There’s no doubt that food waste is a huge issue.
Though the majority of that waste comes from consumers, it’s important to recognize the 10% that comes solely from grocery stores. The solution to this problem can be attacked starting with prevention, discounting, donating, composting and then disposing. Being cautious of the harm that food waste can have on the environment will rapidly lower the 10% of food waste that’s being contributed by grocers.
Grocers can pride themselves on their beautiful produce pyramids, but occasionally those displays could actually harm the earth. At the bottom of these shiny stacks is produce with more blemishes. Considering that these items are placed on the bottom, those blemishes then worsen and lead to an overstock.
Some grocers might assume that consumers are more likely to buy off a full shelf. However, putting an abundance of produce on display can result in perishable items going bad before they’re sold and consumed.
If grocers were to put less on display, they wouldn’t be faced with overstock and would automatically lower the amount of food waste coming from supermarkets. Just as important as reducing what’s on display, though, is understanding what your customers are buying and ordering in appropriate quantities to meet that demand, further preventing waste from happening.
One of the easiest options to reduce food waste is to discount any damaged goods in stock. These items typically get no shelf life because grocers choose to dispose of them, since they’ve been dented or damaged in transit. Stores assume that there’s no point in putting the items out for sale because they don’t have cosmetic appeal.
Consumers expect grocery stores to look perfect, but at the end of the day, they’re likely to buy discounted canned items even if they’re dented. If these items are still put on the shelf at a discounted price due to their imperfections, the amount of immediate food waste from the grocer will automatically be significantly lower.
Another time this practice could be put in place is with seasonal items. Large supermarkets tend to throw away surplus leftovers, but discounting these goods will lower the chance that they end up in a landfill. Implementing this sustainable change and being conscious of how items can be placed on the shelves will reduce the food that’s being wasted by grocers.
When shopping for groceries, many consumers check the back of the shelf for the most recently added product with furthest sell-by date. Business Insider shared its insight on sell-by dates, noting that “consumers (and many sellers) wrongly assume that food is no longer good after these days,” going on to explain that “sell-by dates are guidelines for sellers to indicate peak freshness," and that "most foods are good long after the sell-by date.” The suggested date can be intimidating to consumers, often leading them to a different item. Once these items aren’t purchased, grocers end up disposing of them in the trash.
A best practice for eliminating food waste from grocers is composting. Instead of tossing old or imperfect food in the trash, grocers can reduce their food waste by having a composting system. Once you pull organic material from recyclable material, having full access to a composting system will quickly lower how much waste is sent to a landfill from a grocery store.
Once the material is broken down, the minerals in the soil are then replenished and able to produce carbon dioxide and heat. These sources can these be used in the kitchen, or even for electricity. Having a composting system in place at a grocery store will not only eliminate the harm that food waste is doing to the earth, but more importantly, provide new and convenient ways to dispose of the waste.
As a last resort, grocers can take excess food to a landfill. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the only or best option after the first four options have been exhausted.
The key is for the grocer to have a solid system in place to measure the impacts of the amount of food that it’s throwing away. Knowing what you’re throwing away and why are key components of understanding what policies and procedures need to be changed. With appropriate tracking, monitoring and measuring of these streams, grocers can better leverage numerous sustainable options prior to committing the food to landfills.
Matthew S. Hollis is co-founder and president of Columbus, Ohio-based Elytus, a managed service provider acting as an agent on companies’ behalf to handle all of their environmental services. Read more.
A version of this article appeared at ProgressiveGrocer.com