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Chapel Hill grocery stores make reducing food waste a priority

Many grocery stores in North Carolina are working toward this by taking steps to reduce the amount of food waste that ends up in landfills.

Chapel Hill Planning Manager for Sustainability John Richardson said local governments in North Carolina do not regulate the management of supermarket waste. Grocery stores are responsible for enacting their own conservation and redistribution policies. 

“Each of our local grocery stores has policy related to food waste diversion,” Richardson said. “Policy tends to focus on food waste from the hierarchy of: Can it be reduced? Can people/animals be fed from it? Can it be composted?”  

Earlier this year, France passed a law that made it illegal for supermarkets to throw away edible food. Instead, supermarkets are required to enter into contracts with food banks to redistribute the food to the hungry. 

Much of the food that goes unsold each day or reaches its expiration date is still safe to eat. The Harris Teeter in Carrboro partners with an organization called Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to redistribute edible expired foods. 

“They give us produce that at the end of the day has gone unsold, and then we turn around that same day and redistribute it to our partner agencies that feed the hungry,” said Cindy Sink, spokesperson for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. 

Scott Riley, the general manager at Harris Teeter in Carrboro, said food must pass a standard in order to be redistributed. 

“There are certain criteria about expired food,” Riley said. “It depends on what it is; if it’s bakery goods or sweet goods those go, but if it’s something that’s more critical that could be a health issue, those things are recycled.” 

Sink said fresh meats and produce are harder to come by when it comes to redistribution.

“The people that are hungry need that as well, they like to have cakes, we just want to make sure that there is a healthy distribution of food and that means we have to have healthy proteins and fresh produce,” Sink said. 

Heavenly Groceries, a food bank on Rosemary Street, distributes fresh produce, breads, canned foods and other items it picks up from the Inter-Faith Council. The IFC receives food donations from the local Trader Joe's and Food Lion, among other stores, which it redistributes to a variety of food banks in the area. 

The Whole Foods Market in Chapel Hill donates much of their excess food as well.

“At the end of the day we are usually able to take a lot of the stuff that was on the hot bar and used in the preparation of prepared food, and pretty much all of that at the end of the night is boxed up and put aside for donation and are almost always collected the very next morning,” said Whole Foods’ Green Mission representative Ian Leinbaugh. 

Whole Foods is aiming to become “Zero Waste” by 2016, which entails diverting 90 percent of waste from landfills and incineration. They are currently at 83 percent. 

When food can no longer be consumed, the next best option is composting. The Chapel Hill Whole Foods composts between 75,000 and 100,000 pounds of food each month. 

Another option for repurposing inedible food is making it into animal feed. 

“Usually some of that stuff can be donated to farmers for pig slop and that kind of thing,” Leinbaugh said. 

Grocery stores are doing what they can, but according to the EPA, 95 percent of food thrown away does end up in landfills or combustion facilities. 

@cwpaletta

city@dailytarheel.com

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