Rotten results: Sainsbury’s drops project to halve food waste

Sainsbury’s has abandoned a £10m project to halve food waste in a designated town across Britain after a year-long trial produced miserable results.

The supermarket group gave families in one town, Swadlincote in south Derbyshire, free gadgets to cut food waste – such as devices to measure the correct amount of spaghetti to cook, “smart” fridges to control content and temperatures more accurately, food planners and magnetic shopping lists – and monitored the results.

However, the year-long experiment fell far short of its 50% target, with households believed to have cut food waste by only 9% – and telling Sainsbury’s the issue was not a priority for them.

The £10m Waste Less, Save More programme was launched in 2015 to find out why consumers throw so much edible food away, with £1m spent on an “experimental testbed” in Swadlincote.

The market town beat 188 areas in the UK to be awarded the project and Sainsbury’s had planned to spend £10m over five years to develop a network of similar schemes across the UK.

But the UK’s second-largest supermarket has pulled the plug on further funding, halfway through the process of giving cash to successful regional bidders.

The Waste Less, Save More slogan and branding have been dropped and all the retailer’s work on food waste will be absorbed into a wider “wellbeing” campaign.

The results of the evaluation by the environmental charity Hubbub revealed that the Swadlincote project had achieved only a single-digit percentage reduction (which has not been officially published but is believed to be 9%).

Hubbub waded through nearly 800 household food collection bins weighing their contents and comparing them after the trial ended.

The Guardian revealed last March that the project was unlikely to hit the original target and that Sainsbury’s has gone back to the drawing board to re-evaluate the scheme.

The government’s waste advisory body, Wrap, was monitoring the Swadlincote project.

The UK churns out 15m tonnes of food waste a year – of which 7m comes from households. The estimated retail value of this waste is put at £7.5bn – Wrap believes a typical family wastes £700 of food each year.

“We launched Waste Less, Save More three years ago,” Sainsbury’s said. “We found our customers’ priorities have changed and broadened, which is why reducing food waste now forms one part of what is an even bigger investment to help our customers ‘live well’ in every aspect of their lives.”

Sainsbury’s insisted the decision was not related to the merger plans with Asda.

Free and low-cost solutions offered in Swadlincote included community events and schools programmes through to larger initiatives such as “community” fridges – a fridge in a public space in which people can put in food or take out food. A rival supermarket chain is expected to provide funding for a growing national network of such fridges.

Supermarkets are regularly criticised for not doing more to redistribute edible food to the needy – via food banks and charities – although Sainsbury’s points out it co-founded FareShare in 1994 with the homelessness charity Crisis and supported its launch as an independent charity in 2004.

Wrap declined to comment. However, Clare Oxborrow, a senior food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “For too long the supply chain ignored this and now we have an entrenched problem to get to grips with. Food that is wasted has taken fresh water, land, energy and labour to produce and supermarkets need to show their customers the scale of the problem, and why efforts to reduce food waste deserves ongoing support.

“All companies along the supply chain should publicise their food waste data and commit to concerted, long-term action, so that food waste is halved by 2030, as set out in the sustainable development goals.”

SOURCE: The Guardian