‘Criminal’ waste and ‘legal’ waste

‘Criminal’ waste and ‘legal’ waste

Jane Smith

A lot of food is wasted in Britain. At farms, ‘wonky’ vegetables are rejected; at warehouses huge amounts of packaged foods are discarded because of split packets or minor blemishes.

At supermarkets food is thrown out after its sell-by date and at home most of us throw away some of the food we buy.

The report ‘Global Food: Waste not, want not’ suggests as much as half of the world’s food is wasted.

Up to 30% of vegetables in the UK are not harvested because of their physical appearance. Half the food bought in Europe and the US is thrown away.

The big supermarkets are a key part in this wasteful process. Last October Tesco announced it would provide, with food redistribution charity FareShare, the equivalent of seven million meals a year.

FareShare distributes surplus food from retailers and manufacturers to vulnerable people such as homeless or unemployed people.

But this step shows how broken the system is. No properly managed system should produce that much waste – particularly when so many people are going hungry. It also only addresses waste at supermarket distribution warehouses.

Meanwhile people faced prosecution for diverting waste at the supermarket stage. Paul Day was charged recently under the 1824 Vagrancy Act for taking food from a skip behind an Iceland store in London.

The Crown Prosecution Service originally said: “We feel there is significant public interest in prosecuting these individuals” but later dropped all charges.


Disgusted by the sheer waste, I couldn’t let perfectly good food go to landfill. With some others I regularly used to visit supermarket bins, coming home with bags full of food. Often we froze what we couldn’t eat or redistributed it to people we knew needed it.

Some days there was so much food, we had to go back for second loads. One weekend we found a skip full of potatoes (around 1.5 tonnes).

Potatoes can, if stored correctly, last for months. But these were wrapped in plastic with a ‘best before’ date on the packaging so were thrown out.

To me, this waste is more criminal than anyone taking those potatoes from skips and eating them. All Paul Day and his friends did was go into bins to try and eat, also reducing landfill.

Why were Paul and his friends thought worth prosecuting? Do we want a system that produces tonnes of waste but criminalises those who reduce that waste?