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   Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire: Monday February 21, 2005


Supermarket scene
Supermarket sweep?

If four million people in the UK can't afford a healthy diet, why are supermarkets throwing away the surplus food that could make a real difference and stop the homeless going hungry?

Inside Out investigates.

It is estimated that people in Britain spend about £70 on their weekly food shop, coming home with a trolley full of treats.

But behind the supermarket shelves is the story the food industry doesn't want you to know about.

Seventeen million tonnes of food is being ploughed into Britain's landfill sites every year - all because it's cheaper and easier for the food industry to dump it than give it to those in need.

It's a massive waste when you consider that around four million tonnes of this food is perfectly alright to eat - fresh, tasty, and well within its sell-by-date.

The wastage is even worse when you consider its worth - if sold in shops, this dumped food would cost around £18 billion.

The food industry calls this a 'surplus' - but when you consider that around four million Brits can't afford to buy healthy food, it's a shocking waste.

And according to some campaigners, it's not just shocking - it's completely immoral.

Food down the drain

Customers outside supermarket
The supermarkets are some of the worst offenders in food waste

Inside Out has uncovered evidence of food waste right down the industry chain - from the suppliers to the supermarkets themselves.

It's not hard to see how it happens - just take a look at your weekly shop.

The fruit and veg section in any supermarket is a good place to start - after all, would you buy a bruised apple when a firmer, shinier alternative was available?

There's nothing wrong with the bruised fruit, but that doesn't mean someone else will buy it.

Even if there's not a bruise in sight, some fruit is even being binned simply because it's the wrong shape.

Take the new EU regulations on bananas, for example.

By stipulating that EU-produced bananas should be straight rather than curved, the food industry is all bent out of shape.

Between bruised apples and bent bananas, there's literally a mountain of waste building up in landfill sites across the country.

It's a sensitive issue - so sensitive, in fact, that the landfill site and the company that runs it refused to be identified.

But one company who wants to make itself known is Fareshare - the national charity that redistributes excess supplies from the food industry to the homeless and vulnerable.

The charity supplied over two and a half million meals for around 12,000 people in 2004 alone - that's 1,800 tonnes of food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

But it's still only a fraction of the surplus food available to the needy - the rest is still destined to end up on the landfill site.

Fareshare representative Cath Elliot tells us, "There's nothing wrong with it - these are all in date…mushrooms, cabbages, spring greens…customers want perfection…

"It is literally what is surplus to the supermarkets requirements.

"It goes into depots, supermarkets order from depots, what's left, if we didn't take it, it would just go to landfill."

Fareshare has eight schemes running at different locations nationwide, and here at their Barnsley warehouse the shelves are piled high with surplus food ready to be distributed to those who need it.

Their daily delivery of surplus food donated by some of the big supermarkets and food manufacturers includes all kinds of delicious wares - like ready meals, organic meats and vegetables, and even cakes and desserts.

Everything Fareshare distributes is in perfect condition, and thanks to co-operation from some of the UK's major supermarket chains, it won't go to waste.

But not everyone wants to take part in the scheme.

'The Big Five'

Digger at the dump
Do you think edible food should end up on the rubbish tip?

Out of the major supermarket chains known as 'the big five,' only three are currently working with Fareshare, as Managing Director Tony Lowe explains:

He says, "We currently work with Sainsbury's, M&S, Tesco, and we're in talks with Asda.

"Only Safeway/Morrisons say they can't work with us at this moment in time.

"It's still a cheap disposal method, and it's the way things have always been done, there are new ways of handling this food - and we're one of them."

Inside Out tried to find how much each supermarket was dumping every year, but few were upfront about the total figures.

Tesco and Sainsbury's publish their landfill statistics on the web for all to see - 131,000 and 91,000 tonnes landfilled each year respectively.

Sainsbury's were also quick to point out that they give food to around 400 charities, including Fareshare, but M & S and other supermarkets were less forthcoming.

Sainsbury's representative Martin Bowden agreed to talk to us about it.

He says of the figures, "It's comparable and in proportion - availability is everything otherwise our competitors would go elsewhere.

"Don't think the public out there are naïve. We all waste.

