Thursday, 1 September 2016

Supermarkets and food waste

Throwing away food is not a particularly good idea:
Futures Forum: Food waste >>> on overproduction, jam-packed shelves and anaerobic digestion
Futures Forum: Food waste and food banks: new initiatives  >>> "This crisis has forced us to end the 'each man for himself' mentality, to look at what we can do together to get ourselves out of this mess."
Futures Forum: Food: don't waste it

As reported in the Economist this week:

The Economist explains:
Why wasting food is bad for the planet

Aug 28th 2016, 23:00 BY M.S.L.J.

LEAVING unwanted broccoli on your plate is not just bad manners. It is also poor treatment of the planet. Perhaps a third of the world’s food—1.3 billion tonnes—is wasted each year. Resources used to grow and transport food are squandered when veggies remain uneaten. Some $750 billion worth of food is thrown away. What is the environmental impact?

Food waste contributes to pollution. The energy needed to produce food, through fuel for tractors and lorries, fertiliser production and more, releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If the annual emissions from food waste—3.3 billion tonnes—were released by a single country, it would be the third-largest polluter in the world (after China and America). And the amount of water squandered on unwanted food is enormous: a volume equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga river, according to the UN. Leaving meat on the plate is worse than almost anything else; it accounts for a sixth of humanity’s calorific intake while requiring about a third of its crop land, water and grain. Producing a kilogram of grain takes 1,500 litres of water; a kilo of beef requires ten times as much.

Food wasted by the consumer is largely a problem of the rich world. In Europe households are responsible for more than half of the 88m tonnes thrown out each year. Labelling only seems to confuse matters. According to a study conducted for the European Commission last year, less than half of those asked knew what “best before” labels actually mean. These and “use by” labels were rolled out across the EU in 2014. (“Best before” dates are, as the name suggests, the date by which food tastes best; “use by” labels mean you cannot safely consume food after this date.) In poorer countries problems are more basic. Shoddy roads mean that in India, for example, about 40% of food rots on the way to market.

As consumers in rich countries are responsible for much of the waste, they should be enlisted to tackle the problem directly. The most obvious way forward would be for them to eat all the foodstufs they buy and cook. The use of smaller plates can actually encourage such behaviour. Lawmakers can help too: earlier this month Italy passed a new law to make it easier for supermarkets to donate unwanted items; in February France became the first country to penalise shops for chucking out unsold groceries, rather than giving them away. There are apps to connect outlets with too much with those who have too little, such as Food Cowboy in America and FoodCloud in England and Ireland, and websites where savvy shoppers can purchase items past their prime (but not yet spoiled) at a discount. Denmark has a supermarket that offers the same. For once the interests of both consumers and the planet are aligned—a delicious prospect.

The Economist explains: Why wasting food is bad for the planet | The Economist

Different countries are doing different things about it:
How Cities Are Tackling Their Enormous Food Waste Problem | Co.Exist | ideas + impact
Italy passes law to encourage all supermarkets to give unsold food to needy | Europe | News | The Independent
Lawmakers and greens are trying to get Europeans to stop wasting food | The Economist
New Danish supermarket sells food that is always past its sell-by date - Telegraph
Carrefour calls on innovative firms to pitch ideas for fighting food waste

This week, ITV's assignment went to France: 

Food waste: What is the root of the problem?

30 August 2016 at 2:25pm

This pioneering French law may increase awareness of the problem. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

The supermarket we visited in Paris was a thing of beauty. All high ceilings, polished floors and on the well-ordered shelves there was, of course, a cornucopia of food choice. Here the consumer lacks nothing - typical of all modern supermarkets in France and the UK. And that’s the problem.

The way we all shop for food now - the demand that our every recipe whim can be catered for - (What, you don’t have black spaghetti?) – means that massive, daily food waste is inevitable. In France alone, more than seven million tonnes of food are thrown out every year.

Special deals can easily cause a build up of food waste. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

It’s a modern scandal however you look at it - perfectly good food heading for the landfill.

The legislation in France to redistribute some of that food waste to the poor looks admirable from a distance. But when we closely examined it, we found some problems:

> Some of the supermarkets don’t like the way they are being forced to do something they were already doing on a voluntary basis
> The supermarkets can still ignore the new law as there is no “enforcement” or checks written into the legislation

France chucks out seven million tonnes of food annually. Credit: ITV/On Assignment

But perhaps most importantly, talking to the consumers, retailers and activists in France, we concluded that this new law doesn’t address the root problem of waste. The way we choose to shop, the way we demand so much choice is available to us, means that supermarket waste is inevitable. And often, the way we shop – encouraged to buy more than we need as consumers with the likes of “three for one” offers - creates consumer food waste too.

France introduced legislation to tackle food waste Credit: ITV/On Assignment

Only when consumers demand less choice can food waste end. Until then, this pioneering French law may increase awareness of the problem and help some of the poor in France. But it is unlikely to prevent the millions of tonnes of edible food being thrown away each day across the world.

Last updated Wed 31 Aug 2016

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