Final Internship Report
My internship was the Business Waste Stream Assessment. My objective for the internship was to discover the current waste stream and expired goods policy of local retail grocers and department stores. I wanted to determine whether products are thrown out because of an expiration date and store policy or if, in fact, the products are no longer usable. Initially, I organized meetings between my advisor Amy Molitor and myself to sort of map out the course of action for the project. This course included interviews that I set up with management at various stores in the area. I have contacted Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Albertsonís, Rite-Aid, Bi-Mart, the Vitamin Cottage, and the Grocery Outlet to establish times for an interview and completed interviews with representatives from all of those stores, except Wal-Mart (what a surprise).
Having such responsibility to call the stores and talk to management has been a learning experience for me. At first, I was anxious on the phone and probably talked awfully fast due to my nervousness. However, if I was to make any headway on the project, I had to consider myself an equal of the managers with whom I spoke. I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability to act professionally over the phone and in person during an interview. I have learned to ask direct questions and look people in the eye while they speak to show my interest in what they have to say as well as a technique of reading the person. Paying close attention to their facial expressions while they talk about delicate issues involving their company I think is very important to kind of determine the validity of their information.
My interviews were very successful in that the people I spoke with were very forthcoming with information concerning the inner workings of their business. I was also surprised at the friendliness that greeted me when I came in to take their time and ask questions about the way they run their business. The information I gathered helped me direct my efforts in more fruitful ways than I had initially planned. My original direction was to discover or measure how much of a storeís waste is made up of fairly decent products that have expired, but have yet to go bad. In my interviews, I learned that most items in a store come from various vendors, such as Frito-Lay and Pepsi or Coke, and these companies send their own people and trucks to deal with their expired products. This happens at virtually every store I at which I interviewed.
Due to the roles of these vendors and distribution centers for the large chain stores individual stores do not generate much waste with expired goods because they do not deal with most expired goods. Venders remove their goods and give the store credit and the distribution centers retrieve expired products by trucks and rails. After talking with the store manager from Albertsonís I learned that expired food goods usually maintain nutritional value for some time after their printed date. In fact, the expiration date for individual products is based on the amount of time it takes the product to start to lose nutritional value. The item is still usable after the date, but it is simply not as nutritionally effective as it is fresh and thus not what is advertised and must be removed.
However, rather than throw them away, many stores donate unsold products at or near the expiration date to charities or sell them to second-hand distributors. I learned that secondary distribution retailers receive first and second line products and food products after talking with Gary from The Grocery Outlet. That store, along with many others, donates food items that are still usable to the Food Bank. Though they destroy products not donated, like meats and refrigerated goods. Generally, stores destroy goods that contain incorrect ingredients, are mislabeled, or are broken or dented. Comparatively, local stores do not send much waste from expired goods to landfills. They unanimously recycle paper and cardboard. I found that most stores are doing their best to limit the amount of waste they produce and handle because, as more than one store representative said, waste is expensive and difficult for a store to deal with.
I, on the other hand, have had relatively few adversities aside from scheduling interviews with managers around my classes. One source of frustration was Wal-Mart. Not only is the College Place store not listed in the phone book, as soon as I received the number from Amy Molitor and gave Wal-Mart a call to set up an interview, they basically denied me the chance to do so. I would have had to go to the store, fill out a questionnaire to describe my reasons for wanting an interview with one of their managers, then mail it to them and wait for them to get back to me, which would have probably taken at least two to three weeks. I was completely taken aback with the formality of the whole episode that I did not know what to say to the man on the other end. He then told me that Wal-Mart does not usually grant private interests like myself the chance to interview the management. Other than this minor setback, I really have not had any trouble obtaining and synthesizing the information presented in the interviews.
The interviews themselves have actually raised my confidence in my ability to confront people in power of certain decisions with my valid questions and concerns. At most places, I have found that finding someone willing to participate in an interview, especially a knowledgeable manager is not very difficult. In fact, store representatives sometimes jump at the opportunity to give information that portrays their store in a positive light. In this case, managers have enjoyed spending their time to tell me how little they actually contribute to problems of waste disposal like filling landfills.
In general, this has been an informative, growing experience that has taken up maybe a few hours a week. Some ambitions for the future, or just some ideas for further study on this subject would be to extend the project to include possible work towards solving pollution problems, which stem from the disposal habits of stores and their policy concerning expired goods. Another future phase in this internship might be to contact distribution centers and individual companies to determine their involvement in the waste disposal process and their addition to the overall amount of waste in the area. Because the local stores do not handle much of the products that are potentially just thrown away, it is important to apprehend the information of the policies and actions of the suppliers of these stores and decide upon further action to reduce their contribution, whatever that turns out to be, to the problem of a high business waste stream.