Zero Waste

Moving our facilities toward “zero waste” is one of Kroger’s key sustainability priorities. In 2016, 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 WasteWise 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, by 2020.


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 2016, we expanded the enterprise-wide waste diversion initiative in all grocery stores. With a focus on food waste diversion, Kroger increased the amount of safe, wholesome food donated to feed hungry families in our communities. We also increased the number of participating food waste recycling locations to 1,445. We use a combination of composting, anaerobic digestion and animal feed programs to manage the remaining food waste.


In 2016, 31 of our 33 corporately managed manufacturing plants were designated as “zero waste” facilities. Our plants recycled more than 600 million pounds of material in 2016, a diversion rate of 99%.


The Kroger Environmental Compliance organization is constantly working to implement simpler processes for our stored to handle and dispose of unsalable hazardous products in a lawful and responsibe manner. We use licensed hazardous waste vendors to remove these materials from our stores and pharmacies and ensure they are destroyed legally (e.g., landfilled, incinerated). Additionally, we are working with an innovative recycling company that designs customized mail-back programs to recycle and reuse commercial chemical products that would otherwise have to be destroyed. The hazardous products recycling program offers Kroger a more sustainable approach to responsibly handling comsumer products.

Through this program, Kroger recycled almost 50,000 pounds of aerosol cans and 19,000 pounds of unsalable commercial chemical products in 2016 that otherwise would have been disposed as hazardous waste. In addition, we worked with our recycling partners to recycle nicotine cessation products and fluorescent lamps. With the success of these programs, we continue to look for opportunities to recycle more of our unsalable consumer products.


Packaging Our Brands 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 Kroger brand products. In 2016, we began rolling out a new lighter-weight milk jug in our dairy operations. The new milk jug is made of the same 100% recyclable high-density polyethylene as our current design; however, the new, innovative design uses about 10% less plastic while providing the same great performance.

We began producing milk with the new jug at our Westover Dairy in Lynchburg, Va., which serves our Mid-Atlantic region. Our next dairies to begin production were Vandervoort Dairy in Texas and Michigan Dairy. We will continue to expand production across the country in 2017. After fully implementing the new design, we will save more than 5 million pounds of plastic from going to the landfill a year, as much as 62.5 semi-trailer trucks!

Watch this video about our new milk jug design.


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 2016, we shipped 120 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 83,670 tons of waxed and corrugated boxes.


In 2016, Kroger stores, manufacturing plants, and distribution facilities recycled more than 2.35 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 2016, our customers downloaded 1.2 billion digital coupons. Not only is it more convenient for our customers, but it also reduces paper waste! By going digital, we saved enough paper to stretch around the equator 4.6 times if you lined them up lengthwise.


We continue to drive our in-store plastic bag recycling program with associates and customers. In 2016, this program recycled 39 million pounds of plastic from our stores. 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 Our Brands 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 our stores.

Construction Zero Waste

In 2016, one of Kroger's new construction projects successfully diverted nearly 100% of construction waste, even with the project including the demolition of an existing building and fuel center. By working together and planning ahead to be "zero waste," the team diverted more than 30,000 tons of construction waste from the landfill. The general contractor used a crusher to separate metal and concrete and was able to reuse the concrete for the building pad.


Our construction team continued to implement zero waste programs for remodels, expansions, and new stores. In 2016, 187 projects recycled items such as wood, metal, cardboard, concrete, brick and plastic. More than 180,000 tons of waste were diverted in all. Seventy-five 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 450,000 tons from the landfill.

Our goal for 2016 was for 50% of our construction projects to reach 90% or greater diversion. We achieved 40%—nearly reaching our goal. For 2017, we set the same target: 50% of construction projects reaching 90% diversion for 2017. We also set additional goals to divert 90% of total tons of construction waste, and to have 90% of construction projects participating in our Zero Waste initiative. As of June 2017, we are on track to meet these goals.


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 38.1 million reusable bags—an average of 104,545 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.