Supermarkets Need to Stop Stocking Waste
New report reveals supermarkets’ slow road to zero food waste
Recently, while shopping, I was horrified to see a supermarket employee throwing away a whole stand of perfectly good apples. Shockingly, this happens every day around the country.
Grocery stores continue to discard edible food and disregard policies that could stop food waste before it starts. That’s in part because these supermarkets are designed to create an illusion of abundance.
As shoppers sort through pyramids of produce for the most visually appealing fruits and vegetables, we aren’t supposed to think about what happens to all the food that doesn’t make it into our baskets. We shouldn’t consider how it got to the shelves in the first place. And we’re not supposed to think of the environmental cost of all that excess food.
But if we’re going to address the food waste crisis, we need supermarkets to lead the way.
The United States wastes 40 percent of the food that’s produced. Waste happens at every stage — on the farm, in transportation, on store shelves and at home. And supermarkets influence every one of those stages.
That’s the focus of our new report, A Slow Road to Zero: A Report Card on U.S. Supermarkets’ Path to Zero Waste, released today. The report looks at whether leading grocery companies make the grade in three key areas of food waste reduction:
- A time-bound commitment to achieving zero food waste;
- Tracking and publicly reporting food waste volume to ensure accountability; and
- Comprehensive prevention programs to stop waste before it reaches store shelves, rather than just relying on donating and recycling surplus food.
The companies that are doing their homework and making the most progress were also the most willing to engage in conversations about the issue, including Whole Foods, Walmart, ALDI, Target, Ahold Delhaize USA and Kroger.
Check out your store, and you might be surprised. Trader Joe’s may be a friendly bastion of affordable, organic food, but when it comes to fighting food waste, the company doesn’t share any clear public commitments or prevention strategies. Yet Walmart, the corporate giant with stores around the world, manages to pull off a commitment to eliminate waste in all stores.
We all want to reduce food waste — it’s costly for our pocketbooks and the environment. It’s also morally outrageous to waste food while people are going hungry all around us. Often our first thoughts are to recycle, reuse, donate and compost excess. But that’s not good enough. If we’re going to fix our food system, we have to prevent food waste in the first place.
The companies doing the smartest and most effective work, focus on preventing food waste instead of just donating it. They also share ambitious, time-bound commitments to stop food waste in its tracks. And they have been more transparent with data and policies, increasing their accountability and trust-building among stakeholders and the public.
Leading stores are addressing key issues that create waste by reducing seafood bycatch, standardizing date labels, using tracking and distribution technology, improving ordering practices, increasing supplier collaboration, promoting imperfect produce and minimizing waste of meat and dairy, which come with the heaviest environmental footprint to produce.
But for the majority of the grocery sector, there’s still a long road ahead. Too many companies haven’t committed to eliminating food waste. They trumpet donation programs without sharing data on the scope of their food waste problem or information on how they’re working to prevent it.
The impact of food production is too severe to waste. Growing food is a water-intensive process that uses millions of miles of habitat and creates an enormous amount of pollution. We can’t afford to keep growing food only to throw it away. This is an ecological crisis that needs to be addressed now, not further down the road.
It’s time for supermarkets to speed up their commitment to zero waste.