"I really felt bad because I know a lot of people in the city or in this country, even in this whole world, they don't even get to eat proper food."
If you need a reminder that practices benefitting a corporation’s finances may be at odds with what would be good for a society, look no further than the dumpsters behind grocery stores and big box retailers. It may come as no surprise to learn that, as a result of the large-scale buying and selling of megastores like Walmart, tremendous amounts of food are wasted regularly, but the scale of the waste might exceed what you imagined.
The very efficiency these stores use to “pass the savings on to us” doesn’t seem to apply the amount of food, perishable and non-perishable, that gets thrown away, unopened and in bulk. While a quantitative analysis may give us a better sense of proportion and the economics behind the issue, Canadian broadcaster CBC’s Marketplace team took a different, and perhaps even more telling, approach.
Here’s what they found:
Over the course of more than 12 visits to the stores, Marketplace staff repeatedly found produce, baked goods, frozen foods, meat and dairy products. Most of the food was still in its packaging, rather than separated for composting.
Also in the garbage: bottles of water, frozen cherries that were still cold and tubs of margarine.
Images such as these aren’t so damning in and of themselves. Food goes bad, and while it’s a shame that the food wasn’t donated, sold, or otherwise consumed before its expiration, spoiled and expired food is unsafe to eat.
But even Walmart’s employees said to the CBC team that much of the food tossed away isn’t expired or inedible. It’s blemished, bears damaged packaging, or just cleared out to make room for something else. In these instances, the food thrown away remains edible and, for purposes of consumption, fine.
It’s estimated that in Canada alone, food wasted by restaurants, in grocery stores, and in homes totals about $31 billion annually.
One such employee, Ali-Zain Mevawala, said he was enough of the circumstances to feel guilt wasting the food, but felt bound by Walmart’s notoriously strict corporate operational policies. He said to CBC, "I really felt bad because I know a lot of people in the city or in this country, even in this whole world, they don't even get to eat proper food."
He recalls an interaction with his manager regarding this very issue:
"Once I asked my manager, 'Why do we have to just throw it away? Why can't we just, you know, give it away to some people that really need it?' And the manager [said], 'If you just give it away to people, then why are they going to buy it from us?'"
Marketplace’s investigation found that while Walmart is certainly a visible target in the fight against waste, they’re far from the only offender. Many similar stores such as Costco were observed adhering to similar practices. It’s likely that until governments adopt laws similar to those in France, making it illegal for stores to discard edible food, that the practice will continue to serve the company’s needs more than those of the hungry and needy.