Thursday, 20 November 2008

Throw Away Food

My daughter used to work at a petrol garage but as it was recently bought up by Tesco, she’s had to go work in one of their Express shops while the garage is knocked down and rebuilt to suit Tesco’s needs. What she has told me about the amount of food that goes to waste there EVERY DAY is appalling.

It’s not as if I didn’t know it happened - I’ve heard all about Freegans and their dumpster diving - but to hear about it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, kind of brings it home just that little bit more.

Tesco Express shops are small. Anybody who’s ever been in one will know that you couldn’t possibly do your weekly shop there; they’re more like a chain of what was once independently run corner shops only a bit bigger. And yet still they fill at least one, often two large skip sized containers EVERY DAY with food that can’t be sold. Food that’s perfectly ok for human consumption and that could be donated to soup kitchens, refuge centres, hostels and the likes. But no, it’s thrown away. It ends up on the landfill to rot away.

What one of the commenters on my post about Home Baked Bread said something about supermarket bread being more environmentally friendly than that which we bake at home but just how environmentally friendly it is to throw away a large number of loaves, rolls, cakes and the likes every day is highly debatable. Personally, I can’t see how it can be more sound than baking your own because not only are the products ending up on the landfill, the wrappings are too!

Why on earth do they produce so much when they know that so much is going to go to waste every day? Wouldn’t it be better if the shop was simply allowed to run out? I mean, that’s what used to happen when I was a kid. If you went to get your bread too late and they didn’t have any, tough luck. Nowadays we want everything available 24/7 though, but at what price?

I remember when me and my kids had barely a crumb to eat and how grateful I would have been for just a small amount of the food one Tesco store throws away! But it won't change while people keep shopping there. The power ultimately lies with us, but we rarely use it.

Sharon J


Image Credit: Danny McL


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Grow Ur Own said...

It is a bloody disgrace that this happens when soup kitchen and homeless shelters all over the UK are scraping together pennies to keep going.

The larger supermarkets can produce on average approximately 3-4 dumpsters full to the brim every week of food that should not be thrown away.

A friend of mine worked at Asda in the bakery and they have a quota of ingredients that they have to use - its completely crazy! So when they don't sell it all (and anything else that has not gone that day) it goes in big blue bags, still in their wrappers and into the dumpsters.

Apparently some of the supermarkets lock their bins so that freegans cannot take stuff out, that is just typical of their views on the public and environment.

Anyway, if you know of anywhere that dumps food like this you can contact the Freegans on

Sharon J said...

@ Grow Ur Own. You'd think that in these 'enlightened' times they'd do something about it, wouldn't you? Or maybe they're worried that people will stop buying bread and just wait until it goes into the dumpster instead!

That still doesn't explain why they can't give it away to shelters and the likes though because we all know how much they struggle financially. I was in hospital with a lady who worked at one and her opinion of food waste (although this was in connection with hosptial food waste) wasn't pretty.

My daughter went to a presentation of Tesco a few days ago. When asked about her opinion of the company she said "they don't pay farmers enough and they waste too much food".

Anonymous said...

I am that commenter.It's not good, granted. In fact it's a disgrace, especially when you add it to the amount of food that's bought from them and allowed to go off in people's fridges and bread bins, something of which we are all guilty of. It's not exactly new thoughand there is increasing pressure being brought to bear on these retailers. The more grass-roots opinion that can be generated can only be positive.

I'm not defending supermarkets particularly but if they operate responsibly then they can have a really positive role to play because the scale on which they operate can be a good thing.

One comment on that old post of yours stood out for its ill-thought out logic: even organic flour and ingredients to bake your home baked bread with comes in wrapping. The councils don't have special organic landfills for it, rubbish is rubbish. And using your car to drive to the local enviro-friendly retailer doesn't generate non-greenhouse gases either. And as for worrying about what goes into supermarket bread - I wouldn't! Have you ever seen what gets dragged up in a harvest or been inside a grain store or mill? Goodness knows what goes into flour but I doubt it's pretty!

Sharon J said...

@ Anonymous. Yes, food does go off in homes everywhere but there's a huge difference between producing food that you know is going to be wasted BEFORE it's even produced, and not using absolutely everything in your fridge. It's about responsibility.

As for supermarkets operating responsibly being a good thing, I can't really see how one giant store can be better than many small retailers each specialising in the products they sell and owned by ordinary people trying to make an ordinary living. If supermarkets were to act responsibily and actually start paying farmers a decent living for the work they put into producing our food then small retailers would be able to compete. As things stand, we're going back to the owner/slave situation of the past - a few get very rich by putting the little guy out of business and forcing him to work for a pittance instead while also being unwilling to share with those who are poverty stricken as they'd rather throw food away.

I won't comment on organic flour as I feel that particular part of your comment belongs on the original bread post rather than here.

Anonymous said...

They are effective purely on the amount of energy involved in distribution and resale. You need to factor out sentimentality because that's where envirnomental efficiency often falls down. Depends where your priorities lay.

