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods, increase their diversion of organic wastes to composting facilities and animal feeding operations. Those supermarkets have in the last year diverted over 10,000 tons of food scraps and other organic materials from landfills and combustion facilities.
"A number of our members already have diversion programs in place and are realizing significant savings as a result," said MFA president Chris Flynn. "Working closely with MassDEP, we will be providing new technical assistance materials and services to help other supermarkets get started."
Grocers taking part in the new program will not only save money, said the groups, but also improve their compliance with existing Massachusetts waste disposal bans. The state currently bans nine items from the waste stream, among them paper, cardboard, and glass.
The program requires participating supermarkets to provide for comprehensive recycling of cardboard, plastic wrap, shrink-wrap, and organic material. MassDEP will then exempt waste loads generated by these stores from routine comprehensive waste ban inspections for paper, cardboard, glass, metal and plastic containers, and leaves and yard waste. Supermarkets that apply for SRPC certification must meet and maintain specific recycling and composting criteria to maintain that status.
MassDEP has banned some materials from disposal in Massachusetts' landfills and combustion facilities to promote recycling and composting. Businesses that don't set up programs to divert banned items from their waste risk having their loads rejected at disposal or transfer facilities, paying additional handling fees, or facing enforcement penalties.
"The supermarket industry has been a leader in demonstrating its commitment to waste reduction, recycling, and composting," said Golledge. "We hope other industries will follow this example and look forward to working with them when they do."