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New Seasons digs deep to become 'zero-waste' company

Stores around the region offer compost for spring gardens


by: TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Bundles of recyclable plastics and cardboard wait for pickup outside the Progress Ridge New Seasons store.There’s a funny thank-you note posted in the kitchen prep area at New Seasons Market at Progress Ridge.

It’s from Maggie, Missy and Molly, three local chickens (and apparently their farmer) who appreciated the recent box-load of produce scraps New Seasons donated to them.

The feed — bits of lettuce, broccoli and other produce that otherwise would’ve gone to a landfill or compost — helped them produce lovely eggs, they wrote.

That isn’t the only place New Seasons sends its compost. Produce gets pulled a few days before its expiration date to set aside for employees to take home. Day-old bread and refrigerated produce boxes get picked up by a list of nonprofit organizations every week. Urban Gleaners takes some of it to redistribute.

And the 12 New Seasons stores in Portland and Vancouver, Wash., on Saturday will invite the public in to take compost for their spring gardens.

Initiatives like this “are not hard to do,” market President and Chief Executive Officer Wendy Collie says. “It’s part of our DNA.”

On Tuesday, the company announced that its sustainable efforts have born fruit, so to speak: New Seasons is a zero-waste company. The distinction is a rare one, given to businesses that divert at least 90 percent of their waste from landfills and incinerators, according to the Zero Waste International Alliance.

New Seasons diverts 92 percent of its waste, according to the a study conducted by Community Environmental Services, a research and service program of Portland State University’s College of Urban Affairs.

The study, this past December and January, collected and examined waste from four sample New Seasons stores.

Graduate students wore gloves, work boots, Tyvek suits and orange vests while sorting through the items. “It’s modern-day archeology,” says student Brittany Brannon, who did much of the work.

Seeing the value

At Progress Ridge in Beaverton, the store’s loading dock has clearly marked shelves and bags for every type of recyclable material possible, including “stretchy plastic” and no less than seven types of styrofoam, which are picked up by haulers and carted across town to different recycling facilities.

by: TIMES PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Wendy Collie, New Seasons CEO and president, announced this week that it is a zero-waste company, according to an audit by PSU's Community Environmental Services program. That means stores are diverting 92 percent of their waste away from the landfill by recycling and composting.The PSU analysis found that New Seasons reduces its energy consumption at a level equal to conserving 34,545 gallons of gasoline a year. A switch from cardboard to reusable plastic for dry goods as well as produce has brought 95 percent less solid waste, 29 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and 39 percent less total energy used.

Much of the change has come from the staff-led Green Teams that began meeting monthly at every store in 2007; each has chosen to tackle different priorities.

Each store has also adopted a local project; Progress Ridge adopted nearby Barrows Creek, where employees work with residents on restoration and cleanup projects.

Ten years ago, New Seasons began accepting hard-to-recycle plastics (including plastic bags, yogurt lids and plastic clamshells) from customers at a kiosk near the checkout lanes. As of last year, the market had collected 39 tons of materials.

The zero-waste achievement “creates a benchmark,” Collie says, noting that she’ll use it as a way to talk to other companies about taking on some of the same initiatives, with help from local partners.

“It can be daunting,” she admits. “But by talking about the outcome, they’ll see the value.”