New Report Calls Out Supermarkets for Unacceptable Food Waste

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign have teamed up to grade major supermarkets on their food waste practices — and the results aren’t very encouraging.

In an era with growing calls for corporate accountability and consumer concern about sustainability, a lot of well-known grocery stores aren’t doing their part when it comes to tackling wasteful practices.

About one-third of the food we grow is tossed every year, and a lot of that waste happens at the retailer level. That’s because food retailers have tough appearance standards, overbuy to create an appearance of abundance or adhere to strict “sell-by” deadlines.

Scoring rubrics for grading included three elements:

Accountability: Did a store have a clear policy on food waste, and was it communicated to the public? Did stores report on net waste and food donations annually? Did stores track waste prevention internally? Did a store have a food waste commitment policy, and what did it include? Did the company participate in initiatives to reduce food waste more broadly?

Prevention: Did a store have measures to reduce waste at every step of the supply chain? Did it sell “ugly produce” and work on ways to recycle produce deemed unfit for sale, such as using it to cook in-store meal products? Did the supermarket educate consumers?

Recovery and recycling: Once food was deemed unsalable, what happened to it? Was it donated, sold as animal feed, or used in composting products?

The final grades in this research might surprise you. Think of stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Target as progressive and forward-thinking? Well, they all got Ds. Only one store got a B, and that was Walmart. Aldi received the lone F, while Albertson’s, Kroger and Ahold Delhaize all scraped by with Cs. Other Ds included Publix and Costco.

A key finding from this study is that many grocery stores are thinking about how to donate and recycle food so it doesn’t get wasted after the fact, rather than exploring strategies to minimize food waste from the outset.

Some simple steps that can help include adopting “ugly produce” programs, changing display design, streamlining date labels and educating both employees and members of the public. These initiatives are all targeted at reducing the amount of unsold produce up front — before the store even considers what to do with produce it can’t sell, like making it available for animal feed or composting.

Creating a time-defined commitment to reducing food waste is also important, the organizers argue, because it creates a clear deadline that can be used to set targets. Transparency, ensuring that consumers are aware of a store’s efforts — or lack thereof — is also valuable.

This study illustrates the need for corporations to be more aggressive about tackling food waste. Consumers concerned about the issue can force companies to act by applying pressure. For example, shoppers can request audits of wasteful practices and ask to view full details on what’s wasted and where this food ends up. Consumers may also push grocery stores to adopt concrete food waste reduction policies with specific deadlines.

Tackling food waste isn’t just good corporate PR. It also saves a lot of money for companies, which they in turn can pass on to customers and shareholders.

Meanwhile, the French aren’t waiting for corporations to voluntarily sign on to reduce food waste, like Tesco did. Instead, they’re passing legislation to target specific elements of food waste, compelling stores to clean up their acts. While the federal government might not be interested in passing a law, you could have better luck at the state or local level, using legislation to push companies unwilling to conform otherwise.

Take Action!

Urge Congress to mandate the Bill Emerson Act by signing this Care2 petition. Supermarkets should no longer be allowed to waste food, especially when there are those who need it.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.

 

Photo Credit: Jack Bailey/Flickr

87 comments

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