Waste not, want not

An employee loads for donation a large bag of rice collected from damaged packed rice that could not be sold.

Throwing away expired yet still edible food by households is a waste, but in terms of volume it is still a far cry from food waste thrown away by a major retailer like Tesco Lotus.

The amount of fresh produce swept from the shelves into the bin each day is a shameful excess that can fill the stomachs of starving people.

To solve this problem, Tesco in the United Kingdom initiated a project to reduce food waste from the beginning of the food chain – from farm to table.

Two farmers in Roi Et province show their vegetables that they grow to match the order from Tesco Lotus, which means no oversupply or wastage at the farm-gate.

Tesco Thailand has adopted this policy and has informally applied a model of cutting food waste through donations to around 20 local non-profit organisations for almost two years. Currently the project is only implemented in Bangkok by seven large branches of Tesco but the plan is to expand the project to cover 23 branches in Greater Bangkok by the end of this year, and all 180 large branches nationwide by next year.

Though there is no specific data on food waste in Thailand, it is listed among the top developing countries that have the highest amount of food waste. The Pollution Control Department found that each person in Thailand has produced 1.0 to 1.5 kilogrammes of waste per day on average over the past 5-10 years, but the country has yet to achieve effective disposal management.

An elderly woman sorts the vegetables she received free from Tesco Lotus.

Charkrit Direkwattanachai, head of corporate community sustainability of Tesco Lotus operator Ek-Chai Distribution System Co., Ltd., said: “The ‘food surplus donation’ project will be officially launched in June with the goal of creating shared value and establishing the company as a good citizen in communities where its branches are situated.”

Besides food donations, the company has initiated several projects which it believes will bring positive results for communities. These include scholarships and basic education materials for needy students, exercise programmes at Tesco branches, donations for victims of natural disasters and the latest project aimed at reducing food waste.

An employee prepares leftover fresh vegetables and foods for donation at a branch in Bangkok.

“Prior to the donations, the hypermarket deeply cut prices of its products on a daily basis, sometimes to only 10% of the full price, in an attempt to sell all fresh produce and other food off the shelf. Those that are left and edible are donated,” Chakrit said.

Tanaporn Oi-isaranukul, food quality and safety officer from ThaiHarvest/SOS Foundation (formerly SOS Foundation before merging with Australian OzHarvest), said: “The foundation takes fresh produce, especially fruits and vegetables, from Tesco Lotus before noon each day to clean, repack and distribute to organisations and communities in its network in time for cooking dinner that day.”

“The foundation has worked with organisations such as Half-Way Home for Men in Thanyaburi District of Pathum Thani that cares for men with mental issues, Mercy Center which looks after children in Khlong Toei, Asylum Access Thailand that takes care of several refugee communities in Bangkok as well as the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.”

“The foundation aims to cut the waste of edible foods to as close to zero as possible,” said Tanaporn, adding that big donations have included 1,400 boxes of over-stock cookies and two tonnes of rice.

Sitthipol Chuprachong of Mirror Foundation’s Food for Friends project has worked with Tesco for almost two years, taking in fresh and dried foods as well as some household items that could not be sold commercially. The donated products are distributed to targeted groups such as the homeless, the poor, construction workers, and others.

Charkrit Direkwattanachai, head of corporate community sustainability of Tesco Lotus operator Ek-Chai Distribution System Co., leads employees to donate shoes and socks to needy student.

“In the beginning, the foundation received fresh vegetables and fruits from the hypermarket giant to give to people in our network. But it was difficult to manage the distribution of fresh produce in the tropical climate as they got spoiled before reaching end receivers. The foundation then decided to take only dried foods, particularly rice, spices, packed foods, household items and spoiled fresh produce which will be used to produce manure for farmers.”

Tesco Lotus and Mirror Foundation have discussed further cooperation to create a sustainable supply chain in which farmers use manure made from spoiled produce donated from the company to grow vegetables that will be put on shelves in Tesco Lotus stores. That way the benefits of the project will be extended.

Charkrit said Tesco Lotus has implemented several approaches to cut waste.

“One way is to establish direct sourcing of fresh produce from farmers, bypassing middlemen, so they can sell all their fresh products, thereby cutting wastage from oversupply at the farm-gate. Such an on-demand growing strategy is considered a win-win collaboration, as farmers are educated about the supply and demand and able to plan their production in advance. Meanwhile, the company gets what it wants for customers.”

Since the project began, Tesco Lotus has donated 15 tonnes of rice, 11 tonnes of animal foods, six tonnes of non-edible fruits and vegetables, and 1.2 million baht worth of edible foods.

What Tesco Lotus has implemented to show its social responsibility in Thailand is very similar to what the parent company has carried out in the United Kingdom and other countries.

Charkrit said that corporate social responsibility activities across the globe address four issues: food waste, green, health, and education.

The emphasis in each country differs according to its economic fundamentals and social circumstances. Many developing countries, including Thailand, have focused on education, but measures should go beyond just granting scholarships to needy children.

Tesco Lotus believes that providing basic needs for children is an effective way of helping them concentrate on their studies. The company has kick-started an annual project to donate shoes to students, which has been running for four years so far. It has already given out 106,648 pairs of shoes to needy students nationwide. This year, the company has donated 23,000 pairs of shoes across Thailand and sought 99 baht donations from customers with a target of giving away 99,999 pairs of shoes.