Although food waste happens along the whole food supply chain, there seems to be an increasing concern about food waste from supermarkets. The last official figures on food waste in Norway are from 2015, and show that in the period from 2014 to 2015 supermarkets were the only sector of the food chain that had not reduced, but actually increased food waste, by 7%.
This happened in spite of the efforts of Norwegian supermarkets, which in the last few years have put in place not only internal routines but also awareness campaigns for the public, new labelling systems to extend the shelf life of products, and sales of food approaching its best before date for a reduced price.
Frustrated about the amount of food waste supermarkets throw away, and Inspired by the recent initiative in France, where supermarkets are banned from throwing away food and instead must donate it to local charities, Norwegian environmental and solidarity organisation “The Future in our Hands” (Framtiden i våre hender) delivered a petition to the Norwegian Parliament that was signed by more than 50,000 people and supported by 5 out of 7 political parties.
The campaign managed to convince the Norwegian Standing Committee on Business and Industry (Næringskomité) to discuss the need for a “Food waste” law in Parliament, which will happen in the autumn.
The initiative was received with skepticism from the food industry, though they did respond with the launch of a voluntary industry agreement in June 2016.
The agreement managed to gather all actors in the food supply chain, from primary production to service and retail who, in cooperation with relevant government ministries, committed to reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
This agreement is historical, not only because it combines the efforts of both state authorities and the whole food industry, but also because it takes Norway's commitment with the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals from theory into practice.
By conforming to the industry agreement signed, supermarket chains will measure and analyse their own food waste and develop their own systems and strategies for food waste reduction in order to achieve the 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030.
Although The Future in our Hands acknowledges the value of the voluntary adoption of a common goal in the industry, it has also been critical of the agreement for not being specific enough in addressing the main problem areas in food waste from supermarkets.
A recent report by the organisation shows that less than 50 percent of supermarkets currently donate food to charity, while waste containers outside supermarkets, are full of edible food at the end of the day.
The report puts in evidence the lack of a consistent system to identify and manage food approaching its best before date at most supermarket chains, as well as a consistent system to manage and facilitate donations of surplus food from supermarkets to local charities.
We at the organisation feel that the agreement does not have specific plans to address these issues, and that a law to regulate the management of surplus food is still necessary.
But the apparent hole left by the lack of concrete plans on the signed agreement can be translated to opportunities.
Several social entrepreneurs have been working on innovative solutions to reduce food waste and are ready to join the battle towards 50 percent food waste reduction by 2030.
For example, the platform bestfør.no, which helps supermarkets identify food in risk of becoming food waste or the app Foodlist, which helps supermarkets either sell or donate that food. Supermarket chains are being creative themselves too, by for example selling wonky looking fruits and vegetables, and there's even Best Før - Like Godt, a supermarket in Oslo that sells the surplus food other supermarkets didn't manage to sell on time.
Roadmap for food waste reduction
If supermarkets are serious about reducing food waste, there needs to be a concrete and efficient plan of action to rescue and manage food in risk of becoming food waste at store level.
While food banks are great at rescuing surplus food from producers and distributors, the short shelf life of the surplus food from supermarkets makes it more difficult to make sure that whatever was not sold at the supermarket makes it on time to a plate at a charity if the food needs to be redistributed first.
Supermarkets need to develop local redistribution networks around the country, from supermarket to charity directly.
At the moment, it is up to each individual store manager to donate its surplus food or not, and a lot of them simply don't know how to reach out to a local charity or what kind of routines to put in place to donate the food.
Supermarkets chains need to support store managers in making agreements with local charities and setting up efficient routines.
Norway already has many supermarkets donating their surpluses to local charities and many social entrepreneurs have great ideas to help supermarkets reduce food waste.
The political agreement shows that Norway also both industry and the government in Norway have focus and commitment on this issue. While France and Italy decided to adopt laws to reduce food waste, Norway has chosen to reduce food waste through cooperation and collaboration. This means that everyone is invited to the food waste reduction party!
From Government to civil society, from big corporations to independent social entrepreneurs, all the way to consumers, we all have a responsibility and an opportunity to reduce food waste and contribute to a more balanced food system that takes care of people and the environment.
Paula Capodistrias is an agroecologist who graduated from the University of Life Sciences in Norway. She has been involved in different food waste research projects, private and public initiatives, both in Norway and the EU, and recently wrote a report on food waste at Norwegian supermarkets for environmental organisation The Future in our Hands.