Alan Dee: Don’t blame the shops, it’s the customer who is wrong here

Opinion - Alan Dee
Opinion - Alan Dee

There’s been an entirely predictable lynch-mob reaction to the news that grocery giant Tesco is selflessly doing its bit to reduce the shocking mountain of wasted food that goes into our bins each year, or ruthlessly aiming to become a more efficient corporate machine, depending on your point of view.

And there’s no doubt that the figures make shocking reading.

How can it be that up to two thirds of supermarket food might never be eaten? That’s just wrong.

Yet the bean-c0unters at Tesco discovered that 68 per cent of its bagged salads, nearly half of its bakery goods and a quarter of its grapes go to waste. Lots of it is lost because it has been on display for too long, some is ditched before it reaches the shelves because the supply chain is just too long.

Fair enough, that’s a problem for Tesco. It could be solved tomorrow – just introduce a punitive waste tax, charging the big players £1 for every pound in weight of food they have to throw away, and they’ll soon sort their acts out.

Something should be done, for sure – according to Tesco’s research which put the spotlight on what happened to 25 best-selling products including free-range eggs, bacon, onions, and milk in the first six months of this year, 28,500 tons of produce was binned at its stores and distribution centres.

And in a report released earlier this year, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said £1 billion of food – from fresh fruit and veg to tinned and packet produce – is binned every year when still within its sell-by date. Up to three quarters of vegetables grown in Britain end up never being eaten, they reckon.

The Tesco team agrees – two in five apples and one in five bananas just go brown and rot, they say.

But it takes two to tango, and the shoppers – that’s you and me – shouldn’t get off scot free here.

You can point the finger at the supermarkets for providing those big trolleys that just beg to be filled, cranking up the ‘buy one get one free’ deals that encourage us to stock up, and even increasing portion sizes without us noticing – did you know that the standard packet of crisps has doubled in size in the past 20 years? No, me neither, but I never buy them so why would I?

But we’re the customer, and if we buy things that then go to waste it’s our fault. We do it all the time, it’s just that perishable goods get binned while more durable impulse buys are stowed away in the cupboard, out of sight and out of mind.

Next time you go shopping, ask yourself the three key questions: Do you need it? Do you want it? Can you afford it?

You might be lucky enough to be able to answer yes to all three, but at least start thinking every time you toss another goodie into the trolley.