B & R Stores, the local grocery chain that owns Super Saver and Russ's Market, is partnering with Prairieland Dairy near Firth to turn tons of organic waste into beneficial compost.
The dairy's business development director, Jacob Hickey, picks up the waste -- made up of mostly produce, bakery goods, meat scraps, floral arrangements and cardboard -- at six Russ's Market stores in the city Monday and Thursday mornings.
Hickey then hauls the waste to the dairy's composting operation at 13000 Pella Road in southern Lancaster County, where it is mixed in with cow manure. The organic waste/manure material sits for about eight weeks in windrows. It's then piled up and allowed to "cure" for about a year.
Russ's plans to start selling "Prairie Gold," the dairy's compost product, in bags this spring, said Larry Elias, director of sales and merchandise for B & R Stores.
"It completes the cycle," Elias said, referring to transforming organic waste into a usable product for farmers, gardeners and greenhouses. Compost is made from decayed organic material, looks like soil and is used as fertilizer.
Russ's Market customers won't be getting bags of compost made exclusively with organic waste from the stores, Elias said. That would take too long. Instead they will be getting the dairy's finished compost product, which includes organic waste from various sources.
In January 2014, the Lancaster County Board changed zoning regulations for the dairy to allow commercial composting in an agricultural district with a special permit. The dairy then did a trial run with the Russ's Market store at Coddington Avenue and West A Street last year.
"We found out that 80 percent of what goes to the landfill is compostable," Hickey said.
Composting helps extend the life of landfills and reduces the amount of methane, one of the most harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
Based on the success of the trial run, the dairy decided to expand the project about two months ago to include all six Russ's Market stores. Waste volumes vary, but Hickey estimates that he picks up about a ton of organic waste each day.
"Landfill space is limited and it's the right thing to do," Elias said. "It'll hopefully, over the long term, reduce our landfill costs."
For many years, he explained, the grocery chain recycled its cardboard but also had a lot of other trash that had to be picked up and hauled to the Bluff Road Landfill, which charges disposal fees.
"We're reducing that landfill waste by about 65 to 75 percent," Elias said.
It's too early to tell how much money the company will save by partnering with the dairy, Elias said. The company still has storage, sorting and other costs it has to cover.
Eventually, the grocery chain would like to have the dairy pick up organic waste from its Super Saver stores in Lincoln, too, Elias said, but no firm start date has been set.
The dairy does not charge the company to pick up its organic waste. "It's a service to them," Hickey said.
The dairy began composting its own dairy waste in 2002. About a decade later, it began to look at food waste as another source of organic material. In 2013, the dairy began collecting cafeteria waste from nearby Norris Public Schools.
Hickey said that program still exists, but the volume of waste has slowed because of staff changes. The dairy shifted gears and began picking up cafeteria waste at six Lincoln Public Schools.