Estimates suggest 8% to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by food waste. But, when looking at the environmental impact of food waste, it’s not just carbon emissions we need to think about: it’s the precious resource we throw away when we throw food in landfill. For example, the water used for irrigation, land for cultivating and fuel for powering the harvest – everything that went into making the food in the first place is then wasted.

As one of the UK’s leading food retailers, we understand we have a significant role to play in helping customers reduce their own food waste at home, while working with our suppliers to minimise food waste in the supply chain.

With 6.6 million tonnes of food being thrown away in the UK each year, and almost three-quarters of that still edible at the time of discard, there is a huge educational piece to be done. Good food should never go to waste, which is why we’re taking this responsibility seriously and setting ambitious targets – including aligning to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 50% by 2030.

To reach this goal, and create positive change at pace and scale, we need to bring both our suppliers and customers on this journey to fight the climate crisis and create lasting change.

Reducing waste in store

An obvious place to start, when looking at waste, is of course the waste produced in stores. We have stringent waste management processes in place in our operations to minimise food waste wherever possible, before redistributing what’s left for human consumption.

Weve recently celebrated one year of working with Neighbourly to manage our back-of-store donation programme, which has seen us donate 5.7 million meals to those who need it most. The programme connects our stores to Neighbourly’s network of over 17,000 charities, schools and community groups across the UK. This food goes to a range of local causes including homeless centres, schools, breakfast clubs, community centres, community fridges, community cafés, night shelters, refuges and hospices.

In addition to our work with Neighbourly, Sainsbury’s is also a long-term partner of FareShare, consistently delivering surplus produce and recently investing in its infrastructure to allow it to collect, transport and store frozen produce.

Reducing waste in the supply chain

Looking further afield, we must simultaneously engage our supply chain. It’s important to prevent food waste by ensuring more edible food ends up in the supply chain before it becomes waste.

Over recent years, we’ve seen increased popularity in ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables, and we have long established processes to ensure small and imperfect produce is put to good use in our ‘Imperfectly Tasty’ range.

In response to the challenge of the heatwave, we are working with our suppliers and constantly reviewing our specifications to keep our shelves full. So far this season we have widened the specifications across 80 products. For example, our British apples have not been growing as large as previous years, so we’ve changed our size requirements to ensure we’re utilising crops and supporting our farmers whilst reducing waste in the supply chain.

When we can’t donate surplus food to charity, we send what we can to UK farms to be used in animal feed. We have been members of the UK Food Waste Reduction Roadmap since 2018 and are pleased many of our fresh suppliers are also signed up, covering 43% of our total sales.

We have also engaged suppliers on aligning with Wrap’s best practice on redistributing own-label products within the supply chain, evolving our guidelines so suppliers can redistribute any Sainsbury’s own-brand products to our chosen food donation partners.

Reducing waste in customers’ homes

Currently over 4.5 metric tonnes of food that could have been eaten is wasted by UK households, and we are committed to helping our customers reduce waste at home.

It’s why we’ve created Sainsfreeze, a one-of-a-kind frozen food innovation store to give our customers the chance to learn how to freeze fresh food at home, helping them reduce waste and save money.

We are also continuing to work with Wrap to implement its guidance, including increasing behavioural tips on product labelling. We recently removed date codes from fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy, across more than 270 products. The change includes switching use by dates to best before dates across all own-brand yoghurts, giving customers more autonomy to make their own decisions on whether food is good to eat after the best before date.

Significant progress is being made. We’ve been able to increase our food redistribution by 119% year on year, many of our suppliers are taking steps to reduce waste, and we know our customers care about food waste too. But one-third of food produced around the world is still going to waste, so more needs to be done. More retailers and manufacturers need to set meaningful food waste reduction targets, report wastage data and, crucially, bring their supply chain and customers on the journey with them.

We all have an opportunity to tackle food waste and, in doing so, address the global climate and nature crises. With eight years to go until the UN’s deadline to halve food waste by 2030, we need to act now to meet this target – and with more urgency than ever.