WRAP (the UK’s leading sustainability charity) estimates that around one third of food (and any accompanying packaging) is wasted. This creates a massive environmental burden both in terms of wasted resources and unnecessary landfill.
Retailers have been attempting to address this issue for some time. For example, Tesco has announced that no food that is safe for human consumption will go to waste by the end of 2017. Retailers are tackling the issue in various ways. These ways include managing the supply chain to ensure that supply does not exceed demand; reducing and redesigning packaging (for example, to make it biodegradable); donating unsold food to those in need (such as homeless charities); and reconsidering promotional offers which may be encouraging consumers to buy more than they need. As an example of the latter approach, last year Sainsbury’s announced that it was going to phase out BOGOF offers.
More recently it seems that retailers are looking at technological solutions for limiting waste. For example, M&S has just launched a trial of a new approach to labelling avocados. Rather than using traditional plastic packs with a label, M&S is using lasers to burn the M&S logo, best before date, country of origin and product code onto the skin of the fruit. This approach is forecast to save 10 tonnes of paper and five tonnes of glue every year for avocados alone. If the trial is successful, M&S is considering using the technology to “label” other fruits and vegetables.
In the longer term, technology has huge potential to reduce food waste. For example, 3-D printers which can produce confectionery to order have been developed, with printed-to-order confectionery available for sale in retailers such as Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York. If this technology could be expanded to a wider range of foods, it could help retailers introduce further efficiencies and reduce waste, which would in turn benefit the environment as well as retailers’ profits.