We seem to have selective outrage when it comes to food waste. Mention wheelie bins at the back of supermarkets and the nation’s blood boils. Bring up manufacturers binning offcuts and there’s a slight simmer. But about the 76,000 tonnes of greasy burgers, flaky pastries and freshly made sandwiches chucked out by quick service restaurants we’re curiously silent, with campaigners privately admitting they just haven’t dug as deep or pushed as hard on food waste in food to go.
One reason could be the lack of information. With seriously out-of-date stats and just 25% signed up to Wrap’s hospitality agreement, having a clear picture of how much these food to go giants chuck out each year is a major challenge. But from what we know it’s as high as 8% (vs 0.7% at the supermarkets).
In other words, many of our favourite lunchtime haunts are being let off the hook. Only three of the 10 high street names - Pret, KFC and Greggs - we looked at in our investigation had national redistribution schemes in place. The rest - Costa, McDonald’s, WH Smith, Burger King, Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Subway - are basically doing nothing.
A couple limply pointed to ongoing trials at a couple of branches. Some cited strict laws around safety as an excuse for sitting on their hands. And it’s true the UK does have tougher laws around redistribution of surplus food compared with, say, the US. Their Good Samaritan law effectively lifts liability for produce away from a business if it’s donated to charity, while here redistributed food must be safe to eat and - crucially - in date. And only this week the Real Junk Food Project appears to have fallen foul of just that, with Trading Standards officers claiming to have uncovered hundreds of foods past their use-by dates at their warehouse.
But using this as an excuse to do nothing isn’t good enough. Just look at KFC’s fantastic work in overcoming safety issues. It’s disingenuous, too: the real reason for sending it all to AD is cost (even over landfill let alone setting up and running a complex redistribution network). There’s nothing Samaritan like here.
QSRs need to do better. Much better. Or else it’s only a matter of time before consumers and campaigners realise they’re neglecting a major contributor to waste - and move their placards to food to go’s front door.