M&S launches nationwide food waste scheme

M&S launches nationwide food waste scheme
Tina Magee from the Upper Horfield Community Trust collects surplus food from M&S Cribbs Causeway
A scheme redistributing fresh food nearing its sell-by date at Marks & Spencer (M&S) stores nationwide begins today (12 October).

The retailer is working in partnership with Neighbourly, a social network and mobile app that connects community projects with businesses, to deliver the scheme.

Every day, stores will upload information on the spare food they have on offer and charities registered in the scheme can claim it using the app and then collect it from the stores.

Food redistributed through the programme will include fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes and groceries, with charities able to choose what type of food they receive based on need.

M&S will provide live updates on the number of tonnes of surplus food redistributed through the scheme on its Neighbourly profile page.

From today, food charities that wish to participate in the scheme can register online. One hundred and fifty of M&S’s biggest stores in the UK will be ready to begin redistributing food by December, with the remainder of stores following ‘by spring 2016’.

M&S and food waste

M&S has set a target of reducing food waste created by its stores by 20 per cent by 2020, and over the past 18 months has trialled a number of initiatives in 45 of its stores to find the ‘most effective way of redistributing surplus food’.

Six stores in the Bath and Bristol area have been piloting the Neighbourly scheme since April. In that time, M&S claims that almost four tonnes of surplus food has been redistributed from the six stores, with collections by charities like the Bristol North West Food Bank and the Upper Horfield Community Trust, which supports local families with its Community Cafe,  now occurring on a daily basis.

Through the Neighbourly scheme, M&S will be able to centrally monitor what products are resulting in surplus and manage how this can be reduced.

Reducing food waste is one of the aims of the retailer’s Plan A sustainability plan, and it says that since 2013, it has worked with suppliers to reduce their food waste by 250,000 tonnes, with over half now operating with zero waste to landfill.

‘Building local connections’

Commenting on the scheme’s launch Louise Nicholls, Head of Responsible Sourcing, Packaging & Plan A at M&S, said: “Our key priority is to reduce food waste whilst ensuring that, where there is food surplus, we put it to the best possible use.

“This is the first nationwide redistribution scheme to provide an innovative, practical solution to surplus food redistribution by building local connections, enabling all our stores to link with local food projects and help support their communities.”

Dr Richard Swannell, Director of Sustainable Food Systems at WRAP, added: “Ensuring that surplus food goes to feed people benefits society, the environment and the economy and WRAP welcomes this initiative from M&S.

“Our work has identified barriers that affect redistribution, and key among these is establishing good links between retailers and charities that work on a local, and national, level. Having a system by which charities can identify surplus food available in their area is a great way to ensure food reaches those most in need, and avoids needless waste.”

Supermarkets addressing food waste through technology

M&S is the latest UK supermarket to use mobile app technology to connect with local community groups and charities needing food.

The Co-operative Food launched a partnership with food redistribution charity FareShare to provide surplus chilled items to projects making meals for vulnerable people. The nationwide scheme followed a trial at the supermarket’s depot in Derbyshire, where 32 tonnes of food were redistributed over the course of 10 weeks, contributing, the store says, towards over 76,000 meals.

In June, Tesco launched a similar pilot scheme with FareShare and Irish social enterprise FoodCloud. Store managers in 10 selected UK branches of the supermarket use the FoodCloud app to alert local charities to the amount of surplus food available, allowing them to claim it and pick it up for free.

The scheme has already been implemented in all Tesco stores in Ireland, and estimates that the UK scheme could prevent 30,000 tonnes of edible surplus food being wasted.

Though figures released by the British Retail Consortium suggest that just 1.3 per cent of the UK’s food waste is created by supermarkets, public pressure has been growing on government to force supermarkets into redistribution programmes.

In September, a Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was introduced to Parliament by Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East. The bill seeks to oblige supermarkets to donate unsold food to charity, reduce food waste by 30 per cent by 2025 and publish all food waste arisings from throughout the supply chain.

It follows the same lines as a French campaign to ban the spoiling of edible food and require all supermarkets of greater than 400 square metres to enter into formal agreements with food redistribution charities.

This was voted into an Energy Transition law in May, but was dropped at the last minute for ‘procedural reasons’. In response, supermarkets agreed last month to a voluntary commitment to redistribute their surplus food.

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