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Food waste at the retail level tends to consist of finished products that may be suitable for donation, but numerous locations and diverse product offerings make food waste diversion a significant logistical challenge for many retailers. That's one of the main conclusions from the industry's first-ever analysis of food waste data collected directly from food manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers.
The study was conducted by consulting firm BSR and commissioned by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance (FWRA), a cross-sector industry initiative led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the National Restaurant Association (NRA).
“The findings uncovered by BSR are encouraging, but it’s clear we can and must do better when it comes to reducing food waste,” said Michael Hewett, director of environmental and sustainability programs, Publix Super Markets Inc. and co-chair of the FWRA. “It’s important to find more ways to keep food and food waste out of landfills, identify the challenges that prevent us from doing so, and develop responsible policies to assist in these efforts.”
Key findings from the retail/wholesale sector include:
- Food donation and composting were retailers’ and wholesalers’ primary diversion methods (representing 32 percent and 43 percent of diverted food, respectively).
- Retailers/wholesalers donated 670 million pounds of safe food that would have otherwise been disposed.
- The retail/wholesale sector diverted the majority (55.6 percent) of food waste generated from landfills to higher uses.
On the manufacturing side, the report found that food waste generated through manufacturing tends to be unused ingredients, unfinished product, or trimmings, peels and other unavoidable food waste. The large volume of food and relatively few manufacturing sites create economies of scale that allow manufacturers to recycle waste at a high rate.
Key findings from the manufacturing sector include:
- Food manufacturers diverted 94.6 percent of food waste generated from landfills to higher uses, such as donation and recycling.
- Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of food waste diverted by manufacturers went to animal feed.
- The manufacturing sector donated 700 million pounds of safe food that would have otherwise been disposed.
The analysis demonstrates how the industry operating environments are recognizably different, but survey respondents cited common barriers that prevented them from diverting more food waste from landfill. Transportation constraints and liability concerns were the most commonly cited barriers for food donation, while the most frequently reported obstacle to food recycling was an insufficient number of recycling options.
BSR’s analysis is based on self-reported survey data collected from food manufacturers and grocery retailers/wholesalers extrapolated to the entire U.S. food manufacturing sector and grocery retail/wholesale sector. In total, 13 manufacturers responded to the survey (representing approximately 17 percent of U.S. manufacturing sales), and 13 retailers/wholesalers responded (representing approximately 30 percent of U.S. grocery retail/wholesale industry sales). Data reported was for the year 2011.