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British Supermarket Chain Powers Trucks With Food Waste

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Food waste is a massive global problem. About a third of all the food produced globally every year is wasted or lost, amounting to 1.3 billion tons. EU countries waste about 88 million tons of food annually, with associated costs estimated at $151 billion. In Britain, about 10 million tons of food is thrown away each year.

One British supermarket chain is looking to do its part to change that. Last month U.K. grocery chain Waitrose introduced 10 new trucks that run on bio-methane produced from food waste. Biomethane is 35 to 40 percent cheaper than diesel and releases 70 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

Waitrose is the first retailer in Europe to run trucks on fuel made from food waste. And new technology allows the range of the trucks to increase from 300 to 500 miles. 

Although the trucks costs 50 percent more than diesel models, fuel savings of $18,690 to $24,920 in two to three years will offset the added costs.

The trucks will likely have a lifetime of five years, and during that time will generate savings of up to $124,600. Each truck will keep over 100 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere.

“Using biomethane will deliver significant environmental and operational benefits to our business,” Justin Laney, general manager of central transport for the John Lewis Partnership, the parent company of Waitrose, said in a statement.

“It’s much cleaner and quieter than diesel, and we can run five gas trucks for the same emissions as one diesel lorry.”

The John Lewis Partnership partnered with CNG Fuels on the Waitrose trucks. Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels, said renewable biomethane “is far cheaper and cleaner than diesel, and, with a range of up to 500 miles, it is a game-changer for road transport operators.”

But new lorries aren't the only way Waitrose aims to reduce food waste. The upscale supermarket chain recently launched a charity food redistribution program that allows its stores to connect with local nonprofits. Stores can put details about available food into an app, and participating charities receive a text alert when the food is ready to be collected. The program will start in 25 stores stores, and if the trial is successful, it will be expanded to all Waitrose stores across Britain within 12 months.

Such efforts are nothing new for the chain: In 2012, Waitrose achieved its goal of sending zero food waste to landfills. Four years prior, it became the first British supermarket to send food waste to anaerobic digestion through a partnership with Cawleys, the first resource management company in the country to offer a commercial food waste recycling service for anaerobic digestion.

Waitrose is also a founding signatory to the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement that aims to reduce food waste within the British grocery sector. It is funded by Westminster, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments and delivered by the organization the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP).

Other British supermarket chains have also made reducing food waste a priority. Sainsbury is Britain’s second largest grocer, and its charitable food donation partnerships are on the rise, according to data for 2015/2016. 

The supermarket chain Tesco has not sent food waste to landfill since 2009. It avoids waste by donating excess food to charity in partnership with FoodShare. Through an initiative called Community Food Connection, Tesco lets local charities know how much extra food stores have at the end of the day. It has donated over 6 million meals to over 3,500 charities and organizations. Tesco also turns food waste into animal feed, and repurposes chicken fat and cooking oil into bio-diesel.

Image courtesy of Waitrose (press use only) 

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman