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Opening more grocery stores would actually cut food waste

Food waste causes as much carbon emissions as road transport

1y ago

In the US, a staggering *third* of all food produced is wasted. In fact, wasted food causes as much carbon emissions as road transport.

So the mouldy veg and expired produce we throw in the trash makes a really big contribution to global warming.

A new study has made a surprising finding about how we might reduce the environmental impact of food waste: open more grocery stores.

That’s the counter-intuitive suggestion of Elena Belavina, who is associate professor at the School of Hotel Administration in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

She said: “The more stores you have, the lower food waste is going to be. Very small increases in store density can have a very high impact.”

Belavina’s new report, “Grocery Store Density and Food Waste” was published in the journal Manufacturing and Service Operations Management.

The idea is that having *more* grocery stores actually means people buy smaller quantities of food more frequently. Therefore they waste less food.

“There’s less food sitting at home,” Belavina said. “As a result, there is a much lower likelihood that something will be spoiled, and we’ll actually be able to eat all of the stuff that we’ve purchased before its expiration date.”

Belavina discovered that in Chicago, for example, adding just three or four markets within a 10-square-kilometer area (about four square miles) would reduce food waste by 6% to 9%. That would achieve an emissions reduction comparable to converting more than 20,000 cars from fossil fuels to electric power.

The researcher also came across an additional benefit of adding more stores in Chicago: lower grocery bills. By trimming food waste and travel costs, consumers would spend up to 4% less.

“So it’s a big win for the environment and a big win for consumers,” she said.

The report found that most big US cities are well below the ideal density of grocery stores which would minimize food waste.

In Chicago, that would be about 200 markets within a 10-square-kilometer area – compared to 15 currently – but most of the benefit from reduced emissions would be achieved by about 50 stores. New York City, with its abundance of produce stands and neighborhood markets, comes closest to its ideal density.

“We actually see some moves across the globe toward going a little bit back in time and reviving those small corner stores, mom and pop stores, smaller-format stores,” Belavina said.

If you don’t have the optimum grocery store density in your area, Belavina suggests online shopping: “any service that makes it more convenient and allows you to shop more frequently. To reduce food waste, essentially what households need to do is bring less groceries home.”

Do you shop little and often, or do a big bulk shop?

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Comments (4)

  • It would and it wouldn’t in some places. I cannot tell you the number of adults turning up their noses at normal vegetables. I pick up the leftover food from an absolutely free food bank. Food that people won’t eat. I pass it to as many people that I know who will eat it and then what cannot be preserved/frozen gets fed to the chickens. I know that grocery stores purposely throw away so much imperfect food. You can rarely find a store that will go around the policy of “what doesn’t get eaten goes into the dumpster, where you can be arrested for touching anything in it.” The whole system is so broken and the smaller farmers are paying the price more often than not if something isn’t sold in time. Often people aren’t willing to pay for food that they have to prepare themselves. Ideally, yes every neighborhood should have lots for greenery and food production, but you would also have to acclimate people to understanding that manure must go into the soil or the plants won’t grow.

      1 year ago
  • Interesting questions, thanks for posting.

    The first thing I thought of was, is there an advantage to having smaller suburban grocery stores, perhaps with a market garden, and/or greenhouses next door, or out the back ?

    Would very small grocery shops work , such as is pictured in this typical British suburban corner store ?

    If you have a hydroponic veg garden in side your shop, would that work ?

    Should new housing estates be built around existing market gardens, instead of on top of them ?

      1 year ago
  • Why does the grocery store need to be 5 acres.. the stores are so big you buy more than is needed so you don't have to go as often then it goes bad because you don't eat it quick enough. I have one small grocery, it's a bit higher priced and the selection is limited. But I can be in and out in under 10 mins so I stop more often but I don't over shop.

      1 year ago