Supermarket cuts food waste!

Filed in Blog by on November 13, 2008 19 Comments
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breadForgive me if you’ve all known this for the past decade, but this week I indulged in something I’ve never done before.

I went late night shopping.

For that read ‘Past 6 o’clock’

Little Miss green goes to a club on a Tuesday night for an hour and a half, which I though just the right amount of time to stock up the cupboards. We went to Lidls and the Co-op and on the way out of Lidls were told that there was some free bread for us to collect.

Next to the door as you left the premises were about 24 racks of bread rapidly approaching their best before date. There was white and wholemeal bread, rolls and even muffins. So we took a couple of bags for the freezer.

Now doesn’t this make soooooo much sense?

I’ve worked for a certain well known supermarket chain in my time, where good food costs less, and the amount of food waste was appalling. Even way back then, in the days where I believed that money grew on trees, there *was* such a place as ‘away’ and it was ok to leave electric heaters on all day I remember thinking how mad it was that all this food was dumped when there were homeless people a couple of miles away in the city centre.

I didn’t have the balls then to actually say anything to those ‘in authority’ but it did upset me to see so much waste. I think ‘those in the know’ uttered words about liability and the like when questioned so I never pursued it.

Now I have even MORE idea about what this waste means, so I was delighted to see Lidls taking part in such a great act of generosity. Ok, so it might reduce their own bills for waste disposal, but let’s be honest here, it’s a win-win for everyone, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

While I was writing this article, I discovered some fascinating statistics from Inside Out. In their report, done three years ago, they claimed that seventeen million tonnes of  food was dumped in the landfill every year by supermarkets. Four million tonnes of this is perfectly good, edible food. There are around four million Brits who cannot afford to buy healthy food. The maths isn’t difficult is it?

Do you know of any other stores that give food away? Let us know in the comments below so we can share the supermarket love.

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. iluv2cook says:

    My dh is a volunteer for our local homeless/outreach shelter and he collects the “waste” food from M & S on a Saturday evening, M & S also donate to other charities during the week. Dh also collects all the dented tins from our local Co-Op for the shelter and the cat/dog food for the local animal shelter. In case you are wondering “local” is Jersey, Channel Islands not sure what policies you have in the UK about stores donating or handing out food to charities.

  2. Flippa xXx says:

    I don’t know about them giving it away free, but my local supermarket reduces all their foods that will go out of date that day in the evening and it is usually around 20-30p (for fresh fish & meat (although I don’t but this), juice, bread, cheese, fruit, veg…you name it) and the shelves are usually empty as the stuff is ridiculously cheap. I tend to do my shopping in the evenings for this reason – put everything that can be frozen in the freezer, and even the fresh veg etc that is supposedly use-by today, is usually good for a few more days. Not only does it save waste, but my bank balance too (last time I got over £90 worth of stuff for about £15!) Not quite free, but for what you can get, it’s as good as!

  3. maisie says:

    I used to work in an instore bakery and the amount of bread and cakes that went into the compactor on a Saturday night was atrocious.
    This was even after reducing the prices down to 5p/loaf etc.

    Its just a pity that my 2 Lidls are a good drive away in either direction or I would be trying this out as well.

    I do buy quite a bit of “RTC” stickered stuff as that is what stretches our food budget.

    Why pay £10 for steak if you can get it for £3 just because it is on its last day, I often do this and freeze the bounty, especially if I can’t use it immediately; then I meal plan around what I have in the freezer rather than buying just because.

  4. Poppy says:

    I used to work for a wholesale fruit and veg market. Anything that didn’t go in the auctions was put into one of the skips at the back. One of them was collected by a local pig farmer, but the other was pure landfill …. supposedly! Me and the other girls would commandeer a forklift truck to rescue some of the stuff 😉

    I lived in flats where there were a lot of elderly people, so I tried to get enough for them too and when there were box loads of flowers dumped, I gave those out as well. We used to fill every available container and line the stairways 🙂 Great fun and it livened the place up for everyone!

    When I challenged my employers, they said it had to be dumped as if they gave it away, it would undermine the market which I considered to be a pretty light weight answer. The people I was passing stuff to would not buy much in the way of fruit, veg or flowers because they quite simply couldn’t afford it!

  5. esther says:

    You know that a lot of supermarkets, eversince the freegans movement started, pour out bleach, or burn the food that they throw away? just so no one can have it for free?

  6. Yes!!! This makes sense. I actually just found out that a local bakery does the same thing. Every night they hand out garbage bags full of bread, and whomever is around, just shares it out. Apparently the bread attracts a good mix of homeless, families, and professionals. This isn’t cheap bread either. These are $6 country loaves with olives or pecans and raisins or sun dried tomatoes.

    And best of all – there are no bags, just fresh bread, so they’re waste free.

  7. Our local Sainsbury’s gives its potential waste food to a local housing association. It’s well in date and gets distributed around to local people who need it. More and more schemes like this are now picking up across the country which is brilliant news.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Iluv2cook; the policy on Jersey with M&S sounds wonderful and what a great project for your DH to be involved with. I’m really pleased to hear about it 🙂

    Flippa; I think quite a lot of supermarkets knock things down in price, which makes so much more sense than throwing it away. Your recent savings are amazing; you must be so pleased!

