Tesco food waste: It's not just their fault. We need to rediscover the joys of Tupperware

Waste is a collective problem, and it starts in the home

Josh Barrie
Wednesday 23 October 2013 13:50
British households threw away 7.2 million tons of food in 2011
British households threw away 7.2 million tons of food in 2011

Tesco’s food waste furore could not have come at a worse time. As statistics reveal the supermarket throws away 28,500 tonnes – well over half the weight of the Titanic – a year, an increasing number of people are relying on food banks to survive. It’s shocking to think that while the UK economy loses billions because of reckless packaging, and nearly a third of food fails to end up in stores because of how it looks – 350,000 people are at the same time just a box away from hunger.

New figures have said food bank usage has tripled in the past few months and it’s odd because while many are keen to top up their local collection, they’re also okay with throwing away an apple that’s probably fine to bake in the oven with cinnamon, or discard a bag of lettuce leaves more than adequate for a rustic bap.

Tesco – and I’m sure other supermarkets – are certainly at fault with production, distribution and sales tactics. But the public too has got some serious issues. There is a similar situation in the US. An article in this month’s Time Magazine highlighted how families over the pond discard around $1,560 worth of produce every year, which is not far from the UK’s £700 mark. It noted the figure is around ten times as much as families from south east Asia.

When hundreds of thousands are unable to afford the basics – contending with Value corn flakes, baked beans and simple white bread – the rest are falling for less-than-canny sales ploys to make them buy more than they need.

It’s welcome then that to an extent Tesco has vowed to end such practice. It’s no wonder that the retail mammoth is going to address the failings amid public disdain. But when half the country’s waste comes from the home it needs to be a consorted effort.

A fraction of what’s thrown away would probably feed those in need – and most of it is probably far more exciting than Heinz tomato soup and potatoes. This story, while ill-received by us, must shock and anger those without to a far higher degree. And not just here, there are the 800 million-plus around the world too of course, on a planet where around a billion tonnes is wasted every 12 months. Indeed, the UK is simply a part of a worldwide trend.

I didn’t want to hark back to the times of old – I mean mention grandparents who lived through the war and all that. But bread and butter puddings, frittatas, pies – they’re all fine ways to make the most out of food that’s not quite at its peak. And, needless to say, all things enjoyed at my Nanna and Grandad’s house if I happen to be there on a Monday. Well, perhaps not the frittata. But definitely the pies and puddings. And it’s not as if they can’t afford to go shopping a day early, it’s just that apparent love for Tupperware.

I doubt that past generations pay attention to ridiculous and misleading ‘use by dates’ either, which are probably about as accurate as Tesco’s Christmas pudding stock plans. But shockingly, many do – some believe the lying rim of the milk, the blackening skin of a banana.

Ignoring individual responsibilities that require effort appears commonplace – like scraping off the thin layer of mould atop the pesto. These things aren’t going to kill and when so many can only imagine such pasta accompaniments it’s time to end the fallout with the fridge. More importantly, it’s time to rekindle an appreciation of plastic storage containers.

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