Supermarkets are gatekeepers to the U.S. food system, influencing what makes it from farms to shelves, what happens to unsold food, and what types of food shoppers buy.
Yet seven of the 10 largest grocery chains still haven’t taken the first step of making a commitment to zero waste. Although there have been some advances in tracking how much food stores donated to charity, the total volume of wasted food across the grocery sector remains untracked. Meanwhile U.S. grocers focus on donating and recycling food waste, rather than preventing it.
As leaders in the grocery sector, the 10 companies surveyed for this report have an opportunity to make the food sector more sustainable. This begins by committing to zero waste and focusing on prevention strategies to reduce and eliminate food loss and waste. Companies were ranked based on public, time-based commitments to waste elimination and deployment of transparent, trackable strategies to prevent food loss and waste.
Our Key Findings
While there has been some important progress in addressing food waste over the past year, the grocery industry still needs greater accountability, commitment to specific, time-based policies to reduce food waste upstream and throughout the supply chain, and detailed strategies across sectors to make zero food waste a realistic goal.
To address the environmental impacts of food waste, grocery companies must shift their focus to reducing supply chain and in-store waste. Maintaining the status quo by focusing on donation and recycling programs, instead of prevention and zero-waste commitments, diverts attention from the environmental costs of wasted food and the systemic change needed to address them.
Companies should publicly embrace solutions that include concrete, measurable deadlines for zero waste and comprehensive prevention programs. Those programs should involve better ordering practices, clearer date labels, improved tracking and distribution technology, promotion of imperfect produce, and minimizing daily waste of meat and dairy.
Food production uses 25 percent of all fresh water consumed in the United States, requires 80 million acres of farmland, and accounts for 13 percent of total carbon emissions. About 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten — costing more than $200 billion annually. Eliminating food waste in the grocery sector is an important step toward mitigating the unsustainable impacts of our food system on water, air, climate and wildlife.
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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.