In 2016, France devised a legislation that forced supermarkets to donate unsold food that would ordinarily go in the bin as ‘wastage’, to foodbanks. This scheme has seen huge success and it is argued that around half of the food donated to French foodbanks hails from this; thousands are now being fed, where ordinarily their sustenance would have exclusively seen the inside of a waste bin.
I’ve worked in supermarkets in the UK, where this is absolutely not the case. In October last year, Gove announced a pilot scheme that would seek to target retail wastage for these reasons, but we have seen little to no results. Though it is true that some companies donate their leftover food at the end of the working day to local organisations who often come directly to the store to collect wastage, thus theoretically saving the store from going to any trouble to donate, this needs to be rolled out as legislation.
Food wastage in all industries is painful to watch. Baked goods made that morning cannot be sold the next day as they are no longer ‘fresh’. Further, lines that have not been bought at a reduced price or worse, not even reduced in the first place thus increasing the likelihood of wastage.
Possibly the worst I have seen, something that has been reported on in order to shame the company into action countless times, is Krispy Kreme Donuts. Much like the Burberry clothes burning scandal, Krispy Kreme allow their donuts to be on sale for one day, after which they collect them from stores, and bin them, instead of reducing prices or donating them, in order to maintain brand integrity.
After images surfaced of a ‘donut mountain’ in bins outside a Bristol Krispy Kreme, the company stated that policy used to be recycling wastage into animal feed, but it is now to take them to food recycling plants. Nevertheless, this seems to have been enough to get people to forget the tonnes of wastage that they are producing, due to their 12-hour shelf-life ‘integrity’. Whether, three years on, their pricey donuts are being recycled or not, this is not good enough.
Consumer demand ensures that companies are forecasting sales and, often, producing slightly more than this, in order to maximise profit. What’s unacknowledged is that we cannot always forecast exactly how many customers are going to walk through a door and purchase a product on any given day. However, profit is seen as more important than reducing wastage, if the products are inexpensive to produce, in comparison to profit margins.
The number of people using foodbanks in the UK has been increasing unprecedentedly over the last few years – despite employment rates (cough, including zero hours and minimum wage contracts) being at their highest – and the government needs to be doing more to deal with this increasing demand. If providing jobs that pay enough to feed and house a family, or providing childcare for working mothers, or monitoring zero hours ‘contracts’, is too difficult, then why are we not echoing France, and ensuring all edible food gets eaten by those who need it? You aren’t going to make money from binning it, so why can you not let it feed a family in desperate need, instead of the local rats?