Remember your last trip to the supermarket? When you came home you had to unpack everything. Cans went on the shelves, dairy and meat in the fridge, veg and fruit in their place. And over the following days and weeks that food was consumed. But what was left?
When you finished the beans, the tin was left. When you boiled the potatoes the skins were left. and the plastic bag the spuds came in. When you fried the eggs, you were left with egg shells and the cardboard egg box. Every food item has at least one layer of packaging. Some have more. If you buy half a dozen apples they come on a cardboard tray, wrapped in clear plastic. Two layers. But there is a third layer. The apples are coated in wax to keep them looking fresh and appealing for longer.
Then there are the bags you brought the groceries home in. All that is waste, and needs to be dealt with.
But that’s just on the consumer end. It gets worse. There is waste on the shop’s end as well. Let’s take another look at that tin of beans. If the shop ordered a thousand cans, they did not arrive jumbled in the back of a van. They were delivered in slabs, each slab wrapped in heavy duty plastic. One more layer of waste. And those slabs were on a wooden pallet. One more layer.
The shop and supermarket sector is a huge producer of waste.
In Ireland we have legislation around food waste, which makes proper waste management so important. See this pdf by foodwaste.ie to read more.
How much waste is produced by supermarkets?
Before we reveal the shocking truth, it is important to point out that some supermarkets are better than others, and some countries better than others. Ireland might not be as bad as America. But according to a report by the Natural Resources Defence Council: “Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10% of the total US energy budget, uses 50% of US land, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40% of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of US municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of US methane emissions.”
Roughly 10% of food ends up as waste – and half of that waste is still edible when it ends up being dumped.
Then there is the packaging. According to an investigation by The Guardian, published on January 17, 2018, Britain’s leading supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year, over half of the UK’s domestic plastic waste. The waste would: “fill enough large 10-yard skips to extend from London to Sydney, or cover the whole of Greater London to a depth of 2.5cm.”
And UK supermarkets throw away enough food to make 190 million meals a year.
Irish retailers are estimated to produce 80,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year!
The problem is huge.
What do supermarkets do with waste?
At the moment many are disposing of waste in old-fashioned and inefficient ways. Food is dumped. It then goes into landfill. Some packaging can be recycled, but not all. The grocery and supermarket sector is one of the knottiest issues in the waste management chain. But there are some signs of hope.
How do supermarkets reduce waste?
Sometimes it takes vision – and a directive from above – to produce change. Luckily that change is already well established. In 2002 the government introduced a levy on plastic bags in retail. Up to that point every time you shopped your groceries were packed in as many plastic bags as you wanted, which you then dumped, because there were plenty more where those came from.
Suddenly you could still have as many plastic bags as you wanted, but each one cost 22 cent.
The result was an immediate change in behaviour. Prior to the levy our per capita use of plastic bags was 328 per annum. After the levy this dropped to 14 bags. We still had the same amount of groceries, but we used bigger and sturdier bags, and we kept them. Most households now have several strong plastic bags, or canvas bags, which are used until they are threadbare. And there has been a vast reduction in our plastic waste.
If we can change the behaviour of a nation, we can change the behaviour of an organisation. Through good purchasing control, and stock control, we can ensure that food doesn’t reach its sell-by date still on the shelf. But we can purchase non-perishables in bulk, to reduce packaging.
It is all about control. At CEC we have the waste management software to help you manage it all, and the expertise to guide your efforts to produce the best results.
Getting zero waste certified as a supermarket
It might seem like a tough challenge to get zero waste certified, but it is an achievable goal. We have helped several companies achieve these results. When the Marlborough House Hotel came to us, their aim was to reduce their waste. They went several steps beyond that, achieving zero waste to landfill, and all in a matter of months. The hospitality industry has a similar waste profile to the grocery and supermarket sector. If they can do it, your organisation can do it too.
It will reduce your waste management costs, but it will also let your customers know you are working for the betterment of the community. That sort of reputation can only help your store.
Book a free zero waste to landfill consultation with us today!