How Co-op is cutting down food waste beyond #ZeroWasteWeek

Food waste is a massive problem in the UK, with up to 10 million tonnes of surplus food being binned every year — yes, 10 million tonnes. That’s a quarter of all food that’s purchased across the country.

Worldwide, the numbers are stark: 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted every year, according to the UN’s Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO), or one third of all the food that’s produced globally.

It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, especially with the cost of living growing exponentially and growing numbers of people — including those in full-time jobs and/or on zero hours contracts — struggling with their day-to-day needs.

The number of individual people visiting food banks is hard to quantify, but according to the Trussel Trust over 1.3 million emergency food supplies were distributed in the year up to April 2018 — a 13% increase on 2016–17. The FAO reports that 8.4 million people in the UK have trouble affording food.

The disconnect is difficult to justify, especially when the vast majority of food that’s wasted, both nationally and internationally, is still perfectly edible, within date, and highly nutritious.

Luckily, some food retailers are more aware of this issue than others — and have made a commitment to changing the way we deal with surplus food.

Co-op’s new Food Share programme is designed to reduce food waste locally, redistributing the leftover food from stores amongst local charities and community groups.

Food that’s regularly donated from stores to partners includes bakery items, fruit, vegetables, pre-packaged meals, meat, chilled items, dairy, and salads — all of it fresh. It means the food can reach people who need it, rather than being pointlessly pulped.

What is food waste?

It’s important to note the definition of food waste: it’s “the removal of food from the food supply chain which is fit for consumption, or which has spoiled or expired, mainly caused by economic behaviour, poor stock management or neglect.”

In other words, it’s food that’s completely fine — but, for a variety of different reasons, doesn’t fulfill its primary purpose: to be eaten.

Let’s remind ourselves of those annual stats again…

- 10 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK

- A quarter of all food purchased in the UK wasted

- 8.4 million people in the UK struggling to afford food

-1.3 million + emergency food supplies distributed 2017–18

- 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted globally

- A third of all food produced globally wasted

In a summation that’s difficult to argue with, the FAO calls it “excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry”, representing “a waste of the labour, water, energy, land and other inputs that went into producing that food.”

So, how does Co-op’s Food Share programme work?

The system is simple: signed-up Food Share partners — all of which must be registered as a food premise with the local authority — collect fresh, surplus food from stores, and use it to feed people in their local community.

Food collected within two hours of the store’s closing time will be within its expiry date, whilst food collected the next morning will be products like fruit and veg that are just past their “best before” date, but still in good condition — so all food passed on through the scheme is guaranteed to still be of good quality.

What is Food Share?

Food Share is a new programme , created by Co-op with the aim at reducing food waste whilst also supporting local communities in the UK. Because Co-op Food stores are in the heart of local communities, they are perfectly positioned to lead the way in feeding those around them. After all, charity starts at home — and the best way to tackle a national problem is to invest in real changes at a local level.

Food Share is part of Co-op Food’s wider commitment to sustainability and ethical practices — other schemes include their membership card, which gives 1% back to local causes and 5% back to the customer every time Co-op branded products are purchased.

Co-op members have generated £20 million for local causes since the scheme was launched in 2016 — find out more about membership here.

Our thoughts? If you want to make the ethical choice and reduce the amount of food that ends up in the bin every year, head down to your local Co-op.

Students get 10% off at Co-op with a Totum or NUS extra card

Find out more about Food Share at

Zero Waste Week takes place over the first week of September every year. Find out more here.

For more inspiration from Co-op throughout the year follow @coopukfood

Originally published at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store