Don’t Let Food Go to Waste

Discussion
Apr 23, 2012

Four U.K. supermarket giants (Asda, Morisson’s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s) were asked by Britain’s Channel 4 news to disclose their food waste figures, but only one — Sainsbury’s — provided such details.

Environmental-expert.com noted that Sainsbury’s has been open about its waste toll over the years and in 2011 launched its "20 by 20" sustainability plan to send zero waste to landfills, reduce its packaging by half and its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020.

Sainsbury’s, which closed last year operating 934 stores comprising 557 supermarkets and 377 c-stores, told Channel 4 news that it accumulated about 44,000 tons of food waste in 2011. It emphasized that none ended in a landfill with edible food going to charity and the rest to animal organizations or for processing through anaerobic digestion.

Tesco and Asda refused to explain why they don’t release their food waste totals. Morrisson’s called the information "commercially sensitive."

In an Earth-Day themed article, the Chicago Tribune profiled the documentary, Dive, that explores the world of dumpster-divers and the overall global food system. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, America wastes 40 percent of its food supply, more than any other geographic group.

Food waste makes up about 20 percent of the U.S. waste stream, according to the Trib. When bagged and ending in the landfill, it leaks methane, a gas that is 21 times more destructive to the ozone than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. If composted — as only three percent is — food can produce soil enriching compost rather than methane.

Several Earth Day stories in Sunday’s papers touched on the theme by touting the merits of composting, buying smarter, and freezing instead of discarding. Earth Day themes for supermarkets were plentiful.

Several U.S. supermarkets touted their efforts around energy-conservation and many gave away reusable bags on the day. Several stories touched on the green benefits of using products that have been sustainably produced and packaged in recycled, recyclable and/or biodegradable containers. Others talked up buying local or shopping at farmers markets to avoid the carbon impact from food traveling long distances.

Discussion Questions: What are the benefit to retailers in reducing food waste? Where does food waste rank on the green to-do list for food retailers?

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10 Comments on "Don’t Let Food Go to Waste"


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David Livingston
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

On the consumer level, food is wasted because it’s cheap and not considered a valuable resource. We have too much of it. We have extremely liberal food policies such as Food Stamps where low income people can pretty much eat all they want and then some for free. When food is basically free, it is not valued as much. Sure consumers buying smarter will reduce waste. But as retailers, we don’t want consumers buying smarter. We want to them to be stupid and frivolous. That’s how we take their money.

From a retailer point of view, it’s all about the dollars. No one cares about landfills, ozone, methane gas, etc. What retailers do care about is saving money. Most retailers are very aware of the financial benefits of reducing waste. The feel-good stories about using recycled containers and shopping at farmers’ markets seems to me to be unrelated to food waste, but more of another type of environmental conservation.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
10 years 25 days ago

Reducing food waste pays a number of dividends: lower labor and wholesale costs, increased efficiency in the supply chain, reduced impact on the environment (in terms of both energy use and waste products), and potentially even reduction in hunger in the community.

On the last point, there’s a charity called FeedingAmerica (feedingamerica.org) that secures food from retailers and manufacturers that would otherwise go to waste, and diverts the food to food banks and soup kitchens around the country.

When retailers make food waste reduction a priority, it can be a win-win-win-win….

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

First of all, I think we are mixing statistics here. For example, are the U.N. numbers reflective of total societal food waste (which I assume they are,) or just the food waste contributions of supermarkets as in the U.K. study?

These — commercial and household food waste — are two clearly distinct problems. A cynic might point out that it’s in the supermarkets’ collective best interest to see people overbuy.

Now, if we are just talking about commercial waste, the benefits are obvious — reduced inventory costs, reduced waste disposal costs, reduced energy use, reduced handling and therefore labor costs, etc., etc. That said, it takes a lot more organization and discipline to stay on top of food waste than it does to install say a water reclaim system or solar panels. And, if things really are that bad in the first place, it means that discipline isn’t present today.

So, while it should be high on the list it obviously isn’t and probably won’t be based on current prioritization and performance.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 25 days ago

Everyone seems against food waste, deficit spending and for preserving the planet. But the issues still exist. So we dedicate ourselves to correcting the mistake of our preferred modes and manners. Then comes the cost and the necessary self discipline, which is always a bit higher than we want to endure. And that’s where we seem to be today.

Food retailers face a conflict. They need to dispense as much food as possible while still wanting to eliminate as much food waste as possible. This is a dilemma with many constituencies. Let’s continue to cooperate and may the twains be able to meet soon.

Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 25 days ago
This issue has been a pet peeve of mine for many years, as the throw away society we live in is inexcusable. We throw away more edible food than some nations produce in a year, and I have been fighting this for years in my community. The policies at most restaurant chains and supermarkets is to destroy out-dated product, rather than donating it to soup kitchens, which is very sad. Our store proudly throws nothing away, as I have set up a pickup weekly from a large soup kitchen (church), that uses everything I have to feed over 200 people a week, who otherwise would go without. The Salvation Army also shares in this as well, and believe me, I have sat down with these folks at the hot lunches, and they are very grateful to receive a meal that otherwise would have been tossed away. It takes a coordinated effort to make sure we freeze grinds, sausages, and chill down my catering leftovers properly, before the pickup each week, as there is never a… Read more »
Roy White
Guest
Roy White
10 years 25 days ago

One would think that reducing waste can potentially increase profits, depending on the cost of reducing the amount of waste. But even if the cost is high, long term it is likely to provide more dollars for the bottom line. Once a system is in place, initial costs can be covered, inventory reduced and operations made smoother and more efficient. In addition, reducing the carbon footprint is an important if not immediate issue. However, barring regulation, it is probably unlikely that waste reduction programs will become important and widespread in the grocery industry.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
10 years 25 days ago

I think there’s a growing benefit in associating your brand with a charity food institution, like Tony’s has — my local Panera’s (can’t speak for the whole chain) doesn’t sell day-olds, they give them to Second Harvest. I’ve seen countless people come in towards the end of the day looking for discounts, to be told that it’s going to charity. Panera could potentially make a buck on selling those items, but they don’t. That’s a brand attribute that may be meaningless to the people looking for the deep discount, but it can also mean a lot to other customers. This idea of zero-waste — it seems like it’s the next level of sustainability.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
10 years 25 days ago

I suspect that food waste is is very much a front burner hot topic for this market’s decision makers. The tonnage measurements are a very alarming to the public and for a variety of reasons making this a multifaceted public relations nightmare. Weighing in on the future is the probability of accurate information leaked to the public via the internet revealing what is an assortment of previously unknown facts about the refuse industries unsolved waste issues. The good news is these issues are being addressed by the industry itself. They should probably just pick up the pace a bit.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
10 years 24 days ago

This has to become more important to retailers in the near term. Between the economics of eliminating disposal costs and potential for community benefits in the form of donations, there’s solid potential for retail gains going forward. It just seems wrong to throw away food that could make a difference to hungry families who are in shelters and food banks.

Things seem to be moving slowly, as the efforts to coordinate are time consuming. On the retailers to do list, this is likely a very detail intensive task and challenging to execute across multi-unit operations located in many different communities.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 24 days ago

Unsold, wasted food hits the retailer hardest. Waste, or “shrink” amounts to billions of dollars globally. Throughout the supply chain, including all the way to the consumers’ homes, food waste can reach 25% to as high as 50%, depending upon which study you believe. That’s right, at least 25% of all food produced around the world goes to waste. Now think about what that means in potential profitability. Does THAT make “going green” more attractive?!

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