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This New Supermarket Only Sells Food Waste

Emma Loewe
February 26, 2016
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Photo by Mikkel Østergaard
February 26, 2016

Trips to the supermarket usually entail a hearty dose of scrutiny. We check out the ripeness of each avocado, inspect every inch of apples for bruises, and cast any misshapen vegetables aside.

But is it worth it? Do we really have to be so concerned with our groceries' appearance?

Earlier this week, the first supermarket to exclusively sell surplus foods—those that are battered, bruised or past their expiration date—opened its doors in Copenhagen. The store, named WeFood, is giving "ugly" food a chance to shine.

It has arrangements with large supermarket chains throughout Denmark, as well as smaller operations that sell fruit, meat, and packaged products. These suppliers give up the food they would have otherwise thrown away, and WeFood sells it at a discounted price.

The store hopes that its 30-50% markdowns will appeal to a variety of shoppers.

"We are not just reaching out to low-income shoppers, but trying to appeal to anyone concerned about the amount of food waste produced in our society,” Per Bjerre, a spokesperson for WeFood, told The Independent.

While the bruised fare on WeFood shelves may look a little less pristine than the groceries people are accustomed to buying, it's still just as edible. And even if a product has an expiration date that's come and gone, it's likely still safe for consumption too. That's because "use-by" and "best-by" dates are usually just manufacturer suggestions for peak quality days.

But nearly half of consumers misunderstand these labels and take them to show the last day that something is edible. This leads to a lot of perfectly good food in the trash, and a lot of extra dollars spent in the stores.

Danes now throw away 25% less food than they did five years ago, thanks largely to restaurant initiatives (free doggy bags for all diners) and consumer education campaigns (waste-free presentations in schools). However, the country still creates 700,000 tons of food waste each year—a number that Danish food minister Eva Kjer Hansen calls "ridiculous."

Ridiculous, yes. Surprising, no. Given that the average Chicago resident throws out about 273 more pounds of food a year than the average Joe in Copenhagen, food waste is a problem we know all too well in America.

But considering Walmart is beginning to sell "ugly produce" boxes in its UK grocery chains and U.S. startup, Imperfect Foods, has started sourcing food waste from West Coast farmers and shipping it to consumers across California, it looks like we're slowly moving towards solutions. Fingers crossed this trashy food waste problem finally gets tossed.

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Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.