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Trending: UK Retailers Fighting Food Waste Through Investment, Redistribution

Image credit: Sainsbury's

The United Kingdom wastes more food than any other European country; a 2014 House of Lords report estimated 15 million tonnes of food per year are wasted in the UK, at a cost of £5 billion, and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has estimated the average UK household with children spends £700 per year on food that could be eaten but is thrown away.

Now it seems it’s all hands on deck to try and tackle the issue: The government has set a target to halve Britain’s food waste by 2025; WRAP has worked with food companies and other stakeholders to suggest solutions; and various campaigns and a new television show are trying to raise awareness among consumers.

Now, grocery giant Sainsbury’s — whose previous food waste-mitigation initiatives include using it to power its Cannock superstore — is investing £10 million over the next five years to help households across the UK reduce food waste as part of its “Waste less, Save more” initiative. One of the company’s first actions was to search for a “testbed town” with which it could collaborate to trial innovative ideas.

Sainsbury’s will invest £1 million over the course of 2016 in Swadlincote, a small market town in South Derbyshire, England. Sainsbury’s, WRAP and the NGO Hubbub reviewed applications from 189 towns and cities, which submitted over 1,000 innovative ideas, to determine the winner. The goal of the project will be to halve the town’s food waste, which, by Sainsbury’s and WRAP’s estimates, could save Swadlincote families £1,168,650 a year.

“When we set out in search of a town, I never thought we’d see the level of enthusiasm and engagement that we’ve seen from Swadlincote and others. I think this shows that there is a genuine passion across the UK to tackle food waste — starting today,” said Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe.

Some of the initiatives planned for Swadlincote include a search for the “most food-efficient” residents and the best soup recipes made from commonly thrown away foods through help from Menu Magicians, as well as testing innovative ideas such as talking bins, urban wormeries, mushrooms grown in used coffee grinds, and community orchards.


Meanwhile, Neighbourly.com — a social platform that connects companies with local community projects — has launched Neighbourly Food, a new service to help redistribute surplus food.

Charities, food banks, and surplus recycling operations are invited to sign up to the platform and publicize their food requirements. Retailers, supermarkets, grocers, manufacturers, and food distributors can see what’s available, offer their surplus resources, and provide details such as pickup location and expiry date.

“With over 288,000 tonnes of food wasted in the UK every week, UK business needs to play its part and do a better job of getting surplus food to the people who need it,” said Luke McKeever, CEO of Neighbourly. “We make that process simpler and easier for both businesses and causes. Our aim is to recruit more causes around the UK as well as more donating businesses. The more people participate, the more effective we can be.”

Neighbourly Food has already been selected by Marks & Spencer to support its national surplus food redistribution scheme. The scheme will connect all its stores with local food charities and accelerate M&S towards its Plan A target of reducing food waste by 20 percent by 2020.

“We are pleased to be the first nationwide user of the Neighbourly Food service,” said Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at M&S. “We tested the service thoroughly before committing to a national rollout. During a pilot covering just six stores, we were able to redistribute four tonnes of surplus food in three months. Now we aim to have 150 stores participating by December and network-wide adoption by early next year.

“The more businesses that use the service, the better for all of the nation’s food banks and charities supporting deprived communities,” Barry continued. “It’s great that all UK businesses can now support local causes and projects that re-use surplus food.”

Similarly, earlier this year, grocery giant Tesco partnered with UK food redistribution charity FareShare and Irish social enterprise FoodCloud earlier this year to trial an app to help divert surplus food from Tesco stores to a variety of charities serving people in need. And some markets are basing their entire business models around reducing waste: “Social supermarkets” such as Community Shop in the UK, Daily Table in the US, and Quest Food Exchange in Canada sell surplus food at reduced prices to support low-income households or other underserved groups.


Hannah Furlong is one of Sustainable Brands's Contributing Writers, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]