Each year 250,000 tonnes of food is thrown away by retailers and wholesalers. Despite this amount of food going to waste, there are nearly six million people in the UK who are living in poverty and struggle to feed their families. To help tackle this mismatch, many supermarkets are introducing initiatives whereby food that would otherwise go to waste is donated to those who need it most.
The link between food waste and poverty became a headline topic in May 2015 when a couple were charged with theft for taking food from Tesco’s bins to feed their young family. After the couple had used their benefits to pay rent and utilities, they had just £10 a month left for food. With a family of four to feed, they resorted to foraging from supermarket bins, where they discovered the majority of waste was perfectly edible. The pair were discharged after the Judge took sympathy, determining the waste food to be of “no value” and asking “how are they expected to live?”. However, the supermarkets didn’t get off so lightly; the story prompted criticism of supermarkets for allowing so much food to go to waste, when there are so many who could benefit from it.
The incident coincided with the French Government’s plans to introduce a law banning large supermarkets from disposing of unsold food, which was passed in February 2016. Now, heads of supermarkets sized 4,305 square feet or above face a fine unless they partner with charities or food banks to donate unwanted food. Although France is the only country to introduce this law, many of the UK’s supermarkets have voluntarily embarked on similar initiatives to combat waste and make a difference to those in need. Indeed, Tesco itself has been described as has having made a “U-turn” since attempting to charge the foraging couple.
As Britain’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco discards 55,400 tonnes of food every year and admits 30,000 tonnes of this is edible. However, Tesco found a way to turn this waste into something positive. It ran a pilot scheme at 14 stores in several cities called the Community Food Connection. The initiative saw Tesco partner with the charity FareShare and the social enterprise FoodCloud to help unwanted food reach those who need it the most:
In just six months, Tesco’s pilot scheme saw 22 tonnes of food donated to vulnerable people – equating to 50,000 meals; that’s over 3,500 meals per store. Following this successful pilot, it now plans to roll-out the initiative throughout the UK and aims to eliminate food waste from its stores by 2017. Chief executive, Dave Lewis, said: “wherever there’s surplus food at Tesco stores, we’re committed to donating it to local charities so we can help feed people in need.” Tesco is now encouraging other supermarkets to adopt the FoodCloud app to promote donation more widely across the food retail industry.
Alongside Tesco, several of the UK’s leading food retailers have embarked on similar initiatives. We describe below how some of our top supermarkets are tackling food waste:
Are you a food retailer taking action to cut food waste? Please leave us a comment telling us what you’re doing to make a difference.