"But at least we're up front about it, because it's an industry problem, it's not a single supermarket problem."

The West Yorkshire-based supermarket giants had some interesting answers when asked about their food wastage.

We asked Morrisons how much food they throw away. They wouldn’t tell us, but said they aim to have no surpluses.

And Asda initially told us they only landfilled damaged or broken goods, but later acknowledged that they do waste surplus food, although they say they try to keep it to a minimum.

Inside Out spotted an Asda waste truck pulling into a depot at Normanton, which we followed to a nearby landfill site where it dumped its load.

It's dumping on sites like this that has angered campaigners, Paul Dainton in particular.

Paul has been campaigning against the Welbeck landfill site near Wakefield for years.

It's one of the biggest in the country - with an even bigger smell!

Paul says, "It's two miles long, almost a mile wide, and 65 metres high.

"Lorries come to tip every couple of minutes…every sort of food gets dumped here without a shadow of a doubt.

The Facts

It is estimated that four million people in the UK cannot afford a healthy diet, with one in seven people over the age of 65 at serious risk of malnourishment.

Seventeen million tonnes of surplus food is dumped on landfills every year.

Of 17 million tonnes of waste food, four million tonnes is edible.

The cost of this waste if around £18 billion annually.

Source: Fareshare

"There are times you see stuff here, and you think why on earth has this been thrown away when it's quite obvious it's edible. It's immoral."

It is estimated that four million people in the UK cannot afford a healthy diet, with one in seven people over the age of 65 at serious risk of malnourishment.

Seventeen million tonnes of surplus food are dumped on landfills every year.

Four million tonnes of this is estimated to be perfectly edible.

The estimated retail value of food dumped by supermarkets is over £18 billion annually.

The government has made a commitment to reduce the volume of biodegradable waste, including food, from going to landfill by 60% by 2016.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Fly tipping
Local produce

News - GM protestors target supermarket
Watchdog - product Recalls

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

I work at a supermarket and the waste each night is astounding. Although the staff itself often buy reduced food that is about to expire. Alot of it is just thrown away and ours is just a small branch of a larger chain. I have asked about giving the food to the homeless or needy and apparently they have done this the past but stopped as the homeless often tried to return the food for a refund of the food that didn't even buy in the first place to buy drink and drugs. These are the dimensions of the problem that we don't even realise.


Carol Richards
May I submit that supermarkets often allow people to buy their 'slight seconds' at a greatly reduced price. I have bought my fruit and veg that way many times, and it enables us to have food I couldn't afford otherwise.

Adria Appley
I am not surprised to learn of the waste supermarkets cause and I have been challenging them on this and other issues for years. Well done for exposing them.

Anthony Molloy
Unfortunately, I only caught the tail end of the Landfill report on the inside out programme but was surprised at what I did hear, We have just started a company XSResiduals that helps food manufactures and wholesalers sell any surplus stock. This usually comprises of problem, short dated, reject, surplus, promotional packaged and commercially licensed products. Although I knew a problem existed it wasn’t until I heard your report and then read the webpage article that I realised it was this size. As you highlighted organisations prefer to dump their food because they view this as a cost effective option. Through our own research, I also think that brand protection is a major factor and organisations who work hard to project a strong image don’t want to see their lines being given away or sold off cheaply. We aim to make the handling of surplus stock an easy task for food suppliers and can offer fair prices for surplus stock and if required offer repacking if an organisation sees it being sensitive to their brand and reputation. I think both payment and protecting a brand are two major ways to convince food suppliers that there is an alternative to dumping produce.

Milind Gajewar
I saw the television programme today. I was amazed by the figures of food wastage. Suggestion Supermarkets shouls make positive attempt to donate all the food for the charity and also should offer it free for its customers and see whether this makes a difference

John Sutherland
Whilst having worked in the far east and the Philipines and seen people having to rip some of the hardboard off of their hut make a coffin to bury a baby, ANY THING THAT CAN BE SAVED OR NOT WASTED IS IMPORTANT. As a disabled diabetic I always look at the sellby shelves in my local supermarket as fruit and veg is important to my diet. As I have been on a low fixed income for over 14 years, it a criminal waste by industry just to keep prices high and maximise profits.

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