How Grocers Can Add Composting to Their Sustainability Initiatives

Progressive Grocer talks with Cingari Family ShopRite about how it became involved in recycling organic matter like food into fertilizer
Shoprite Dominick Cingari
“By keeping track of the weight for each store’s waste and compost, we can share the percentage of what does not go into landfills and display it on signs throughout the stores.” —Dominick Cingari, Cingari Family ShopRite

When it comes to sustainability objectives, consumers want grocers to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. By that standard, Cingari Family ShopRite has certainly been successful, particularly in relation to its composting activities. Progressive Grocer recently caught up with Dominick Cingari, VP and supervisor of pharmacy, nonfoods, and health and beauty at the Connecticut-based family-owned company, to find out how the independent retailer became involved in recycling organic matter like food into fertilizer.

Although the company has been physically composting for more than a decade, having launched its initiative in this area back in 2012 for Earth Day, it became involved with Southington, Conn.-based food waste hauling business Quantum Biopower and Hartford, Conn.-based Blue Earth Compost just a few years ago.

[Read more: "The ROI of Supermarket Sustainability"]

“Blue Earth Compost provides Cingari Family ShopRite with bins to transport waste to their vendor, Quantum Biopower,” explains Cingari. “Blue Earth then picks up the waste from our stores. It initially started with just one of our stores during the pandemic, and then eventually expanded to all 12 locations.”

Innovation Makes the Difference

When asked what makes its current composting collaboration different, Cingari replies: “By using automated technology, Quantum can take our packaged food waste. This hasn’t been possible for us in the past with traditional composting and diversion. For example, in the past, nonsaleable shredded cheese would be opened and we would throw away the plastic bag, and then put the cheese to be composted. Now, with Quantum Biopower’s technology, they turn the plastic and the food waste into a compost slurry and force it through small screens that separate the plastic or metal from what is compostable so that they can recycle those materials and extract the food waste.”

What’s more, Quantum, whose digester uses an anaerobic process to rapidly break down food waste and turn it into nutrient-rich compost, also captures the methane gas that’s naturally released during the composting process, and the gas is then converted to energy to power Southington homes and businesses. “This differs from other composting methods that release methane/greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” points out Cingari.

As for how the partnership has developed, he observes: “What Cingari Family ShopRite [was] sending to compost [jumped] to about 30% more material to be composted as we [added] new stores to our partnership with Blue Earth and Quantum. That’s 30% less going into the landfills.”

Spreading the Word

In addition to doing good work in composting, the company makes sure that its shoppers and employees are kept in the loop.

“We have signage in our stores by checkout to let the customers know that Cingari Family ShopRite donates wholesome but unsaleable products to local food banks, and that we compost and recycle,” says Cingari. “I also like to set goals for the stores. By keeping track of the weight for each store’s waste and compost, we can share the percentage of what does not go into landfills and display it on signs throughout the stores.”

The grocer shares such reports with its employees on a weekly basis. “When store A sees that they’re getting beat by store B, it turns into a contest of sorts to see who can succeed the most,” notes Cingari.

The success that Cingari Family ShopRite has already seen with Blue Earth and Quantum is on course to continue. “We’re also expanding our floral department, and all of the old floral dirt and broken bags of mulch will now go to Quantum Biopower, along with anything else that’s biodegradable,” says Cingari, who sums up the company’s dedication to composting and other sustainability initiatives simply: “Doing the right thing is what’s important.” 

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