Checked Out: How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste

Supermarkets have an enormous influence on the food system — from farm to fork. As the primary place where most Americans purchase food, supermarkets influence what makes it from farms to shelves, what happens to unsold food, and even how much and what types of food shoppers buy. Unfortunately, U.S. grocers focus on donating and recycling food waste, rather than preventing it — and they’re not even tracking food waste throughout their entire operations.

 

How U.S. Supermarkets Fail to Make the Grade in Reducing Food Waste

  

 

Without transparent tracking and reporting of the amount of food waste across their companies, supermarkets can’t be held accountable to customers, investors or themselves regarding their own goals. The fundamental first step of corporate transparency — including setting and honoring specific, time-bound commitments to food-waste reduction and public reporting on progress — is virtually nonexistent among U.S. supermarkets.

Our key findings:

  • Nine out of America’s 10 largest grocery companies fail to publicly report their total volume of food waste. Ahold Delhaize was the only company that publicly reported its total food-waste volume.
  • The four companies that earned a C grade or higher overall were the only ones with specific food-waste reduction commitments. Kroger leads the way with a commitment of zero food waste by 2025.
  • Four of the 10 companies have no “imperfect-produce initiatives,” which can prevent the waste of fruits and vegetables considered too “imperfect” for retail sale.
  • Walmart was the only company with a variety of clear in-store efforts to reduce food waste, such as improving store fixtures, standardizing date labels, and educating associates and shoppers.
  • All 10 of the companies have food-donation programs, with the majority operating company-wide. ALDI was the only company that did not report a food-recycling program (e.g., composting or a program to reuse unsold food as animal feed or for other industrial uses).

Recommendation:

Eliminating food waste in the grocery sector could have a ripple effect across society that could help address hunger, save money, conserve water and land, create more efficient agricultural systems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect endangered species. Customers have taken notice of the massive problem of wasted food in the United States and want responsible businesses to take action.

Background

An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually . Also wasted have been the resources that went into producing that food, including 25 percent of all fresh water consumed, 13 percent of the total carbon emitted in order to produce food, and 80 million acres of farmland used in the United States . Uneaten food is also the single largest source of trash in municipal landfills, attracting wildlife and providing an unnatural and often toxic food source . It’s only by preventing food waste from the start that we can begin to address the environmental footprint and inequalities of our food system.

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PHOTO CREDITS: Banner courtesy Oborseth/Wikimedia Commons; Crowd photo courtesy Ed Mutchnick; Polar bear courtesy Flickr/flickrfavorites; Martha, the last passenger pigeon — public domain (U.S.); Coquí guajón courtesy Luis O. Nieves; Langes metalmark butterfly courtesy USFWS; Pacific walruses courtesy USFWS; Ribbon seal by Dr. Peter Boveng, NOAA; Sandplain gerardia courtesy USFWS; Orca courtesy NOAA; Florida panther courtesy USFWS; Pika courtesy Flickr/Lukas Vermeer; Forest Path courtesy Anja Jonsson/Flickr; MuleDeer courtesy Oborseth/WikimediaCommons; Horned Lizard courtesy Brad Smith/Flickr.