It's been a busy month for food waste in the UK, with the publication of The Evening Standard's investigation into supermarket waste; Sainsbury's publishing some of its food waste data (and demanding the Government to make this mandatory); a wealth of organisations calling on the UK Government for action on waste; and a new group of companies signing up to the Courtauld Commitment. Yet what really shocked me was the fanfare of news articles celebrating what has been dubbed 'The UK's First Food Waste Supermarket'.
This 'food waste supermarket' is the latest project of The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP). TRJFP started out as a pay-as-you-feel café serving food that would have gone to waste in Armley, Leeds. I first met Adam Smith, the project's founder, in 2014 shortly before becoming a co-director of the project. Since leaving the project, it has grown from strength to strength and now represents an international network of anti-food waste projects.
One such project is the brilliant Fuel for Schools program in Leeds, which uses surplus food to feed hundreds of school children breakfast to combat food poverty and malnutrition. The 'food waste supermarket' is a warehouse in which food is stored for effective distribution; and in true TRJFP fashion, it has been opened up to be accessed by all to make sure those living in food poverty are not marginalised. Everyone is welcome to do their weekly shop and are encouraged to pay as they feel, whether that is financially or in kind. Yet as Adam told me on the phone recently, "this isn't a supermarket, this is explicitly anti-supermarket".
Even if we can call this warehouse a supermarket, doesn't it seem strange that the UK's media headlines are celebrating the fact that the UK wastes enough food to fill a supermarket?
On World Food Day 2016, what the UK really needs right now is its first Zero Waste Supermarket.
A zero food waste supermarket publicly measures and reports how much food it wastes in its store and distribution centre operations, as well as throughout its supply chain.
A zero food waste supermarket prioritises prevention of waste throughout its operations and supply chain. It commits to reducing food waste on farms and other stages of its supply chain, for example through the relaxation of strict cosmetic specifications that judge food on what it looks like, rather than its taste or nutritional value.
A zero food waste supermarket understands that food waste is a symptom of overproduction. It works to create fair contractual relationships with its suppliers to prevent overproduction as a result of suppliers trying to insure themselves against last minute order cancellations and unpredictable order forecasting.
A zero food waste supermarket recognises that redistribution is a short-term measure to ensure all food that is grown is eaten by people, but that ultimately it is responsible for minimising how much 'surplus' food it encourages to be grown, harvested, packaged, transported and sold.
A zero food waste supermarket only sends truly unavoidable food waste to management processes such as anaerobic digestion.
A zero food waste supermarket would present a challenge to all retailers to take greater action to prevent food waste and would be truly worthy of newspaper headlines.
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