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BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Massachusetts Food Association (MFA) have signed a memorandum of understanding designed to encourage food retailers throughout the state to step up their recycling activities, especially in the composting of such items as spoiled fruits and vegetables, floral and deli waste, and waxed cardboard.
The agreement reflects the collaboration between MassDEP and the MFA to boost recycling at Massachusetts supermarkets through the expansion of the existing, decade-long Supermarket Organics Recycling Network (SORN).
MassDEP will offer technical assistance to stores that wish to launch recycling initiatives, in addition to creating a voluntary certification program to provide regulatory relief incentives for retailers that implement and maintain comprehensive recycling programs.
"This program is beneficial to everyone in Massachusetts," said MassDEP commissioner Robert W. Golledge Jr. in a statement. "Supermarkets save money, recyclers receive a steady stream of clean organic materials so they can produce good compost to sell, and the environment is better off because the more we recycle, the less we need new waste disposal facilities."
"We have worked together to develop an environmental protection program that makes sense for the supermarket industry," observed MFA president Chris Flynn. "It is an opportunity for us to support state efforts to increase recycling and avoid the need for more landfills."
Food and bulk-packaging wastes make up as much as 90 percent of the material that retailers have traditionally thrown away. Since these items are easily recyclable and valuable to recyclers, MassDEP is working to divert them from disposal. Organic waste, for instance, can be processed into nutrient-rich soil products.
The 57 grocery stores that took part in SORN last year, among them Big Y, Roche Bros., Shaw's/Star, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods, composted and recycled between 60 and 75 percent of their waste, diverting 8,900 tons of organics, 26,200 tons of cardboard, and over 1,000 tons of plastic from disposal. Each store saved an average of more than $45,000 in the process, according to MassDEP.
Sixty-two retailers are currently participating in the SORN program. MassDEP and MFA hope that a minimum of 100 stores in Massachusetts will be recycling organics by next year, and their ultimate goal is for all 400 supermarkets in the state to have recycling programs up and running within three years.
"EPA applauds the collaboration in Massachusetts that will expand recycling at grocery stores throughout the state," noted Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England regional office, which has supported SORN through grant funding. "These efforts will help us meet our goal of achieving a 35 percent recycling rate across the country by 2008." EPA hopes to replicate the Massachusetts program on a nationwide level.