A single Omaha Hy-Vee supermarket has been able to divert 6,000 pounds of food and plant material a month from the landfill as part of a new program that’s now expanding to all Nebraska Hy-Vee stores.

The store at 180th and Pacific Streets pilot-tested the program by collecting plant trimmings from its floral department, fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings from its salad bar, and unsold food from its produce section. All went to a compost facility in Firth, Nebraska, and the resulting compost will make its way back to Hy-Vee stores, to be sold to shoppers and to enrich soil in Hy-Vee gardens and in the community gardens the company supports.

“We are using this compost facility to go full circle,” said Tally Mertes, store director.

All 25 Hy-Vee stores in Nebraska will participate by the end of May, the West Des Moines supermarket operator said Tuesday.

Reducing food waste has become a priority for the food industry in recent years amid concerns about feeding needy families, conserving resources and climate change, which is exacerbated by methane gas produced in landfills. Thirty-one percent of food is lost at the retail and consumer levels, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Hy-Vee participates in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, an industry group that also includes ConAgra Foods, Kellogg’s, Tyson Foods and other businesses with Nebraska operations.

Hy-Vee will pay Sanimax, a Canadian firm that serves the Great Lakes area and Midwest, to pick up excess fruits and vegetables, bakery products, solid dairy products and floral clippings. Sanimax will deliver them to Prairieland Dairy in Firth, which will add the waste to cattle manure to create compost.

Prairieland also recently launched a composting program with Russ’s Market in Lincoln.

Jacob Hickey, operations manager at Prairieland, said the supermarket waste makes an excellent addition to dairy manure when it comes to “feeding the bugs” that break down the organic matter. He said supermarkets don’t have as much waste matter as industrial food processing facilities, such as those that make popcorn or dog food. But every bit helps.

Mertes said the program already has reduced the trash pickups her store needs from 10 a month to nine. Her store also recycles cardboard and plastic and donates unsold bakery items to area food pantries.

In the future she will train employees to separate out other compostable items, such as soda straws, coffee grounds and coffee filters.

“We see a lot more possibilities,” she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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