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How are supermarkets tackling the food waste problem?

25th April 2018

Food Waste

According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), retail food waste accounts for only 2% of the total food wastage in the UK, with over 70% of post-farm food waste generated by households and the remaining 28% from manufacturing, hospitality and food service. It is clear, that alongside reducing and redirecting the waste produced by retail, supermarkets will also need to play a part in helping reduce waste generated after purchase.  However, supermarkets in the UK are aware of this responsibility to combat food wastage and many are taking steps to reduce their impact.

Alongside taking steps to reduce the amount of food wasted in the first place, there are a number of disposal methods that supermarkets use to divert surplus from landfill. If the food is no longer suitable for human consumption, it can be recycled into animal food, and therefore back into the supply chain, recycled into biogas by anaerobic digestion, or burnt to recover energy.

Nine of the UK’s largest supermarkets have become signatories of WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary agreement which aims to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2025.  Alongside this, many supermarkets have also set their own targets to tackle retail food waste.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, Ocado and Waitrose all have taken steps to divert ‘food waste’ edible for human consumption by donating surplus food from retail and manufacturing to charities, like FareShare, which are working to relieve food poverty and waste in the UK. Many of these supermarkets have also relaxed their previously strict standards for shapes and sizes for otherwise edible produce, as seen by Waitrose’s ‘Little Less Than Perfect’ product line and Tesco’s ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ range.

Not all attempts at reducing consumer food waste are successful, as evidenced by Sainsbury’s revision of targets to halve household waste by 2030, as reported by the Guardian last year. After attempts to curb avoidable domestic waste in a trial town, they reported that their targets were unreachable considering the current attitude of the general public. So, it is evident that despite supermarket engagement, there is a limit as to how much can be achieved without the support of consumers.

An issue that seems inextricably tied to the problem of food waste is that of packaging, which has recently come to the forefront of public attention. As mentioned in our previous blog post, ‘The Cucumber Problem’, packaging (and specifically plastic) is often used to prolong the lifetime of fresh produce. Reducing plastic packaging without an appropriate replacement material would almost certainly lead to an increase in food waste, especially if the current attitude towards food and availability is maintained by the general public. It will be interesting to see how supermarkets move to meet their food waste reduction targets, alongside their pledges to reduce plastic waste.