One Step Away: Combating Food Waste Globally, Nationally, and in Philadelphia

News Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

In June, Tesco, the largest chain of grocery stores in the United Kingdom, announced it would donate all of its unsold food to charity in an effort to reduce waste.

In a statistical analysis of its own practices, the company revealed that it threw away 55,400 tons of food in the past 12 months, 30,000 tons of which was completely edible.

Tesco will now be donating its unspoiled food to women’s refuges, homeless shelters, and breakfast kitchens for disadvantaged children.

Tesco is the first supermarket in Britain to address this problem, but they are just the latest member to join a global movement toward reducing food waste.

Just one month prior, the French National Assembly unanimously passed legislation to cut down France’s food waste — about 10 million tons per year — by banning supermarkets from throwing away unused, unspoiled food.

In 2012, Germany’s agriculture minister launched an initiative to cut the country’s food waste (about 11 million tons per year) in half by 2025.

A 2012 article in the Washington Post reported that the United States wastes about 40 percent of all its food — $165 billion worth — each year, and some American supermarkets have responded to this issue with programs of their own.

Here in Philadelphia, Brown’s Super Stores, which operates 10 ShopRite supermarkets in the area, began a food-recycling program in 2012.

In the first year of the program, which still operates today, Brown’s ShopRites composted 780 tons of food, and 180 tons of unspoiled food was sent to local banks and charities such as Philabundance, a local organization that has been around since 1984 and provides food to 75,000 people each week.

The beauty of these food-waste-reduction programs is that they kill two birds with one stone — they reduce environmental damage and they combat hunger.

When food is sent to landfills, it decomposes rapidly, generating methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. If instead the food is composted, it creates environmental benefits such as improving soil quality, increasing drought resistance, and reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

Better yet, if the food has not yet spoiled and is sent to food banks, such as Philabundance, it goes toward individuals who cannot afford food or who live in food deserts — poorer areas where healthy food is barely available.

In June, the former president of Trader Joe’s supermarket chain opened Daily Table, a nonprofit grocery store in Dorchester, Massachusetts, that gets its stock from the unused food of other grocery suppliers.

Dorchester was found to be one of the most barren food deserts in the Boston area in a 2011 report by Philadelphia-based nonprofit, The Food Trust. Massachusetts, as a state, ranks third from the bottom nationally in terms of the number of sufficient supermarkets.

By stocking donated food and utilizing volunteers to staff the store, Daily Table is able to offer healthy food at a highly discounted price.

Although Daily Table is not the first nonprofit grocery store in America — that honor goes to the Greater Philadelphia Area’s own Fare and Square, opened in Chester in 2013 — it is the first to use excess groceries of other stores.

At One Step Away, we are encouraged to see action being taken to combat food waste and food shortages across the globe.

As advocates for those who deal with insufficiency across the board, we hope that this trend continues to change not only the way we as a society treat food, but the way we understand the closely tied relationship between the waste of resources by some and the resulting shortages for others.

We are even more heartened by the leading role Philadelphia has played in food advocacy.

From rigorous organizations such as Philabundance and The Food Trust, to conscientious enterprises such as Brown’s ShopRites and Fare and Square, the city has laid the foundational infrastructure to be a model in conservation and efficient redistribution.

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