On Earth Day 2019, the challenges that our environment is facing are more prominent than ever. The modern news cycle keeps us aware of every imminent threat to the health of our planet, and it can be overwhelming to consider the far-reaching consequences of every action we take.
As a member of the grocery industry, we’ve chosen to use this day to focus on a key issue that our community is contributing to, and has the power to change: food waste.
The Food Waste Problem in America
Whether we like to admit it or not, America has a food waste problem. According to the World Food Program, “nearly one-third of all food produced each year is squandered or spoiled before it can be consumed”, which adds up to about $1 trillion worth of food lost or wasted every year globally.
That amount of food could be used to make an impact on other global issues like hunger and poverty. For context, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reversing the current trend toward food waste would preserve enough food to feed 2 billion people.
The incredible amount of food waste that occurs in America can’t just be attributed to consumer household waste – the grocery and food service industries need to take responsibility for the part they play in the food waste problem as well. Feeding America states that 52 billion pounds of food is wasted by manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants alone.
In addition to the horrible picture this paints of perfectly edible food going to waste, food waste has an alarming effect on the environment. The sooner that we realize the ways food waste adds to the deterioration of the world around us, the sooner we can take concerted action toward diminishing our contributions to this issue as members of the grocery industry.
A handful of grocers are leading the way in sustainability and community-focused initiatives. Click here to download our latest eBook, which lays out how grocers like H-E-B and Metcalfe’s are giving back to their communities following natural and manmade disasters.
How Food Waste Impacts the Environment
Every item that we stock our shelves with requires a large amount of natural resources, from land and energy to water and fuel.
Food production is an environmentally-taxing process, but it’s well worth it when all of that produce goes to use. However, when food is wasted, either in our stores or in consumers’ homes, the environment suffers unnecessarily, we waste natural resources, and we leave behind a large carbon footprint in the process.
That’s why cutting global food waste in half by 2030 is one of the U.N.’s top priorities. In fact, it’s one of the organization’s 17 sustainable development goals.
Let’s break the food waste issue down by its environmental effects.
The World Food Program states that, “if wasted food were a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the U.S. and China.”
The manufacturing of food for grocery consumption produces a large amount of toxic greenhouse gases that have a negative effect on our environment, climate, and air quality. Much of those emissions come from landfills, where most uneaten food is sent to rot. These landfills, which also contribute to land and air pollution, account for almost 25% of America’s total methane emissions.
Did you know that one glass of orange juice requires 45 gallons of water to produce? Or that it takes over 12,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef?
Meanwhile, the largest percentage of food waste from the average American consists of meat products, 33% of which ends up in the landfills that we were talking about earlier. So, not only is excessive food production and subsequent waste a major contributor to methane emissions, it also puts our country over-the-top when it comes to water usage.
One thing from Think Eat Save that is important to note: “each time food is wasted all the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging, and transporting that food is wasted too. This means huge amounts of chemicals, energy, fertilizer, land and 25% of all freshwater in the U.S. is used to produce food that is thrown away.”
Consider this your wakeup call.
This environmental factor comes into play when we begin transporting an excess amount of food through the production system. According to Think Eat Save, the transportation of our food uses 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget. With the country’s focus shifting toward more sustainable energy sources, it’s pertinent for grocers to consider ways in which they could reduce the amount of food that they’re transporting across the country, saving energy and producing less environmentally-damaging emissions.
The impact of excess food production on our country’s (and the world’s) land is clear: we’re using an immoderate amount of land in order to produce an exorbitant amount of food that will likely go to waste. According to the Washington Post, the amount of land that we’re using to produce wasted food measures up to be about 30 million areas of cropland, or the size of the state of Pennsylvania.
From a scientific perspective, our overuse of land to produce food is also advancing the elimination of our Earth’s biodiversity, which could dramatically change the way ecosystems are organized in the future. We’re actually making ourselves more susceptible to disease and famine by creating land that is overrun by manufactured produce instead of naturally-occurring plants and animals.
It all sounds pretty bleak, but once we become aware of our industry’s effect on the environment, we can start working to shrink the root of the problem within our separate companies.
5 Ways You Can Help Diminish Food Waste in Your Stores
Become more aware of your expired shrink
As a grocer, the first step that you should take to evaluate your impact on America’s food waste issue is to become more aware of the expired shrink in your stores. Expired shrink is the loss that you’re experiencing due to products that expire before a customer can purchase them. Those items will likely end up in the trash, as once they are expired they aren’t able to be donated or repurposed. This contributes to the food waste problem, and is a major area for improvement in most grocery stores.
Based on our research, the average 41,000 square foot store has 1,631 expired items on the shelf in the center store alone. If we all made an effort to become more aware of the expired shrink issue in our stores, we could take action on these items before they expire and go to waste.
Donate close-dated items
If you take advantage of recent advancements in technology, you’ll be able to use an expiration date management software to receive notifications when items are close-date, or about to expire. This proactive alert system lets you take control of your expired shrink issue and take action on your inventory to prevent further food waste.
One action that you can take on close-dated items is donation. Many food banks and community organizations welcome food donations, and you can feel good about redirecting what could have been waste into a positive contribution to your community.
Unsure about the legalities surrounding food donation? We did all the research and put everything you need to know into a handy guide (including info on tax deductions). Click here to download your Food Donation Guide.
Repurpose close-dated items in prepared foods
Your deli could always use new prepared food offerings, and your close-dated items can be a part of that innovation. Challenge your in-store chefs to create inspiring prepared dishes with close-dated items. Your customers will love the variety, and you’ll love knowing that you didn’t have to toss inventory that would have normally expired on the shelf or in the trash bin.
Evaluate the quantities of food you’re purchasing for your store
Another process that you need to evaluate to see your impact on food waste is purchasing. As we mentioned above, so much of the negative environmental impact created by food waste from the grocery industry has to do with the resources that are used to produce an excessive amount of food. If you are purchasing a large quantity of an item that tends to expire on-shelf over and over, (your expiration date management software should be able to provide you with this data) you’re contributing to the problem.
With precise, real-time data in hand, you can be more strategic with your inventory and purchasing, and take steps toward reducing the number of items that become close-dated (or even worse, expire) in your store.
Implement a food waste awareness program
Finally, in an effort to spread awareness of the food waste crisis in America, you can implement a program in your stores that will help employees and customers alike understand how they can join the fight against food waste.
Stop Waste Together is a program that was created by Date Check Pro to do just that. This program has boldly-branded visuals that can be placed throughout your store to cue your customers into your efforts to become a more sustainable store. It also has an action-packed element to it: coupons that you can place on close-dated items that tell customers that they can simultaneously buy these items at a discounted rate and stop them from becoming food waste.
This Earth Day, take a step back and look at the operations of your grocery store. Could you implement the initiatives above to offset your carbon footprint? Would adjusting your purchasing practices make a significant difference in the amount of food that is produced worldwide? As members of the grocery industry, we have a stake in the health of the environment. This year, let’s stand together to combat this issue and make the necessary changes in our industry. We have the power to change the outcome of the food waste crisis. It’s time to work together to accomplish that goal.
Want to see what other steps you can take to have a positive impact on your community – and the world? Click below to check out our latest eBook, and gain tactical insights into becoming a community grocer in 2020.