Wegmans Remains Committed to Sustainability Throughout the Pandemic
Each year on April 22nd people around the world celebrate Earth Day, reflecting on the big and small ways they can decrease their environmental impact. Sustainability is a daily consideration at Wegmans. For decades, we have focused on reducing, reusing, and recycling resources to preserve this planet for generations to come. Despite a challenging year, we added more stores to our path to zero waste initiative, increased food donations, and introduced new sustainability programs in 2020.
“One of the biggest takeaways we learned from 2020 was not to waste a thing,” said Chris Foote, Wegmans sustainability coordinator. “Over the years, our stores have developed creative programs to ensure resources are used instead of ending up in the landfill.”
A large piece of our path to zero waste initiative is diverting food scraps from the landfill by donating them to local farmers to use as feed for livestock. Every day, trimmings from fresh-cut fruit and veggies, such as strawberry tops, melon rinds, and ends of romaine, are collected with unsaleable bakery items, like bread ends, for donation. Local farmers and animal organizations come to participating stores daily or weekly to pick up the feed for their animals.
30 Wegmans stores currently have partnerships with local farmers, zoos, animal sanctuaries and parks through this program. We often partner with pig farmers who need large amounts of scraps every week to feed their hungry herds. In 2020, our North Carolina stores connected with several local pig farmers who now collect food scraps from these stores each week. The West Cary and Chapel Hill locations also began providing feed to the Animal Park at the Conservators Center. The nonprofit, independent zoological park houses more than 20 species of exotic animals and supports wildlife conservation through education and raising public awareness of rare and endangered species. In total, this program provided over 1,254 tons of scraps for animal feed across all of our stores in 2020; an increase of more than 200 tons from the previous year.
Foam packaging is used readily in many industries to protect food during transport and when on display at the store. While it’s efficient at these tasks, foam is not easily recyclable and quickly fills our store’s trash compactors. In early 2020, Wegmans’ sustainability team partnered with our salmon suppliers to switch from shipping salmon in foam coolers to Reusable Plastic Containers (RPCs). RPCs do not pose any food safety risk for the salmon as they perform equally as well as foam coolers in keeping the product cold and secure during transportation. They are also collapsible and stackable, taking up less room on the return truck to the supplier for the next salmon shipment. This change eliminated 216,700 foam coolers in 2020 alone. Due to the success of the switch, Wegmans seafood merchants are working to roll out RPCs to additional raw seafood items in the future.
Wegmans’ produce departments also recently embraced an opportunity to change in-store fruit trays from foam to new fiber inserts. The fiber inserts can be recycled, contain more trays per package sent to the store, and provide the same level of protection to the apples, pears, and oranges that they hold. Eliminating more foam packaging in our stores reduces the amount that eventually ends up in the garbage, which cuts down on the frequency that the trash is hauled away, ultimately reducing the number of trucks on the roads and the gas used to fuel them.
In late 2020, a Lake Manassas customer contacted our Customer Care Center regarding a wine cork recycling program. She noticed the program at another store and suggested that we provide the service at Wegmans Wine Shops. Our sustainability and wine teams partnered with Cork Forest Conservation Alliance to add a natural cork collection box to our Lake Manassas store in early February 2021. Once the box is full, it is returned to Cork Forest and the corks are recycled into filler for shipping, cork bobbers for anglers, and many other consumer and industrial products. If the pilot at Lake Manassas is deemed a success, the program will be rolled out to all Wegmans Wine Shops.
By the Numbers
- Wegmans donated a total of 19.6 million pounds of perishable and non-perishable food in 2020.
- Currently 30 Wegmans locations are working with local farmers and organizations like zoos and animal rescues to provide animal feed.
- Last year, 101 Wegmans stores diverted more than 48.1 million pounds of food waste through our diversion programs.
- The average recycling rate at Wegmans is 74.5 percent. 32 Wegmans stores finished the year with a recycling rate near or above 80 percent.
- Currently, 79 Wegmans stores are participating in Wegmans path to zero waste initiative; increased from just 6 stores in 2018, with more slated for the future.
“We’re committed to working toward a greener future,” said Foote. “We recognize there is always room for improvement, so we continuously seek out new ways to reduce waste, increase our recycling rate, and help make a difference in every community we serve.”