What is food waste?
It is known that grocery stores landfill a significant amount of produce. In fact, grocery stores account for 10% of U.S. food waste. Food waste is the edible portions of food that are thrown away or allowed to go bad. While this definition includes the scraps of food on your plate that you scrape into the garbage, it also includes the mass amounts of food at restaurants and retail locations that are thrown away. Food waste is problematic because instead of feeding the millions of food insecure families around the world, this food is being sent to the landfill.
The environmental costs
There are also environmental consequences associated with landfilling organic material. The anaerobic digestion of organic material in a landfill results in the production of methane, a greenhouse which has a global warming potential that is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide! In addition, when food is wasted, we are also wasting all of the fossil fuels, fertilizer, labour, packaging, and so on that went to getting the food to the grocery store.
A large percentage of the food that is thrown out in grocery stores is actually edible! In order to satisfy customer preferences, grocery stores often throw out perfectly good food if it isn’t aesthetically pleasing. While we can all agree that it is nice to pick out a perfect looking apple, the presence of bruises or other minor imperfections does not impact the flavour or nutritional value. Instead of letting good food go to waste, there are plenty of ways grocery stores can make use of imperfect produce! One example would be creating a discount area within the store for “ugly” food or products that are nearing their expiration date. Lowered prices can be a great incentive for individuals to purchase less-than-ideal items. This also helps to make healthy food accessible to those who cannot afford to buy it full price.
Donating excess food
Another way to reduce food waste in grocery stores is by donating the excess/unwanted items to food banks and soup kitchens. Although the lack of laws and policies surrounding food donations can be an issue due to possible safety issues and concerns about liability, this can be a great way to find good use for the food items that would otherwise have been thrown away. It is important to note that most foods are safe to eat well past their best before dates! Certain American states as well as countries have implemented food waste laws to help encourage food donations from grocery stores. For example, a food law in France requires that excess food must be donated to food banks.
Food waste prevention
One of the most important ways to reduce food waste is by preventing it. Instead of putting large amounts of produce on display, it is more beneficial to put out less and restock more often. Although large displays of produce look appealing, the produce on the bottom of the pile will tend to bruise and go bad faster. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the produce that is put at the bottom of the pile are the ones that are already considered imperfect in the first place, therefore shortening their shelf life. This food waste can be avoided if grocery stores display less perishable produce and order the quantities that suit their customer’s needs.
We all can play a part
What can we as consumers do to help prevent food waste at the grocery store? It may seem like it is out of our hands, yet it is not. We can exercise power in our consumer choices by purchasing the less than perfect produce, and the milk that is near its expiration date, but you know will be consumed soon anyways. Then, we can also voice our concerns at the grocery store level by writing to the management and with our politicians asking that they legislate changes to the wasteful practices of needlessly throwing away food.
Grocery store food waste statistics
5 ways grocers can reduce food waste
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