My Visit to Whole Foods Compost

Tonight I visited the Whole Foods stores of Washington D.C. and spoke with a nice lady named Erin. She is a part of the green mission for the market super chain. Thank you very much Erin for showing me around the compost operations.

Whole Foods is truly a unique operation in that it actually has a green mission. The mission is a part of its core values to care “About Our Communities & Our Environment”. Now, I bet most of you are thinking that this is another corporate ploy. I had the same thought and so I used this opportunity to discover for myself.

Right when I arrived at the Tenleytown store, Erin greeted me and we began discussing the internal workings of the composting business. We talked about facilities, pick-ups, and different types of decomposition. She explained how the stores she works with are cutting their waste disposal costs in half by actively engaging in composting. They are able to divert very high percentages of their waste away from landfills. Something in the range of 80-90%, very close to being a zero waste corporation.

That right there was enough for me. Here is a large operation that could be sending out many tons of waste each day to our landfills. Instead they are being proactive, saving money, and proving that it works.

As we continued along, Erin showed me how she implemented these features in the store. At nearly every location where a trash can existed there was also a recycle bin and a compost bin. Now anyone involved in recycling knows that sorting this stuff is tough. Yet the employees had worked this into their daily activities, it was almost second nature. It was really cool to watch one worker spend the time to break down and compact some cardboard, instead of just wheel it outside to the dumpster.

An interesting side note is that all of this is hidden from the customers. We definitely live in a bubble wrapped world.

Other features of the operation were that as the process grew she was working on making everything in the store recycled. The actual trash bins were few and far between (most that I did see were for the customers). The large trash chutes and compactors were now being used for compost and recycling, rather than for landfill trash.

Can you imagine working in an environment with only recycle/compost bins and no trash cans?

I’m not sure these workers ever imagined that, but here they are working that way. They were deeply involved in a quiet compost revolution at their stores.

Overall it was quite an impressive operation and I walked away impressed and hopeful for this nonprofit’s future.

Thanks again Erin.

P.S. thanks to the @wholefoods twitter account for this informative tweet. Also, here is a link to their blog about their compost operations.

5 thoughts on “My Visit to Whole Foods Compost”

  1. “Can you imagine working in an environment with only recycle/compost bins and no trash cans?”

    On Navy ships….kind of. When you’re finished with meals, you bring your tray to a series of bins. Some are for bones and egg shells, others for leftover food. That leftover food is put in bags and dumped over the side. It erodes quickly. I’m not sure what happens to the bones, but I’ll ask around.

    As for regular trash, like the junk food bought in the mini stores, the cans and plastics are separated, crushed, and eventually recycled once the ship gets into port. Other trash like paper, wrappers, chewing gum, whatever, is burned in the furnace. The seaman in charge of trash won’t take the trash bag if there’s recyclable materials in it. No glass is sold on ships, so that’s not a problem.

    I must admit that grease rags, paint cans, and the like, are all thrown overboard as long we are out to sea (I believe 25 miles from shore, but don’t quote me).

    It was refreshing to see the Navy taking care of trash the most effective way possible on the ocean. There’s no room for compost piles out there, but the food thrown overboard could just as easily be that pile. It’s doable.

  2. Tom – wow that is very impressive. I love how the Navy does that and I expect the ocean would be a great compost pile. Though, I do wonder how much you guys are throwing in, you know like if you have lots of fellas on the ship, thats a lot of trash…

    Also, do you think u guys use less trash since its all this trouble to use more?

  3. I’ll try to get more clarification, this might be a ship thing. I’m certain the ashes from our paper/misc trash were dumped. A 200 person ship wouldn’t have the same burn capabilities as a 5,000 person ship. The carrier I was on (5k+) did have a ton of trash. Then again, when you’re going 25kts for a week straight or more without seeing land, you really appreciate how vast the ocean is. Throwing something biodegradable over the side does not seem a big deal. As for the rags and cans of paint, I hate it I hate it I hate it.

    A side note – I have fired thousands of rounds at various Navy & Army shooting ranges. At the end of every shoot, we go around and pick up each individual casings. Someone always arranges a “FOD walkdown” of sorts to lineup everyone across the field and walk the length, stopping for every casing. I am told they are all recycled.

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