The idea worked, keeping 160 truckloads of waste — including leaves, culled fruit and wood chips — out of area landfills each year and improving the soil in Stemilt’s orchards.
The grower-shipper expanded the initiative by opening the Stemilt Organic Recycling Center to the community, allowing area residents and businesses to dispose of their yard and landscaping waste for a fee, which helps offset the costs of making the compost.
The center made a brief debut in December for Christmas tree recycling before opening full-time in March.
Stemilt communications specialist Brianna Brue said the recycling center is open six days a week from March through November and will open again for another round of tree recycling after the holidays.
Brue said expanding the recycling effort to the community is expected to keep at least 40 more truckloads of waste out of landfills. The company now can generate enough compost to feed more than 1,000 acres of orchards.
“Eventually, we’d like to start another 20-acre site that will produce compost for more Stemilt orchards,” Brue said.
“Other growers are producing compost for their individual orchards, but the SORC is the first of its kind to our knowledge. It is exciting to get the community involved in our sustainability efforts like this, and we look forward to generating even more compost for our trees in the future.”
The compost project is just one part of Stemilt’s Responsible Choice program, which also features companywide recycling that includes paper, cardboard, plastic, batteries and oil; water conservation efforts and environmentally friendly packaging.
“Sustainability is a hot topic across all industries, including produce,” Brue said. “Retailers are on the lookout for grower-shippers with a good environmental stewardship reputation and regularly ask to see what we are doing in this regard.