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iSociety: how companies watch their waste-lines

You have to be impressed by capitalism's resilience, let's call it, for want of a better word.

Food banks are rising fast in the UK

I've been writing this week about the FareShare scheme, which collaborates with big food retailers to ensure that unwanted food destined for landfill is redirected instead to help homeless people and others who have an urgent need for it.

At a time when food banks, and the number of people using them across the UK are both rising fast, it seems obscene that so much food is wasted. Especially as so much of the discarded food is not even near its sell-by-date.

I was taken aback at the multitude of reasons why perfectly good products can end up discarded, but these include faulty bar-codes, labels featuring date-specific information such as Olympic or Christmas branding. Food can be chucked simply because customers can no longer enter the competition on the box. Stock which has just arrived at a store from a central depot but is within three months of its sell-by date can be deemed not even worth putting onto the shelves.

It all testifies to a catastrophically wasteful system.

So I had mixed feelings about the way FareShare has benefited from campaigns by Tesco and Sainsbury's urging customers to buy staple foods or long-life products and give them to vulnerable people, through the Tesco Help Feed People in Need campaign, and Sainsbury's Million Meal Appeal.

That's entrepreneurship for you! Tackle food waste, by buying more.

But once you start looking at this, it's all over the place. Sainsbury's current customer magazine urges you to eat well and save money. Turn to the relevant page, and the supermarket's advice on how to "make your roast go further" is: buy a bigger roast! It may make sense (they encourage you to make a meal out of the leftovers) but the message is the same. Spend more and buy more food.

Truly there is no end to the way want can be transformed into wonga. On January 31st, I got a press release from an insurance company AFC, claiming to specialise in - I kid you not - products to protect the 'niche market' of food banks and soup kitchens.

And this morning another one from Direct Line about the number of unused kitchen devices British people buy. According to the company, the top unused items include bread makers, grills, juicers and kitchen scales. Surveying 2000 people and factoring up they reckon there are, for example 13 million toastie makers lying idle, and that overall we are hoarding £8bn worth of kit.

I'm not in a position to say whether these figures are plausible or not. What I'm interested in is Direct Line's solution. It's really important, they say to make sure you insure all this expensive, redundant equipment.

So now we're urged to insure our waste.

I know we want to kick-start the economy. But there has to be a better way than this. It's enough to make a green man cry.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

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