Walmart says it has reduced food waste by 20% since CBC investigation

In the year since CBC Marketplace went digging through the trash at Walmart, the company says it has reduced its food waste in Canada by 20 per cent.

In 2016, Marketplace found bins full of food behind the retail giant’s stores in the Greater Toronto Area

Walmart spokesperson Alex Roberton said the company has reduced its waste by 20 per cent since Marketplace aired its investigation a year ago. (CBC)

In the year since CBC Marketplace went digging through the trash at Walmart, the company says it has reduced its food waste in Canada by 20 per cent.

In 2016, over the course of more than a dozen visits to two stores in the Greater Toronto Area, Marketplace repeatedly found produce, baked goods, frozen foods, meat and dairy products in the garbage.

During one visit to a location in Pickering, Ont., there were 12 waist-high bins behind the store, full of bottles of water, frozen cherries that were still cold and packaged vegetables, still days away from their best-before date.

Most of the food was still in its packaging, rather than separated for composting.

Last year's Marketplace investigation found bins full of food on multiple trips to two Toronto-area Walmart stores. The bins contained everything from produce to dairy, as well as frozen foods to poultry. Walmart says it has cut its food waste dramatically since the episode aired. (CBC)

At the time, Walmart spokesperson Alex Roberton said the company believed the food was unsafe for consumption.

A few days after Marketplace told Walmart what it had found, including the locations of the stores, the bins were fenced in and locked up.

The company says it has since stepped up its efforts to cut down on its food waste.

"The fact is there's always going to be some food waste and we're trying to minimize that food waste as much as possible and essentially reduce the amount of food that needs to go for recycling," Roberton said.

New steps to cut waste

He said the company tries to "salvage as much as we possibly can" by discounting food when it's close to its best-before date to try to sell it quickly. If there's one rotten apple in a bag, Roberton said staff will remove it, rebag the rest and lower the price.

On top of the markdowns, Roberton said Walmart is providing better training for employees so they know when food really needs to be thrown out.

Bins full of food behind a Toronto-area Walmart store in 2016. Walmart says it has improved store processes and employee training to keep food out of the bins. (CBC)

The focus, he said, is to sell as much food as possible and to donate whatever it can of what's left.

"So the ultimate goal at the end of the day is to have as much food that we purchase to be consumed by somebody," he said.

Roberton wouldn't provide a breakdown of how Walmart calculated the 20 per cent cut across Canada, but he did say the retailer has donated more than 1.1 million kilograms of food so far this year that would have otherwise been trashed.

Roberton didn't have waste numbers for the two stores where Marketplace found bins full of food last year, but he said the company has improved processes and training at those locations to reduce food waste.

The bins have been locked up at those stores since the original story aired in October 2016, so Marketplace couldn't dig through the garbage to see what's being thrown out now.

Feds say food policy on the way

When Marketplace presented its findings to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay last year, he said the government planned to create a national food policy. The policy will be a way "to address issues related to the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food," the government's website says.

During Marketplace's original investigation, the minister said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on whether food waste would be a priority in the policy before consulting with stakeholders across the country.

More than 40,000 people took part in those consultations, which wrapped up last month and included an online survey.

In an emailed statement, the Agriculture Department said tackling food loss and waste was one of the priorities raised by Canadians.

"We have heard their concerns; however, as the policy is still in development, it's too soon to say what specific initiatives it might contain."

The food policy is set to be launched in the first half of 2018.


Melissa Mancini is a producer with The National.


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