ShopRite Credit: Contributed photo

Cingari Family ShopRite is celebrating the 11th anniversary of its composting initiative for Earth Day. The initiative, which was launched in 2012, has been successful in diverting food waste from landfills and turning it into nutrient-rich compost material through an anaerobic digestion process carried out by their vendor, Quantum Biopower.

ShopRite has a long history of donating surplus food to local food banks and charities for over 50 years. However, about a decade ago, the company also started physically composting its food waste to further reduce its environmental impact. This effort was further enhanced when Wayne Pesce, President of the Connecticut Food Association (CFA), introduced Cingari Family ShopRite to Quantum Biopower, a local startup in the food waste hauling business.

“It’s good for the environment, and doing the right thing is what’s important,” Dominick Cingari, president of Cingari Family ShopRite, said. “For us, it’s far more labor-intensive to separate food waste. The easiest thing would be to throw things away – which is what most people and companies do. 

Food waste Credit: Contributed photo

The process begins at ShopRite stores, where Blue Earth Compost provides bins for collecting food waste. Previously, non-saleable shredded cheese would be opened, and the plastic bag would be thrown away before composting the cheese. However, with Quantum Biopower’s technology, the plastic and food waste are turned into a compost slurry, and small screens separate the plastic and metal from what is compostable, allowing for the recycling of those materials.

ShopRite follows a process called the “Hierarchy of Surplus Food,” where edible but nonsaleable items are donated to food banks and charities, and any other non-edible material goes to Quantum Biopower for composting. The food waste is then rapidly broken down using an anaerobic digestion process, which captures the methane gas released during composting and turns it into energy to power homes and businesses in Southington, Connecticut.

The remaining material from the digestion process is a nutrient-rich fertilizer, which ShopRite now sells back to customers, closing the loop and creating a sustainable circular economy.

Implementing this initiative in their stores and getting employees on board has been a priority for ShopRite. The company uses signage in their stores to inform customers about their composting and recycling efforts, and they set goals for each store to track their waste and composting progress. The percentage of waste that is diverted from landfills is displayed on signs throughout the stores, and employees receive monthly reports and updates.

Quantum Biopower in Southington Credit: Contributed photo

The stores also compete with each other to recycle and compost the most food. 

“The top three stores with the largest diversion score are rewarded a pizza party,” Cingari said. “Seeing things concretely and speaking about this on a regular basis keeps everyone engaged and increases the chance of success. When store A sees that they’re getting beat by store B, it turns into a contest of sorts to see who can succeed the most.”

ShopRite also looks for opportunities to recycle and repurpose other materials within their stores. For instance, they have implemented a way to recycle register receipts, which usually get thrown in the garbage. 

“This was one of our employees’ ideas from the Norwalk store,” Cingari said. “Now, 300+ ShopRite stores have followed in our footsteps. We’re always looking at everything that goes into the trash/landfill to try to come up with a way to compost it. It’s an ongoing process towards the zero-waste goal.”

In 10 years, Cingari said they’ve reduced what it sends to landfills by over 60% (through compost + recycling), while simultaneously opening 3 stores. Even though the stores have grown dramatically in items and sales since then, they’re still down in waste. 

“Sustainability is about people, the planet, and profit. If you can’t be profitable and sustainable, you won’t be here,” Cingari said.