As my local grocery store goes out of business, I am forced to look for alternatives which suit my lifestyle needs. I am currently attempting a zero-waste and/or plastic-free lifestyle which had been trundling on relatively smoothly, setting little weekly goals on how to further reduce my waste output and plastic consumption…. until now.
I am left with the odd realisation that there are no other local grocers in my area from whom I can buy totally unpackaged, local produce (both reducing my carbon footprint, my plastic consumption and supporting local farmers all at once). The only local alternatives is a farmers market (which unfortunately only runs during week days when I am unable to visit), or a small subsistence stall by my workplace (which is limited in it’s produce and doesn’t stock all of my vegetable needs).
Due to this, I have been forced to turn to supermarkets for some of my fruit and veg. I have always known that supermarkets have a bad reputation for food waste, carbon emissions (from transporting food long distances) and over-packaging, but I hadn’t realised quite how bad the food waste issue was, not just in supermarkets but in household, manufacturing and farms.
Although retail only accounts for 1% of the food waste in the UK – most of it is edible and is simply classed as “ugly” or “undersized”.
But it’s not all bad news!
Supermarkets are now reducing their own waste and (in some cases) attempting to aid households to reduce waste too.
France has banned their supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead, they have to either donate it to charity or (in the case of spoiled food) to animal feed. The law also includes a clause to state that they are unable to deliberately spoil unsold food. “Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.” (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/france-to-force-big-supermarkets-to-give-away-unsold-food-to-charity) In the UK this is starting to be done, but on a lesser scale with specific stores (such as Tescos and M&S – chain supermarkets in the UK) taking their own initiative to donate their surplus, unsold food to charities.
As part of a wider reach, educational programmes have been set up to reduce household waste in France to reduce the average disposal of household food from to staggering 20-30kg per year (7kg still wrapped and unopened). In the UK households throw away 7 million UK tonnes of food per year, however the UK government has not attempted to tackle this. Asda (one of the chain supermarkets in the UK) has started a remodeling of it’s products to make the dating codes on their labels clearer to reduce confusion in households as to whether food had gone out of date or not. It has also reviewed packaging to keep food fresher for longer (although this probably includes using more plastic to package items). Tescos has also attempted to improve food shelf life but instead by sourcing additional ingredients.
In one of the Sainsbury’s stores (another chain supermarket in the UK) it is using it’s food waste to power the store’s electricity, creating a store that is self-sustainable in it’s power usage.
Tescos on the other hand has been reducing its own in-store wastage in the bakery by baking when stocks run low, rather than baking in bulk.
“Asda, Co-operative Food, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose are among the retailers who reduced their food waste from 200,000 to 180,000 tonnes in a year.” (http://www.edie.net/news/5/Supermarkets-slash-food-waste-by-20-000-tonnes/)
There is currently a petition for the UK to create and enforce the same laws as France: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/make-supermarkets-hand-over-all-unsold-food-to-charities