How Whole Foods Market Reduces Waste by Composting

How Whole Foods Market Reduces Waste by Composting


whole foods st louis missouriSince Whole Foods Market’s founding in Austin, Texas in 1980, this grocery store chain has shown a commitment to saving the planet. The US’s first certified organic grocer, Whole Foods sells only food free of hydrogenated fats, with no artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, and sweeteners. They have grown to more than 431 supermarkets in North America and the United Kingdom. In addition to offering packaged items, the stores feature organic produce, deli food, natural body care products, salad bars, and cafes.

Whole Food Market aims to reduce waste in each store. One major component of waste reduction is composting. They were pioneers in developing large-scale composting programs in their stores.

In any grocery store, there is wasted packaging and food scraps. Most merchandise arrives in cardboard boxes. All grocery stores break down their boxes for recycling. Whole Foods Market goes much further. They aim for “zero waste” in many of their stores. Zero waste means as 90% diversion from landfills or incineration.

Points of waste generation in a grocery store include:

  • External packaging from the distributor – typically, large cardboard boxes
  • Shelf packaging, including thin cardboard display boxes (such as a box that holds 12 packages of noodles on the shelf, or cardboard display boxes holding 20 chocolates at the checkout)
  • Packaged foods that are nearing the end of their shelf life
  • Produce department – trimmings, spoilt fruit and vegetables, unsellable produce, left-over produce
  • Deli and cafe – trimmings, food packaging, coffee grounds, tea bags, wasted or inedible food, left-overs.
  • Trash receptacles on the floor for consumers and staff
  • Trash swept off the floor, dusting, etc. and cleaning supplies such as paper towels and bottles.

Donating Waste Food

The best way to cut waste is to prevent left-overs. Whole Foods Market donates excess or nearly-expired food to food banks and soup kitchens.

Cardboard and Food Packaging

Whole Foods Market employees recycle cardboard, food packaging, bottles, etc. Recycling receptacles are set up in employee-only areas and all personnel are required to participate.

Consumers are given easy access to recycling, typically in the cafe. Receptacles are large, well-marked and easy to access.

Food Waste is Composted

whole foods compost collection siteBoth employees and customers have access to composting bins in Whole Foods Market. Composting bins and composting compactors are in the back rooms. The cafe is usually the location for customers to deposit their food scraps.

Clear instructions appear on the compost collection bin. The typical Whole Foods customer is keenly aware of their impact on the environment, so compliance is high.

  • Many stores serve prepared foods on reusable and compostable plates and bowls in the dining areas. In these stores, plates and cutlery can be tossed in with the food.
  • Re-usable, washable plates and cutlery are available in some stores. Excess food gets scraped into the composting bin.
  • Some Whole Food Market cafes have started using compostable prepared food containers from renewal resources such as bagasse. Bagasse is made from wood fibers and sugar cane pulp. These items are either unbleached (meaning no chlorine and dioxin) or whitened using non-chemical bleach (which has less environmental impact than industrial bleach).

The organic material is compacted and sent to regional composting centers. The food waste composted in an ideal environment that may include garden waste and composting worms. It takes approximately six months to convert the waste into nutrient-rich compost. The compost is then donated or distributed to community gardens, used in landscaping, or sold in Whole Foods stores.

Throwing out organic material is a shameful waste of resources. By composting its organic waste, Whole Foods Market diverts huge quantities of trash away from landfills. They also produce non-chemical fertilizer that is perfect for growing new plants. We applaud their composting model!

Did You Know?

You can compost at home! Just order composting worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. We ship anywhere in the continental United States, year-round. We also offer a selection of composters so that you can compost indoors or out.

8 thoughts on “How Whole Foods Market Reduces Waste by Composting

  1. Hi! I will soon have a big bag of biodegradable, compostable bamboo dinnerware. Is this something i can take to while foods? If so, do all stores accessor compost material? Thanks!

  2. How can I bring my in home compost in? I am a college student living in an apartment and I cannot compost where I live, but I still want to.

  3. Can I bring compost I.e. vegetable scraps left over food other than meats to Whole Foods composting bind.

  4. I’d also like to know about where to drop off compostable food scraps. We just moved to Westfield from NYC and will need a regular place to go to. In NYC most weekend farmers markets have bins set up but we’re having trouble finding anything similar here

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