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UK’s first food waste supermarket opens in Leeds

A new ‘pay-what-you-feel’ food surplus supermarket in Yorkshire is providing the public with the chance to grab unsold food from retailers and suppliers and prevent much-needed supplies from disappearing into the bin.

The Real Junk Food Project runs a network of pay-what-you-feel cafes around the UK and beyond, serving meals created using surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. Now, faced with a surplus of intercepted food, it is opening part of its warehouse to the public.

UK’s first food waste supermarket opens in Leeds Real Junk Food Project

On every day of the week from 9am to 5pm, the warehouse in Pudsey, between Bradford and Leeds, is open for people to come and take products donated by supermarkets and local businesses. Shoppers can pay what they like for the products they take, donating either money or their time as volunteers, transporting, weighing, sorting and selling the food.

The project hopes to make food destined for the bin accessible to all at an affordable price, with the number of people in the UK using food banks rising to record levels in the past year: the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of 400 foodbanks across the country, gave out over 1.1 million three-day emergency food supplies in 2015/16, compared to 25,000 in 2008/09.

Despite this, the grocery supply chain in the UK wastes 1.9 million tonnes of food every year, of which 56 per cent (or 1.1 million tonnes) is avoidable, according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). In total, the avoidable food waste created by the grocery sector each year is worth around £1.9 billion.

Around 4.2 per cent of UK food manufactured becomes food waste or surplus, and WRAP research suggests that redistribution efforts have the potential to increase four-fold, to the equivalent of 360 million meals a year.

UK’s first food waste supermarket opens in Leeds Real Junk Food Project
The Real Junk Food Project warehouse stocks a range of food, depending what has been obtained from the supermarkets and other retailers and suppliers, and stresses that the store is for everyone and that ‘food waste is absolutely fit for human consumption and so that’s who we feed – human beings’.

The project says at the current rate that people paying what they want for the food will pay for the cost of the warehouse, and that it hopes to open similar supermarkets elsewhere in the country.    

The food waste supermarket follows on from a campaign against the overproduction of bread that the Real Junk Food Project launched after several of its branches found that it was intercepting more surplus bread products than it could find a use for. The charity’s founder Adam Smith took to Facebook to say that 28 per cent of food that had been intercepted by the project by the end of July this year had been bread, amounting to around 55 tonnes or 69,040 sliced loaves.

He wrote: “Most bread in this country is a not produced to feed people, it is produced as a disposable marketing item to get you in the store and then to be chucked away at the end of the day.”

Danish surplus store expanding after early success

Smith will be encouraged by the success of similar projects elsewhere in Europe.

Danish charity Folkekirkens Nødhjælp opened Europes’s ‘first surplus food supermarket’, Wefood, in Copenhagen in February, selling produce that had been discarded by retailers and local suppliers at discounts of between 50 and 70 per cent, with the proceeds going to the charity’s relief projects around the world.

Surplus supermarket hopes to tackle Denmark’s food waste
The Wefood store in Copenhagen has been an 'overwhelming success'
This week, the charity announced that it is planning to open two more stores – another in Copenhagen and one in the country’s second city Aarhus – following the ‘overwhelming success’ of the first. After six months of operation, the store had received and resold more than 40 tonnes of food.

The second Copenhagen store will open next month, while the Aarhus Wefood will follow in 2017. Announcing the plans, Thomas Mølgaard Andersen from Wefood said: “It’s great to see the support that Wefood has got, both from the volunteers, merchants and from our many suppliers. It is both beneficial to the many customers, the environment and especially the world’s poorest.”

The store mainly sells fresh food products, but has also sold nappies that were rejected by a retailer because of bent packaging and ceramics that could not be sold because they were limited edition.

The Danish government has given its backing to the project, with the Danish Minister for Food and the Environment, Eva Kjer Hansen, participating the first store’s opening. “It’s ridiculous that food is just thrown out or goes to waste”, she said. “A supermarket like Wefood makes so much sense, and is an important step in the battle to combat food waste.”

More information about the Real Junk Food Project can be found on the charity’s website, while there’s more about Folkekirkens Nødhjælp’s Wefood supermarket in Resource’s previous news story.

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