Letter: Unintentional lessons about recycling from Earth Fare

Graphic by Lori Deaton

This is long overdue, but recent local COVID-19 issues delayed me in writing. Let me begin by saying how saddened I was to learn of the closure of Earth Fare when it was announced in early February. They dedicated themselves to healthy living, and their corporate motto was “Live Longer with Earth Fare.”

I live a short-distance walk from the old corporate office, for that now-bankrupt Earth Fare grocery store chain. For over four years, I’ve walked a route along Continuum Drive in Fletcher to its end, where that office was located. The parking lot was usually full, and the employees were so friendly when I waved, even though we didn’t know each other. So it pained me to talk with them as they cleaned out their offices and put their belongings in their cars.

During my walk one day several years ago, I saw some wire protruding from their dumpster, and I took a peek inside. What I found were armfuls of computer and electrical wire that were being thrown way. Perhaps they had updated their electronics and didn’t need those cables any longer.

I retrieved those cables and later recycled them at Biltmore Iron & Metal Co. for about $15. My interest was piqued, and I checked their dumpster more often. What surprised me was the number of times I saw things discarded that could and, I contend, should have been recycled or maybe repurposed.

Over the years, I found more armfuls of computer and electrical wire, and each time I recycled them. Let me say at this time that I’ve been an avid recycler since I lived in Austria for eight years during my university studies in the 1970s. The Austrians didn’t throw anything away that could be reused or recycled. After that I lived in Michigan, where “deposit” laws pretty much dictated that people didn’t throw away beverage cans and bottles that they had paid a deposit on.

I’m not here to give a laundry list of what I salvaged over time. One thing that comes to mind was the many Styrofoam shipping containers that I suspect that Earth Fare received food samples from prospective suppliers in. They were usually clean and still had the freezer packs inside, so I took many, including the reusable freezer packs, to the rescue mission store. My thinking was that people pay $5 or much more for such containers for tailgating, camping or picnics. Why not reuse them?

What bothered me a lot were the number of aluminum beverage cans that were thrown away. Asheville, where I used to live, prides itself on being hip and earth-friendly; conservation-type things and recycling are key to keeping our landfills open for years to come. I frankly expected some corporate attention to in-house recycling or at a minimum, individual employees who recycled.

I’m not connecting this throwing away of recyclable things as a root cause for Earth Fare going out of business. I bring it to people’s attention because I feel that a company so dedicated to healthy living ought to have had corporate policies of conserving their resources. Maybe they did, and I only saw these things being thrown away.

This was only one location. My guess is that this sort of thing happened at all 50 of their stores. What I witnessed during the last days of cleaning out office spaces at their corporate office was just as distressing. Office supplies, unopened health and beauty-care articles and quite surprisingly, at this time of COVID-19 sanitizing, Purell wipes containers and dispensers were thrown away!

I realize that the soon-to-be unemployed weren’t focused on such small things as conserving but simply following instructions to clean out everything and make ready for closure of the building. I grew up with parents of the Depression, who taught me not to waste, and I can’t see throwing things away that are still of use to someone. This letter doesn’t even address “food waste,” which I believe was also practiced but wasn’t my focus.

It’s a sad commentary on what happens when we, as individuals or as a nation, become richer. We discard rather than repair, repurpose or recycle. I’ve lived in poorer countries, where one doesn’t see this. They can’t afford to waste.

Before closing, let me tell you about my most-prized “rescue.” It was a very heavy, professional-style, 14-inch diameter, stainless steel pan, with handles on both ends. It had been cooked in and wasn’t clean but a little scrubbing restored it to its gleaming self. My estimate is that it cost well in excess of $100 and would have fetched a nice price in the thrift store.

Thank you for indulging me in this. COVID-19 should be a stark reminder that we always live in uncertain times and we should conserve our resources that we may be better prepared to make it through the hard times that will surely come.

— Dennis Kabasan, M.D.



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One thought on “Letter: Unintentional lessons about recycling from Earth Fare

  1. Lulz

    Chalk that up to corporate waste and employee ignorance. 15 bucks for little effort was more than many were making an hour.

    I found a lawnmower on the curb being tossed by the homeowner several years back. Took it home, cleaned the carb and changed the oil. Got 3 years out of it before the deck finally rusted out.


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