Walmart Canada has promised to review its in-store processes related to food waste after a CBC Marketplace and Go Public investigation examined how much food the company throws away.
Over the course of more than 12 visits to two stores in the Toronto area, Marketplace staff repeatedly found produce, baked goods, frozen foods, meat and dairy products in garbage bins out back.
Most of the food was still in its packaging, rather than separated for composting. In many cases, the food was well before its best-before date and appeared to be fresh.
Also in the bins: bottles of water, frozen cherries that were still cold and tubs of yogurt.
"For sure, there are mistakes being made and one thing we need to do is tighten up the execution of our in-store processes for the food that is going into the bins," said Walmart spokesperson Alex Roberton.
"We need to be more certain that that is food that needs to be thrown out."
Walmart initially declined multiple requests for an on-camera interview from Marketplace, but the retailer agreed to talk this week, following a significant online response.
Plans to change
Walmart, which is one of Canada's largest grocers, has set a goal of eliminating food waste being directed to landfills, says Roberton.
At some of its 407 stores across Canada, some food items are donated to local shelters or food banks, he says. But many of the charities lack trucks or refrigeration of their own to transport and hold donations.
The company has donated millions of dollars to Food Banks Canada to increase their capacity to collect, prepare and distribute donated food items, he says.
Walmart will also roll out a "customer value program" to reduce prices on certain fresh items that are approaching their best-before dates, Roberton says.
The company acknowledges that associates will sometimes make mistakes, or throw out items that should be donated or directed to recycling and composting streams.
"If we're putting food that's good to eat in the wrong bin, then that's a mistake we need to correct," says Roberton. "And that's one of the areas that we need to focus on improving."
Food is occasionally thrown out for safety reasons, Roberton says, which could include any item that requires refrigeration leaving the cold chain for even a short period of time.
A number of current and former Walmart employees have reached out to Marketplace following coverage of the food found in trash bins. They describe large amounts of food being discarded routinely.
Scale of the problem
About $31 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada each year, according to a 2014 study from Value Chain Management International. Grocery stores are responsible for about 10 per cent of that waste.
"We're very keen on getting that number down," says Roberton.
Even more is discarded directly by consumers, with 47 per cent of food waste happening in the home.
Food waste could be part of Canada's first-ever national food policy, which is currently in the research phase, says Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
France recently introduced legislation barring grocery stores from throwing out food, which has led many stores to change the way they stock their shelves and manage donations.
Walmart Canada says it will consider supporting future government initiatives aimed at eliminating food waste in Canada.