Why is it important to measure?

The desire to run an economical, resourceful business requires at some point, a hard look at what gets thrown away.  Tracking and measuring has historically been guess work.  That doesn’t work anymore.  Opportunities to improve waste systems abound, from saving money to recycling more.  First though, we need to measure our current performance.  We need to know where we stand today—how much and what we recycle, how much goes to the landfill and our financial position—in order to chart the course for the coming years.

Waste diversion channels are becoming more prevalent, and with some ground work, a grid for markets can be established.  More and more of material thrown away, can be recycled or re-proposed, and access to markets continue to expand.  Being able to keep track of all those waste and recycling channels, the costs and volumes, materials and values, and being able to measure and compare is not quite so easy.  It can actually be more like a quagmire. The importance to measure, however, is essential in moving forward. 



Collecting the data, organizing the data, analyzing the data and reporting on the data are the steps we know well at Via Analytics, but if you don’t have an analytics tool for waste data, spreadsheets are the next best option.  Your organization can start by getting the trash bills and the rebate receipts to create a spreadsheet that allows analysis from month-to-month. 

Costs can be reduced.  Diversion can expand and revenues can be generated--all excellent actions and outcomes.  To be able to clearly see that information integrated, to be able to parse and compare, understand and report, that’s where resource management begins.    When you start measuring, you start to get it. Accurate measurements magnify opportunities for efficiency improvements and for additional diversion streams away from the landfill.   They clarify finances, reflect successes, and over time, reveal improvements.   Having the combined potential of all the data points, month-after-month, integrated and accessible, inform better business decisions and expand account acquisitions. 

Food In Landfills

Diversity in food choice at our local grocery stores is hitting a new threshold.   Fully stocked shelves of abundant fruits and vegetables, looking vine ripe fresh and available during off growing seasons, have become the norm.  High visual standards and choices are what American consumers have come to expect, and those expectations are coming at a price.

According to the EPA, 40% of food waste that ends up in the landfill doesn’t come from households’ refrigerators or platefuls of uneaten food.  It comes from food that never makes it into a consumer’s cart.  Food near expiration dates, blemished or awkwardly shaped produce often don’t meet the expectation of picky consumers and will never complete the fork- to-table cycle.   

 The luxury of fine food contributes to thin profit margins and strong competition in the grocery market industry.   Consumer demand informs grocery store outlets to maintain high standards, which to perhaps, the common sense side of us, may seem unrealistic at times.  Expected none the same, the abundance has a flip side; the reality of more food destined to waste streams, and the high costs associated with overfilled waste containers. 

There are laws in a handful of states restricting compost waste from landfills.  Those jurisdictions are leading the way in composting solutions.  Unfortunately, the remaining bulk of edible food is currently the largest contributor to US landfills, creating leachate and methane gas, one of the largest contributors to climate change.  Costs associated with growing, shipping, landfills, leachate and methane add up to an unsustainable outcome for the food we seek to sustain us.                                                                            

What can grocery stores do to decrease food waste before it arrives to US tables?  The EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy provides some structure in approaching unused food management.

 The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides protection to groceries to fulfill the highest best use of edible food to benefit others. With some ground work, local, edible food donations can reach avenues in need, and when not available, other preferred options can be explored.

Eventually, the decrease of excess food from the store shelf to the waste bin will ultimately slow down the flow of discarded food.   Yet, how do we do that?  Educate the consumer?   Adjust expectations of perfection and availability?   That is a tall task in a culture that every day expects more and diverse options held to the highest of standards.    As more grocery outlets tackle the challenges in food waste, more solutions will become readily available.  It will take a multi angled approach from grocers, growers, and ultimately customers to find the sweet spot between choice and sustainability.  

Melinda Caldwell, Via Analytics