Tesco Terminates Trash—But What’s Green About 5000 Tons of Wasted Meat?

Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, is now diverting 100 percent of waste produced by its entire UK business away from landfill—beating its deadline for the milestone by nearly a year. (Take that, Wal-Mart.) But the news is not all rainbows and flowers to animal rights groups and environmentalists.

One of the ways that the retailer has terminated its trash is by sending meat that has passed its freshness date to a converter that generates fuel from the food, which then goes back into the national grid as electricity. “At present,” says the company’s press release, “5,000 tonnes of waste meat generate c. 2,500 mega watt hours of renewable electricity.”

OK, great, but why does Tesco generate 5,000 tons of waste meat? Assuming that’s an annual figure, each of the 2,282* Tesco stores in the UK would be trashing about 2 tons of meat each year (the largest stores would generate much more than small corner outlets). Sure, generating power is a better use of the waste meat than tossing it into landfills (where it will continue to produce methane, which may or may not be captured), but the animals that created those 5000 tons of meat took a tremendous amount of energy and water to raise and what about all the greenhouse gasses, including methane, that went into their production?“Whatever savings are made by turning this meat into energy is more than voided by the huge amount of greenhouse gases generated by the farming and production of the meat in the first place,” Justin Kerswell, campaigns manager for Vegetarians International Voice for Animals (Viva), told The Telegraph. “Tesco should take a long hard look at its wasteful practices.”

A spokesperson for Tesco responded that its waste meat is a “minuscule proportion of meat sold” at its stores. Seems like it should be able to put an exact number on that proportion, given that the company boasts its supply chain efficiency.

All that said, perhaps Tesco is unjustly suffering criticism—I can’t imagine Tesco is unique, among supermarkets, in the amount of meat it ends up trashing. On the positive side, this could force grocers to examine their sourcing systems for meat products and work toward optimizing their demand signal forecasting, to reduce food waste of all kinds, but especially meat waste. After all, the energy footprint that meat creates is ultimately a reflection of the retailer’s footprint.

Tesco has suffered a number of greenwashing claims, but at times it seems to be making a real and concerted effort to become a more sustainable company. It is conducting a pilot program designed to decrease wasteful packaging. And it opened a new uber-efficient outlet store earlier this year.  Plus, in its effort to avoid sending the 531,000 tons of waste it generates each year, the company had to dig deep to optimize its existing recycling programs and find new ways of reusing materials and finding waste to energy partners. That’s a good thing.

*According to Wikipedia

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.

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