I had the great pleasure recently of addressing a group of 50+ Whole Foods Market “Green Mission Specialists” from the Northeast and North Atlantic regions. The green mission specialists are volunteers, on top of their regular job duties. These folks are dedicated to a greener Whole Foods Market and a better planet. But before I gave my talk, we toured the local distribution center in Cheshire, Connecticut to see their recycling operations. Witnessing the amazing recycling efforts, I knew I was in friendly territory. The Whole Foods Market distribution center cuts their energy footprint and carbon emissions by using natural gas and built what was once the largest solar array in the state of Connecticut on their rooftop for power. They have rainwater systems that collect and filter it, and protected critical habitat when they built the facility, even providing a turtle crossing for the amphibious reptiles that move a slow as… turtles.
Each quarter they fill and ship 109 trailers of recycled cardboard, 5 trailers of plastic and trailer after trailer of a wide variety of recyclables. The distribution center serves roughly 50 stores from New Jersey to Maine. Even a little food mixed with plastic makes trash instead of recyclables, so everyone is vigilant. From truckloads of cardboard to boxes of cork, anything that can feasibly be recycled usually is. Whole Foods plans to expand this recycling center with a major addition to the building. And I thought my home recycling center was huge… Let’s take a tour of some of the recycling happening here… You could play football in this warehouse. Some parts are refrigerated, some frozen. We wore our coats at all times. Separate areas for organic and conventional foods- never the twain shall meet until it hits your shopping cart. Yes, that shrink wrap is captured and recycled. A baler bigger than some dorm rooms for corrugated cardboard. They use and reuse a lot of it. A sense of personal responsibility is instilled in every employee. You can feel it and see it. Not just selling food, but building prosperous communities! Everyone gets to eat with Whole Foods. A box of number 5 plastic, polypropylene, waiting to be carted away for recycling. Whole Foods participates in Gimme 5, an “upcycling” program for #5 polypropylene that Greenopolis Partner Preserve Products uses to make useful products out of old containers. An entire pallet of wine corks being sent back to ReHarvest for recycling into other products. Cork is already renewable and recycling just makes it even more sustainable. This truck is being loaded with bales of soft plastic bags and shrink wrap. Instead of ending up in the Pacific Garbage Patch, it’ll come back to life as new material. Standard operating procedure manuals for recyclables ensure that more material is captured cleanly and effectively. These huge containers carry fish to market and are reused time and again. Even worn or damaged reusable (but not recyclable) shopping bags are captured at the end of their life and sent to a “Greengineering” program at Newton High School near Boston. The students there design ways to reuse the material. This truck is being filled with wooden pallets for reuse and recycling. And this one is obviously filled with cardboard. 109 truckloads a quarter. Hard plastic pallets, boxes and containers are recaptured, reused or recycled, too. This battery bank above drives the forklift below- no gas fumes in here. The solar power on the roof helps to recharge the battery for this electric forklift. The air in the distribution center smelled as fresh as the air outdoors. Here, miscellaneous recyclables await collection. And here, reusable shipping trays await their next trip to and from the stores. Someone had the bright idea of saving and reusing these pallet “corners” which protect boxes of goods from damage. Not only reuses the material but saves Whole Foods 2 bucks a pop. There’s gold in them hills. And last, but not least, PET and glass bottles from Greenopolis Recycling Kiosks await pickup and reuse. The folks who brought them back have already been rewarded for recycling valuable materials. Whole Foods commitment to recycling is practical and palpable. Their operations strive to be as green as their produce.