Sharon J said...

My priorities lie in several places so I try to strike a balance between them. To me, that's important as we can't have just one thing without giving consideration to another and anything else would make me very narrow minded. The picture covers the entire canvas, not just one corner of it.

I'm not sure what you mean by sentimentality. What's sentimental about preferring people to be free to run their own small businesses rather than be at the mercy of the giant companies who not only pay them a pittance but who are happy to drop them at a moment's notice?

Carol said...

The thing is when food stuff starts to go past its sell by date at home, we usually have a recipe or two to make it into something else. Bread pudding for instance.
The supermarkets are governed by legislation that forbids them to sell anything past its use by date, I am sure that if they were allowed some lee way then they would put it to other use as they are the last people who like to lose money.

Look at the bonkers EU that will not let the supermarkets sell veg that is too big or too mishapen so that it ends up as cattle feed. (Although this has been relaxed recently)

Sometimes it is not always the fault of the supermarket although I personally try and avoid those places and buy local where I can

Sharon J said...

I see the point you're making, Carol, but that still doesn't explain why they produce more bread etc than they're likely to sell. If they lowered their production, there wouldn't be so much waste.

Richard said...

That EU legislation (which wasn't EU, it was based on home-grown legislation) about the oddly shaped vegetables actually had a sensible point that seems to have been overlooked in that it's more economical for the consumer to ship stuff that you can pack easily. Ship a load of mishapen cucies and a) they get wrecked because you can't pack them well together and b) you need twice as much room. There is a method in their apparent madness that gets overlooked in the rampant desire to bash something that's seen as over-legislative. After all, when you get a carrot with a willy, you will invariably cut the willy off and chuck it away. You can't even send a picture of it to That's Life anymore. At least it fed something before.

Sharon J said...

Richard. I can see a certain amount of sense in that but it does beg the question of what happens to the fruit and veg that isn't the correct shape. If it's all used as animal feed then that would seem fine but then there's the question of lowering our beef consumption because of methane gases and if we do that, there will be fewer animals to feed and less vegetable matter can be used that way. And of course, chickens should be fed on feed that contains at least 50% corn as a supplement to what they find themselves whilst free-ranging etc. It often seems that in order to solve one problem, we just create another.

Whatever way we look at it, food is and always will be wasted to some degree, but we do need to start finding ways of limiting that waste without it having a negative knock on effect elsewhere.

Richard said...

I'm sure there are plenty of other uses for it other than feeding cows. Other animals, biofuels whatever. Needs a concerted strategy. I just don't know why they don't ask me.

Sharon J said...

They clearly don't know what mine of genial thinking they're missing :)

Sharon Rose said...

Hi there-what a terrible tale, shame on tescos. I'm so pleased I don't shop there anymore.

Frugal Trenches said...

It is simply discusting that we do it, allow it and encourage it. We overproduce, buy in big portions and focus too much on want vs. need!

p.s will respond to your email once I'm home!

Sharon J said...

@ Sharon Rose. I don't shop there either. Horrible place.

@ Frugal Trenches. I think that's the main problem, that we as consumers encourage it by shopping there.

Cabbage Heart said...

Again another debate with Anon! Since when did Sharons blog become a place that Anon can vent his ego with intelectual mumbo jumbo and challenge every single word written? Sharon has friends! Holy cow! None of us give a red rasberry flyiny toss what the heck are you on about care what challenges of intellect you spew from your fingers onto this blog! You completely miss every single point shared here and only fuel your own ego by mumbo jumbo and quite frankly I find this kind of s**t disturbing on your behalf..... Now....Sharon, What is really sad is that in Australia, we now have regulations in place that prevent any source of food IE; restaurants, bakeries etc, from dispersing left overs to soup kitchens and charities which sux! I have been working in the food industry for nearly 20 years now and over the years, we use to have homeless come to the back door of the shop to get a meal at closing time, my employer use to do it all the time as most of the food would go to waste, untill my employer got caught and was fined a whopping $20,000 for feeding a regular homeless person for free. It was so incredibly horrible to turn them away when they are obviously hungry and charities are so scarce here or are full or have run out of food themselves. It sux but what can we do when the risk of getting caught is such a high price to pay for feeding the hungry? Makes me sick to think about donating overseas to hungry when we are just as hungry in our own backyard! Maybe we should just vote Gavin for PM and solve the world crisis.

L-Jay said...

The reason why the shops are ok with throwing so much away is because they make way over what the whole amount is worth by selling just a few.

I worked at a restuarant in London. A plate of fries on the side would only cost the restaurant 20p but the customer actually paid £4. Its the same with supermarkets - they at least mark up by 33-40% on every item.

Its not ethical but it is business.

Oleg said...

Did you recently throw away some food?
Please, fill in the following survey to help reduce the negative everyday's occurrence.
The main attention, during the survey, will be concentrated on food waste which has been thrown away, but it was possible to consume it in some period of time in the past.

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