Last week Tesco suddenly realised that they were wasting food – 28,500 tonnes in the first six months of last year was wasted in their stores and distribution centres alone. They also did some research into how much food was wasted by consumers at home, which turned out to be a lot, and to combat this they’re getting rid of multi-buy offers and making their packets of salad smaller. So, in effect, Tesco are cutting back on what they give to the consumer to combat waste, which sounds an awful lot like a convenient way to opt-out of these supermarket price comparison wars using an eco-friendly scapegoat. Never-the-less, food waste is creating a higher profile, and here’s why:
When food waste is put into landfill it sits there, rotting, and ultimately producing methane, which is released into the atmosphere. This methane contains carbon, which, when released into the atmosphere, is a major contributory factor to global warming, which we can by now all agree exists.
If you live in a city there’s a good chance that you’ve got a food recycle bin in your house, provided by the council. This is great, because it means that all your food waste is either mixed in with your garden waste and turned into soil conditioner, or it’s broken down into biogas, which can be used instead of fossil fuels for making heat, electricity or transport fuel. So, if we are recycling our food at home, is it even that big a deal how much we waste?
Well, sort of, but only because of all the transport, packaging and storage costs that go into food. Even if the banana skin gets recycled it has still been shipped in from Ecuador, so fuel was used to transport it, and unfortunately this fuel wasn’t the biofuel of banana skins past. Wouldn’t that be great?
But whilst we wait for the perfect perpetual motion food production system where recycled food creates not only the compost for new food to be grown in but the fuels that transport it, there are some big ambitions for the use of food waste.
Let’s start simple. Marks and Spencer donate unsold food, clothing and other bits and bobs to charities such as Shelter, Oxfam, Newlife Foundation and FareShare. Curiously that kind of makes it more appealing to shop at Marks and Spencer, even thought that means they’ll have less to donate to those in need at the end of the week.
FareShare is a charity that uses fit-for-purpose food to combat hunger in the UK. Since realising how much it’s wasting, Tesco has bolstered its relationship with the charity and has pledged to provide 7 million meals a year. This food is generally beyond the best-before date displayed on its packaging, but it’s still perfectly legal for this food to be sold, and for the most part it’s perfectly safe to be eaten. A new approach to food waste in Greece has resulted in a legal framework being implemented to encourage food beyond its best before being sold. Retailers just sell the food in a different section of the shop and make sure it’s discounted.
The Greek system goes by the date displayed on the food, and it’s a good guideline for use at home. For instance, if the best before date is displayed as a day and a month, it can be sold for another week. If it’s a month and a year, it’s good for another month, and if it’s displayed as a year only it’ll be good for three extra months.
A more scientific approach to food waste is the use of black soldier flies, whose larvae consume nearly everything they come into contact with. This gets rid of the food, preventing the production of methane, and also presents the opportunity to use these larvae as high protein animal feed for livestock (or human snacks for the more adventurous). Most EU livestock is sustained by soy and cereals, which are grown using industrially produced fertilisers, the production of which generates a vast amount of greenhouse gases.
So there may be hope if we can always put food to good use, even if we don’t want to eat it. If these developments in recycling food waste continue there may come a time when the only hurt with food waste will be to our wallets. At that point, maybe Tesco will let us have our salad, and eat it too.
NCTJ qualified journalist and scientist graduate of University of Wales, Bangor.