New online tools designed to help grocery stores recycle more of the large bulky rigid plastic containers used in the backrooms of their deli, bakery and seafood departments are now available on a new website created by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.
“Many grocery chains have excellent recycling programs already in place,” said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “Our new program makes it easy for grocers to ... strengthen their sustainability efforts by recycling more of the plastics they use every day.”
The free online tools — including a how-to-guide, worksheets to evaluate potential cost savings and revenue, three educational videos, technical assistance, and training materials that can be customized — are available at www.recyclegroceryplastics.org.
Two successful six-month pilot programs, the second one completed in April, have the industry optimistic that it can capture more of that material, which is estimated to be 354 million pounds annually just from medium and large supermarket chains.
The Recycle Grocery Rigid Plastics initiative, partially funded by the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council, could become yet-another way to collect polypropylene and high density polyethylene, and provide more material to recyclers scrambling to meet the increasing demand for recycled resins.
Because many stores already have programs that recycle cardboard and plastic film, expanding those programs to include plastic containers could be a logical extension, said APR.
The project will be unveiled Oct. 4 at the Sustainability Summit in Washington, put on jointly by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
The pilot programs in the Northeast — at some Stop & Shop and Hannaford supermarket stores — collected items such as rectangular fish containers, large pharmaceutical stock bottles used to fill individual prescriptions, floral bins and containers, large frosting pails, oyster buckets, salad-bar containers, and butter cream and doughnut glaze buckets that are used behind the scenes in grocery stores.
The pilot programs found that the grocery chains both saved disposal costs and were able to sell the material collected. They also found that stacking containers by size also sorted them by resin type. About half the containers are PP and about half are HDPE.
Both chains are exploring implemeting full-scale programs to collect plastic containers at all of their locations, said APR.
“Throwing away recyclables is like throwing away money,” said Christine Gallagher, corporate responsibility manager for Ahold USA, which owns Stop & Shop. “Our stores end up paying less to have their trash removed because there is less to throw away.”
“Hannaford has a long tradition of stewardship,” said George Parmenter, sustainability manager for Hannaford Bros. Co. supermarkets.
“This work hits that sustainability sweet spot, where what's good for business meets what's good for the planet,” he said.