Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

From Trash to Treasure

On my previous blog “What Makes a Company Green,” a reader asked for more on our composting efforts, and I’m happy to be able to provide information about this green mission commitment.  Composting has several definitions and our programs vary across the country, but here is a general overview of how it works. Although there are hundreds of so called “composting facilities” across the country, there are only about 20 that have gone through the rigorous certification required to handle food waste, and these are typically labeled “food waste recovery sites.”  Many of these are located near large cities and have state or municipal resource programs to help support them (e.g. Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC metro, Columbus/Cleveland and San Francisco).  Unfortunately, not all of our stores and facilities operate near these sites, but passionate team members are working with local communities and municipalities to help cultivate these resources by testifying to their benefits and advocating for the necessary infrastructure. FYI, at Whole Foods Market, we organize a lot of our work by geographical regions of the country and we have dedicated teams working in each of these regions setting up programs specifically suited for that part of the country. In several regions, the composters arrive at our stores and pick up the food and organic waste, which is then worked in with other businesses’ food and organic waste, and over time, the sun heats up the mix and it breaks down, eventually producing humus or compost, which is a valuable addition to any horticultural or landscaping project. Most of the composters sell this product in bulk by the yard for local farmers, and this helps them raise healthier plants.  It’s also used by community parks, landscapers and even golf courses. Last year, one region purchased some of this compost product from certain facilities and had it packaged in our emptied food grade white buckets to be sold at several stores, giving these buckets a second or third life.  This year, they’ve got a new way of providing this product to buyers: the compost is packaged in compostable plastic bags that are designed to be cut along the sides of the bags with Xs in the center to mark planting spots. So in the spring, customers may take the bag of compost home, empty it onto their garden, cut the lines, lay the bag right on the bed and plant through the Xs!  This provides a weed barrier and decomposes through the growing season. Also, 15 stores in this region now have “tea” brewers that use the compost material, and customers bring their own containers to the stores and buy the tea for horticultural use. One region delivers its food and organic waste to a composter using “Green Machines.”  A Green Machine is a closed top dumpster/truck contraption that belongs to our South Region’s Distribution Center (the dumpsters were inherited from an old store).  Several team member volunteers painted them green by having a team painting party. The regional stores use a back hauling process (after deliveries are made to the store and the delivery truck is empty, the store sends back their food waste in wax boxes lined with biodegradable bags to the distribution center.  When it gets there, the bags are taken out of the wax boxes, and the bagged food waste goes into the Green Machine dumpster. Once the dumpster is full it is hauled off to the compost field to start the process. We see composting as a really important Green Mission solution.  There is clear evidence that food waste and other organic materials, when buried in landfills, are primary contributors to the emissions of methane, one of the most potent of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.  So not only does our food “waste” become an agricultural soil amendment that is vital to the production and maintenance of healthy soil and plants, but by preventing it from getting into landfills, we’re avoiding a significant amount of methane from entering the atmosphere. And, using compost also reduces or even eliminates the need for fossil fuel-based pesticides. Thanks for the question and the opportunity to share our composting successes. Want to try composting at home? Here’s a helpful site to get you started. I’m looking forward to doing more blog posts, so shoot any questions my way about our green programs and let me know what you are interesting in reading about.