    Maisie, it was mainly bakery goods that were thrown out where I worked too. Enormous bags of it, with as much bread as is on the photo on this post. It was total madness. I try and RTC stuff too, but of course a lot of it is packed in plastic. Grrrrr.

    Oh Poppy; I loved hearing about your adventures with food and flowers – you must have quite literally brightened people’s days. interesting answer from your employer 😉

    Esther, I have heard about the bleach thing, yes. That really concerns me and I think it is so bloody minded. It’s really sad and beyond words really.

    Jen, another happy story – thank you for sharing about your local bakery. It sounds wonderful and I’m sure many people benefit.

    Good to hear about your local Sainsbury’s too, Mrs A. I’d like to hear more about these schemes as it makes so much sense. It would be interesting to know who’s decision it is about how to deal with ‘food waste’.

    All very interesting! Thank you all for sharing your local information 🙂

  9. No stores here give the stuff away, but there are a fair number of “reduced for quick sale” racks at a number of stores. I’d like to see more of that!

  10. maisie says:

    I totally agree that alot of RTC stuff is covered in packaging, I’m lucky that some of it can go to the Recycling Facility, but sometimes you do have to make a judgment on price over ethics.

    There was a girl on tv the other night saying that she used to work in a “Day Old Bread Store”, I know these are all over USA, and think they are a good idea to have here as most bread and cakes is still fine the day after baking; this is usually sold off at a cheaper price which means more people can afford to buy the different breads etc, and it keeps it from landfill again.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    What a shame there are no giveaways, Kristen – still, reduced to clear is a good option 🙂

    I agree Maisie; sometimes price wins hands down. The day old bread stores sound fab.

  12. Tom says:

    I am distressed to know here in New Zealand the story is the same with good supermarket food being binned rather than given to those who could use it. Often the expiry date of food I have ‘rescued’ from the jumbo bin at the rear of our local Fresh Choice supermarket is today or yesterday, however I imagine the practise covers all the chains in the country. While the bottom paid workers at my local have no problem with me removing food (they how it is), the management take offense and have threatened to call the police. When I have questioned their authority/ reasoning- their line is that allowing their waste to be distributed creates a health risk (we are talking the likes of cans of soup which cant be sold because the can has been dented, egg cartons with one broken egg, boxes of frozen preecooked dinners ditched for no apparent reason whatsover etc). The real reason of course is that they dont like seeing people get something for nothing (after all they themselves arn’t loosing anything by what I do).

    In my view- the practise of binning good food is criminal and far worse than the accusations of my tresspassing to get it. In the alpine area I live no food is grown locally… it is all trucked in. The price of it has jumped by a good 50% in the last 5 years.
    Why are people so wasteful with resources? New Zealands clean green image is a joke. How do I deal with this mindset? Its going to take more than a few blown up managerial types to stop me reducing some of the waste, feeding myself better, and creating goodwill with the friends I give the excess to.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Tom, welcome to the site and thanks for your great comment.

    Supermarket food waste seems such a crime, especially when it gets petty with management attempting to get the Police involved. There is a real sense of ‘I don’t want it, but you’re not having it either’ which just seems so wrong.

    I DO understand their take with the health risks, but we have gotten totally over the top with this in recent years, due to the fear of suing and the like.

    It sounds like you have a resolved mind and this is good. You feel happy with your actions, so as long as you have inner peace and feel you are doing things for altruistic reasons (which it seems apparent you are) then continue to do as you do, I say! I’m sure your friends adore you for sharing your finds. I take it you have hung around on some of the Freegan boards and forums to meet people of a like mind?

  14. Mrs Jackson says:

    Hi Mrs Green

    I know it’s quiet the ooposite in a certain fast food outlet with golden arches that wont even let the employees eat the food if it is slightly out of time or not to a customers satisifaction because it has to be “counted” and so goes in a red bin before going to landfill….very sad.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Mrs Jackson: Ack! That is such bad news and I’m sure it’s not uncommon 🙁 I was so happy when I saw the bread being given away in Lidls that I couldn’t wait to share the good news!

  16. i worked in food retail, for many years, getting certificates in health and hygiene ect. we have been taught that mould on cheese, the top of jam. anything that has a solid base is ok to remove mould. BREAD has an open structure, this means the spores can move easily through it, unseen from a bit of mould on the crust, so it“s no good removing the crust, the spores are inside, by all means use older bread, but just be sure there is no mould in it, even a little bit. this can have varied reactions in different people, from nothing to very serious.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @mrs g garrett: Hi Mrs Garrett, thank you for leaving your comment. It was fascinating to read about the difference between bread and other items – you learn something new every day 🙂

  18. Poppy says:

    That might explain why many years ago, some egg sandwiches I made for my then boyfriend to take to work, grew nice furry over coats by lunchtime!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Oh gross poppy – maybe that’s why egg and cress is so popular; so you can’t detect the difference … 😀

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