Zero Waste

Moving our facilities toward “zero waste” is one of Kroger’s key sustainability priorities. In 2015, we continued to move the needle in our waste reduction initiatives and continued to look for new ways to improve our business practices. Whether it is diverting waste from landfills, reducing our packaging, recycling plastic bags, or donating safe, perishable foods to food banks, we are increasing recycling rates and finding cost-effective and responsible alternatives for our waste.

Several years ago, Kroger joined the EPA’s Waste Wise Program and adopted the EPA’s “zero waste” definition for our company-wide sustainability efforts. This nationally recognized program provides a tool to benchmark, measure and communicate our efforts in a more consistent and cohesive way. It also allows us to track individual waste streams, track our progress over time and identify additional opportunities for waste reduction. Our goal is to meet and exceed the EPA's zero waste threshold of 90%, in all our facilities.


Our customers trust Kroger to deliver safe, fresh, high-quality foods and sometimes excess food is generated. As a large food retailer and manufacturer, we are uniquely positioned to responsibly reduce and manage this surplus. We use the EPA's food waste hierarchy to provide a framework in determining the best or “highest value” of our food waste.


In 2015, we expanded the enterprise-wide waste diversion initiative in all grocery stores. With a focus on food waste diversion, Kroger increased the amount of perishable foods donated as well as expanded recycling initiatives. Kroger was able to increase the number of participating food waste recycling locations to 1,190. A combination of composting, anaerobic digestion and animal feed programs are utilized.


In 2015, 31 of our 33 corporately managed manufacturing plants were designated as “zero waste” facilities. In 2015, our manufacturing plants reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill by 7.5 million pounds. That's a 49.3% waste reduction from 2014. Additionally, these plants recycled more than 350 million pounds of material.


Packaging our corporate brand products more efficiently is another way Kroger is working to reduce waste. Our packaging engineers continue to seek new and innovative ways to reduce the packaging for these products. In the summer of 2016, Kroger will test a new lightweight milk jug. This milk jug is still made of the same 100% recyclable high density polyethylene as our current jugs. But the unique design allows us to use about 10% less plastic while still getting the same great performance we get from our current jugs. This new lightweight container will be initially rolled out at our Westover Dairy in Lynchburg, Virginia which serves our Mid-Atlantic region. The national rollout will continue to our other dairies throughout 2017. Once fully implemented, this jug is expected to save over 5 million pounds of plastic per year.


Circular economy is a term more and more experts are using to describe an industrial economy that runs on renewable energy and produces zero waste and no pollution. It is an alternative to the traditional linear economy that best describes current widespread business models as, take-make-dispose. In the evolving circular model the goal is to reuse products for as long as possible.

Kroger partners with CHEP and IFCO, which both contribute to global sustainability through their "shared" business models of pooled pallets, bulk containers and reusable plastic containers (RPCs). These packaging solutions bring both operational efficiencies and environmental benefits. Compared with one-way packaging, reusable platforms and containers offer a lower carbon footprint, reduced water consumption and less waste.


In 2015, we shipped 106 million RPCs of fresh produce to our stores. RPCs improve product quality and significantly reduce waste. We continue to increase our volume of fresh produce shipped in reusable plastic containers (RPCs). Examples of items currently shipped this way include: green onions, radishes, lettuce, grapes, tomatoes, avocados, corn, beans, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, eggs and celery. We estimate that the total use of RPCs last year eliminated the use of more than 73,500 tons of waxed and corrugated boxes.


In 2015, Kroger stores, manufacturing plants, and distribution facilities recycled more than 1.3 billion pounds of corrugated cardboard and paper. Corrugate is a revenue stream for Kroger. We still have an opportunity to capture and recycle even more to help offset waste costs.


In 2015, we celebrated the 3 billionth download of digital coupons. Not only is it more convenient for our customers, but the tactic also reduces paper waste! By going digital, we saved the equivalent of 240,000 trees or the equivalent of 11.4 trips around the equator if you lined up 3 billion paper coupons lengthwise.


We continue to drive our in-store plastic bag recycling program with associates and customers. In 2015, this program recycled 38 million pounds of plastic from our stores and distribution centers. We also redesigned the bins and will be expanding what we accept so that we can further increase the amount of plastic that is recycled. We are also placing recycling arrows on corporate branded bread bags so customers know they can recycle them in-store as well.


Most residential curbside recycling programs will not accept plastic wrap material. However, Kroger partners with vendors who want this material to recycle into products such as new recycled plastic bags, landscape materials and plastic composite lumber. Customers can recycle this material via the plastic bag recycling barrels located in stores.

Construction Zero Waste

After Kroger acquired a new store site (A-968) that had several existing houses on it, one of our store planners, wondered if there was a way we could positively impact the community and the environment before demolishing them. Collaboration between Kroger and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore Director, they were able to pull useable items from those houses and donated them to the Habitat's ReStore before the houses were demolished. Habitat brought in team of 8 people to salvage items from the houses: everything from interior and exterior doors, cabinets, ceiling mounted fans, light fixtures, shower heads, furniture, garage door openers, miscellaneous hardware. The profits from those sales will fund future Habitat projects. Not only did this extra effort benefit the Cincinnati community, it also contributed to Kroger's zero waste program by eliminating 1.3 tons of materials that otherwise would have been sent to a landfill.


Our construction team continued to implement zero waste programs for remodels, expansions, and new stores. In 2015, 138 projects recycled items such as wood, metal, cardboard, concrete brick, and plastic. Over 130,000 tons were diverted. Fifty of these projects met the EPA zero waste goal of diverting 90% or more from the landfill. Since we started this initiative in 2013, we've diverted more than 270,000 tons from the landfill.

The goal for 2016 is to have 50% of our zero waste projects reach 90% or greater diversion from the landfill.


The Kroger family of stores continues to help customers reduce plastic bag use and transition to reusable bags. In fact, we have saved over 1 billion plastic bags from being used since 2008 through better bagging practices by our associates and by our customers using more reusable bags.

Our stores encourage customers to change their habits by offering a wide variety of reusable bags. Last year, we sold an incredible 25.5 million reusable bags—an average of 69,800 reusable shopping bags per day.

Additionally, many parking lots at our Kroger family of stores have signage on the cart corrals that reminds our customers to bring their reusable bags into our stores. Simple reminders, such as these cart corral signs, can further reduce plastic bag waste and encourage customers to change their shopping habits.


Kroger plays a leadership role in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a joint industry effort with the Grocery Manufacturing Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association. The FWRA consists of more than 30 corporate members. The FWRA aims to reduce the amount of food waste generated, increase the amount of safe, nutritious food donated to those in need, and recycle unavoidable food waste, diverting it from landfills. We seek to share best practices, find new solutions and work collaboratively to create ways to have greater, collective impact.