The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Supermarkets and the question of throwing away good food

Photo: Suoermarket bill

Photo: Suoermarket bill

Sunday was my bi-weekly shop with my mum. This is usually hugely enjoyable. We have a light lunch and tootle over for the last hour of Waitrose Sunday shopping. This trip has all the drama and pace of a decent documentary. Will we make it out of the store before the lights dim?

We always flop into the car with minutes to spare. Meanwhile cars are racing in for the final five minutes. Are they just getting that one vital ingredient or doing the weekly shop in almost empty aisles? This Sunday our cashier remarked that they are still asked to sit by their cash tills for an extra half hour to accommodate the shoppers that are shopping after four when the store is ‘closed’.  I was shocked that the late comers could be so selfish and thoughtless. Everyone on the staff has to wait and welcome them.

Last year I met an electrician on a building site. His wife works for Waitrose. I discovered quite a few good things about this store. They start to mark down food within three days of expiry, Tesco marks down within one day.  In the old days (Christmas 2006) you could order a Christmas turkey at Waitrose without a deposit. So loads of people ordered turkeys and didn’t collect them. Then they whistled into the shop and bought one of the knocked down turkeys five minutes before the close of business on Christmas Eve. Two years ago, Waitrose in Newmarket fought back and gave their staff these unclaimed turkeys. They were not put on the shelves for the general public. Tiny paint smeared hands clapped with glee. I’m up for a bargain but not a scam.

We have three supermarkets in Newmarket: Neto, Tesco and Waitrose. The staff in each look (in the same order) unhappy, not happy and happy. If all goes belly up for Danny he wants to work in Waitrose. I agree. But Waitrose for shoppers is much more expensive than the rest. Even with the staff discounts I often see the Waitrose staff shopping in Tesco. Most must be on the minimum wage and on very tight budgets.

All of the supermarkets have skips that they fill with food past the sell-by date.  A small Tesco Metro can easily fill a skip a day This can be very different  from the consume-by date which can be a couple of days later.  This is food that has been offered hugely discounted maybe minutes before. Why not give the staff, homeless and any one needy access to those skips that are filled every night and sent to landfill. Landfill sites are filling up around here but even if they were empty it’s crazy to trash good food. I’m sure that everyone, including me, would take a chance on the remote possibility of food poisoning.

Years ago (1979) when I was making and selling toys in Covent Garden Market, London, I met someone who belonged to a large alternative community in Teddington. A deep throat in the local M&S would ring them when there was something good in the skips. Perhaps there are deep throats in our local supermarkets that still do the same. I do hope so. I hate the idea of good food being trashed when so many families in our community are struggling. It’s not just a credit crunch thing. There are loads of people in the UK who have struggled for years. Loading food into skips has happened for at least 30 years. Suddenly, we’re all aware that landfills are getting a bit full..

How about ten minutes before closing time, lay the food outside the back door? People can take the food for free, without sifting through a skip. Most of these people can’t even afford the ’value’ products so the supermarkets wouldn’t be losing custom.

I’d hail the people who ate this food as heroes as they are stopping good food being poured into landfill.

I‘d prefer to shop at a supermarket that implemented this sort of programme.. I’d be happy to pay 10% more for my food if I knew that people in need were being looked after.

And suerly, that’s what it’s all about.

  Leave a reply


  1. missthrifty

    Edible food dumping only serves to push the already extortionate price of food up even further, making it even less accesible to those in poverty. Come on greedy supermarkets, show some compassion and give it away freely, 15 minutes before close of business – its a far better option than just dumping it and feel happier that one less poor family get to eat that day.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Beck

    Danny read your comment and is so keen to try the bin run at our local Waitrose 🙂

    So it might be balaclavas on within the next few days.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I live in Spain and always check out the bins round the back of our local supermarket. The staff know I do it, and as I leave the place tidy don’t bother me.
    Just before Christmas time, when I was really short on money, I found them throwing away around 300 euros worth of beer and assorted soft drinks, just because they’d been dented or had stuff spilt on them.
    The amount of stuff which is wasted that is perfectly good really annoys me. I don’t really care what people think when they see me rummaging in bins, and if they were to ask me I’d happily explain!
    Glad to see someone else promoting anti waste!
    B x
    PS. Your blog rocks!

  4. Questions: Why do supermarkets have so much food left over? Why do they not make a better judgement about supply/demand?

    Possible answer: We have been conditioned to believe that we should always be able to buy whatever we want whenever we want it. Thus retailers dare not leave us “disappointed”. Perhaps we should examine our own expectations as consumers

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