Leeds, England — Outdated food that might rot in the bottom of a dumpster is now being offered for sale to consumers at a UK “waste food” supermarket.
Activists with the Real Junk Food Project organized and opened the innovative grocery in September 2016. The location is the Northern England city of Leeds, Britain’s fourth-largest metropolitan center with a population of nearly two million.
The Real Junk Food Project, a non-profit organization in Leeds, also operates food banks and over 100 “waste food cafes”.
Adam Smith, founder of the store who began the Real Junk Food Project in 2013, calls the operation an “anti-supermarket” because most of the food is past its sell-by date and has come from chain food stores that were about to throw it away.
But although the food is out-of-date, promoters insist it is safe to eat.
Real Junk Food Project Director Sam Joseph insists that his team uses common sense when selecting food.
“Most of the foods we serve are low-risk,” he says. “We’re very careful. Often ‘best before’ dates are so arbitrary…In our eyes, if a vegetable is not moldy, then it’s fine to eat.”
The waste food store has a no-frills warehouse-like atmosphere with concrete floors and metal shelves. Plastic storage containers on the shelves are filled with bread items (loaves, bagels, and croissants); produce (fruits and vegetables); boxed items like noodles; foods in cans and jars; dairy products such as yogurt; bottled water and juices; and snacks and treats like cakes, pies, potato chips, and chocolates. The store also sells flowers.
The Project receives between 2 and 10 tons of food daily, and it reports that this is just a fraction of the 10 million tons of food and drink that go to waste yearly in the UK. Indeed, the UK is Europe’s worst offender when it comes to wasting food. The average UK household throws away three weeks’ worth of food each year, and wastes £50 pounds ($70) worth of food each week.
Smith, who is a trained chef, told the BBC that the organization typically donates leftover food it receives to local schools. These include the Richmond Hill Primary School, located in a disadvantaged area, and Smith’s goal is to end child hunger in school. This “Fuel for School” operation feeds as many as 12,000 children weekly.
Smith notes that during the past summer,
“We ended up with all this surplus and we wondered how we would get rid of it.”
“We moved [the food] to one part of the warehouse, put a notice up on social media asking people to come and get it, and it just went mad.”
Customers are allowed to purchase on a “pay what you wish” basis, giving money, time, or skills in exchange for the items they want.
Smith concludes with a hope that customers will pay in cash so that the store can continue operations.
“We do have people coming with the intention of paying,” he reports, “and if it carries on like it does, it will pay for the cost of the warehouse.”
If the store succeeds, Smith says he will open similar supermarkets in other UK cities.