Aspen’s City Market takes diversion to next level, takes on composting

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Robynn Woodward, produce manager at the City Market in Aspen dumps a box of old produce into the compost on Thursday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Employees working at City Market in Aspen are getting good at diversion. It’s been almost three weeks since they began composting, and many of them are pretty amazed at the impact it is having.

“I had a rude awakening about how much we were throwing away,” said Robynn Woodward, the store’s produce manager.

So far, the Aspen store has diverted close to 3,000 pounds of waste from the county landfill, which has an estimated eight years of life left.

All of the City Markets in the valley, along with Rifle, New Castle, Vail, Avon and Eagle, began composting at the end of January. Collectively, they compost about 30,000 pounds every week, said Alyssa Reindel, who works for Evergreen Zero Waste, a waste diversion provider that contracts with King Soopers and Kroger, which owns and operates City Market.

Evergreen picks up material three times a week at the Aspen store. Reindel trained the staff there and works closely with Woodward, who is the composting liaison.

“They are doing great … Robynn is an all-star,” Reindel said. “Our drivers are so excited to see these dumpsters full because we know that it used to be going to the landfill.”

While Woodward was pleased about the prospect of diverting tons of waste from the landfill, not all of her co-workers were. When the staff was informed of the new effort, the “resistance was immediate,” she said.

However, Woodward saw the opportunity right away.

“When we were in that meeting I thought, ‘we can make a big difference,’” she said. “I don’t have children but I want to leave the planet a better place.”

Reindel said she noticed the staff’s resistance at first, and realized it was partly because of the store’s small footprint and there’s not a lot of space for separation.

It did not take long for people to realize that the extra step from separating what was going to be thrown into the trash dumpster versus another one was minimal.

“Now people are saying, ‘It’s the right thing to do,’” said John Hailey, the store’s manager, adding that instead of two dumpsters worth of garbage going to the landfill every week, now there is just one. “The concept of what we are doing is so easy.”

Travis Brown, seafood manager at the Aspen store, came around to the idea quickly. Now, he’s diverting at least two boxes a day worth of fish, napkins and other material.

“Everyone else needs to get into it,” he said. “I understand it’s more work but not that much.”

The composting program is part of Kroger’s “Zero Hunger-Zero Waste” initiative, which has a goal of eliminating all food waste by 2025. The company for years has been donating to food banks across the country. As part of the initiative, they plan on feeding 4 billion meals to hungry families annually by 2025.

“We said as an organization, ‘How can we be part of the solution?’So we looked inside of ourselves and now we are contributing to society,” said Adam Williamson, who works for King Soopers’ corporate affairs office. “We are looking in every way possible on how to reduce our footprint.”

Last year, the company’s 152 stores collectively donated 4 million pounds of food, which provided 6 million meals.

The company also has been recycling cardboard for years. Hailey said the Aspen store sends out around 5,000 pounds every week for recycling.

Back at the Aspen store, Woodward said she’s amazed that Evergreen has the capability to melt the wax on her cardboard boxes that carry frozen produce. It translates into 50 boxes being diverted from the landfill each day.

There are 122 City Markets on board with composting. Williamson said the plan calls for all stores to be doing it by 2020.

Reindel said before contracting with Kroger, Evergreen Zero Waste was picking up 40,000 pounds of compost material a week; now it’s 80,000.

“One commercial stop is the equivalent of 120 residential stops,” she said.

City Market Aspen is bringing the effort full circle this summer by selling the finished product in the store.

“When it turns into dirt, it will come back as potting soil,” Woodward said.

She said the new effort is in line with the values of the Aspen customer. Woodward recalled when the store got new produce tables, people noticed they were made from beetle kill trees. Some customers even return the mesh bags that hold produce.

“Its a very conscientious town,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for the locals here.”