#b#Steve Carney#/b#, store manager at McCaffrey’s Market, 301 North Harrison Street, likes to talk trash.

After all, he has turned trash into cash and severely reduced the store’s carbon footprint by creating an award-winning sustainability and recycling program. The comprehensive program affects nearly everything that enters and leaves the store, as well as its operations. The effort even enhances McCaffrey’s long history of community support.

“We’ve reduced our landfill trash by 75 percent,” Carney says, “and cut our organic waste, which is now recycled as compost, by 60 percent.”

The store has cut its electric bill, landfill tipping fees, delivery costs, and increased its community good will. “We recycled more than 400,000 pounds of organic waste just last year,” Carney says.

McCaffrey’s also targeted plastic and paper bags, educating customers on the benefits of reusable cloth bags, which the store sells for 99 cents each. And it set up two large boxes for customers to drop off their old plastic bags.

Customers have embraced their role, dropping off a whopping 3.8 million plastic bags in 2009 — a 30 percent increase over the year before. “We donate the plastic bags to the Goodwill, which picks them up three times a week,” Carney says. “Goodwill makes some money by selling the bags, which are then recycled into TREX, a composite lumber.”

The bag program has helped McCaffrey’s cut the number of grocery bags it purchased in 2009 by 471,000, or about 7.5 percent, from 2008. In January McCaffrey’s was selected as a Sustainable Princeton 2009 Leadership Award for its broad recycling and sustainability efforts. The program is so successful, McCaffrey’s has provided tours to other stores, including area ShopRite supermarkets, to see how they could adopt many of its sustainability and recycling practices.

Carney will further promote McCaffrey’s program when he joins other business leaders in a discussion of sustainability and recycling on Thursday, October 14, at 7 p.m., at the Princeton Public Library. The discussion will follow a screening of “So Right So Smart,” which will kick off the Princeton Environmental Film Festival Rewind series. A business networking session will precede the film, beginning at 6 p.m. The event is free. For more information, call 609-924-9529 or visit www.princetonlibrary.org.

“So Right So Smart” is a documentary of businesses, including Wal-Mart, Patagonia, Stonyfield, Farms and New Belgium Brewery, as well as several institutions, that launched innovative sustainability programs.

Carney, who joined McCaffrey’s Princeton store 19 years ago, began working in the business as a young lad of 13. “I worked at a butcher shop and was paid under the table,” Carney says. “It was the only store of our small town in the Poconos. The owner, Frank, was 70 years old and he took a liking to me. He taught me out to cut meat the old way that he first learned in Poland.”

At first, Carney bagged groceries but he hated it so much, he left one day for lunch and decided not to go back. “When my dad found out I just quit like that, he was furious,” Carney says. “He made me apologize for walking out. When I said I was still quitting, Frank talked me into returning, this time cutting meat.”

Carney’s father ran his own construction contracting business while Carney’s mother stayed home to raise their five children. Carney continued to work at the butcher shop after school and during the summer for another five years. At 18 he bought his own small market. “It was a big mistake,” he says. “I didn’t know what I was doing.” He threw in the towel after three years and sold the shop.

“My dad said it wasn’t a mistake,” Carney says. “He said it was a learning experience — and cheaper than what I would have spent on four years of college. He and my mother have always supported what I was doing.”

Carney moved to New Jersey and was hired two years later to work at McCaffrey’s meat department in Princeton. He quickly moved up to meat manager. Ten years ago Carney became store manager. He remains impressed with the store founder and president, Jim McCaffrey.

“After the economy took its downturn, Jim held a meeting and said it wasn’t enough for customers to just shop here,” Carney says. “They have to have a reason that provides more value than just money. I felt maybe it was time for a green movement, which would save money and appeal to our customers.”

It was a gamble. About 10 years ago, McCaffrey’s started a sustainability and recycling program but soon dropped it. “We just weren’t ready for it,” Carney says. “Once we started it up this time, our employees were all asking, ‘Why didn’t we start this sooner?’ The mindset has changed. Recycling and sustainability is now like a religion here.”

McCaffrey’s built on the plastic bag recycling program it started about three years ago. “I wasn’t sure if we’d really save money with the program,” Carney says. “After the first quarter, we were surprised to see just how much we had saved.”

Employees went through training and a green team was formed. Vendors were brought on board and customers were encouraged to recycle their plastic bags and to shop with reusable bags. McCaffrey’s partnered with Penn Jersey Paper Co. of Philadelphia, which developed and manages BagSmart to help it reduce its bag volume, increase recycling, and promote reusable bags.

Every aspect of the store’s operations was examined. Space was maximized and products consolidated to allow for larger and fewer deliveries. Total deliveries were cut from 13 a week to 8. Perishables, for example, were delivered three times a week, down from six.

The store saved nearly $35,000 in freight charges alone last year, Carney says. But there were other benefits that fit into the store’s sustainability program. Cutting its annual truck deliveries by 260 meant 100,000 fewer truck miles, saving 16,000 gallons of fuel. The McCaffrey store in Yardley, Pennsylvania, upgraded its cases and refrigeration systems, which are now more energy efficient. The program was so successful that the cases and refrigeration systems at the stores in Princeton and West Windsor were also updated.

The Princeton store cut its electric bill by 18 percent last year despite a significant rate increase due to New Jersey deregulating electric utilities, Carney says. In addition, the New Jersey and Public Service Electric and Gas Energy Conservation Program reimbursed $100,000 to the two stores.

McCaffrey’s recycles its vendor packaging too. Paper is recycled and a trailer load of cardboard is hauled away each week for recycling. The store is also saving on unloading its used cooking oils. Once the store paid to have them taken away. Now a biodiesel company takes them away for free and recycles them.

Looking back, Carney fondly recalls his first job a 13-year-old at the town butcher and the man who gave him his first job. “Frank is gone now but he taught me a lot,” he says. “And I’ve remained friends with his son. We probably E-mail each other once or twice a week. I still carry Frank’s recipe for kielbasa in my wallet.”

That’s a piece of paper Carney will never recycle.

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