Food waste in supermarkets

“Best before” labels face the axe

The topic of waste is on everyone’s mind. With looming threats of an environmental crisis and high-profile protests by groups such as Extinction Rebellion, the issue cannot be ignored.

It’s no longer good enough to just recycle – an overarching strategy is needed, not least among major food stores.

British supermarkets reportedly contribute 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year and retail giants are jostling to become the first to go “plastic free.”

The drive to promote sustainability will help to combat unnecessary plastic waste and also reduce food waste. The move may seem counter intuitive as we have always been told that plastic packaging protects food and prolongs shelf-life.

Wrap, which campaigns to cut waste and encourages sustainable solutions, is urging supermarkets to sell loose fruit and vegetables in an attempt to reduce plastic.

Interestingly, the reduction in packaging will also help to reduce food waste as supermarkets will need to introduce alternative ways to show “best before” timelines, allowing consumers to make up their own minds about when food is safe, or unsafe, to eat.

A retail survey by Wrap found more than one-fifth of items found on store shelves had just two days or fewer remaining life. The products included bread, minced beef and berries.

A quarter of all pre-packed, unprepared fresh produce now carries no date label, which complies with updated guidance. Three retailers have even removed “best before” on some fresh produce.

Urgent action is still required, however. It is estimated that 13% of all food which is wasted is still edible. That is enough for 650 million meals. If this waste was more efficiently used, it could help feed millions of people who are struggling to afford to eat.

According to Which?, Tesco and Waitrose are the best supermarkets for recyclable packaging with Morrisons ranking the worst. For all supermarkets to rank the same, perhaps the food economy needs to become a circular, closed system where all waste is fed back into the system.

By Kara Doyle
Junior account executive