Food and Timber Waste from Retail

In 2018, North East Waste and Resource Recovery Group (North East WRRG) engaged consultants Blue Environment to conduct a study to quantify and assess food and timber waste generated by the food retail and wholesale sector in the North East WRRG region Including consideration for landfilled and recovered food and timber wastes.

Blue Environment identified and surveyed food retail and wholesale businesses within the region about quantities and current management of food and timber waste, as well as their perceptions of how significant these wastes were to their business costs and options for reducing and recovering these wastes.

Food and timber waste make up an estimated 343,900 tonnes of landfilled commercial and industrial (C&I) waste in Victoria (around 25% of total C&I waste landfilled (Blue Environment 2016). Food, in particular, is an environmentally significant waste stream and the states Waste and Resource Recovery Groups have a role in working with councils and industry to promote waste avoidance and increase waste recovery.


  • The study identified 48 food retail and wholesale businesses in the region. The profile of these businesses is split between large national companies and privately-owned SMEs. There are around 20 ‘small’, 12 ‘medium’ and 16 ‘large’ businesses in the region. Small food retail businesses tend to consist of specialist food retailers (e.g. butcher), medium of independently owned but nationally recognised supermarkets (e.g. IGA, Foodworks) and large of nationally recognised supermarket chains (e.g. Woolworths, Coles, Aldi).
  • Surveys were conducted with 25 food retail and wholesale businesses, one food rescue organisation and five councils in the region.
  • Straight quantitative data was provided by five survey respondents. Qualitative responses were transformed into quantitative data using other available data sources for the sector and key data assumptions. Results from survey responses were averaged by employment size category and applied to non-survey respondents in order to estimate total landfill, food and timber waste generation from across the food retail and wholesale sector in the region.
  • It is estimates that food retail and wholesale businesses in the North East region generate at total of 1,800 tonnes of food waste per year, with 1,080 tonnes (approximately 60%) being recovered through formal and informal recovery pathways and 720 tonnes being landfilled.
  • It is estimated these businesses send to landfill t in the order of 1,490 tonnes of waste is sent to landfill annually with around 720 tonnes of this being food waste (approximately 48%). Around 125 tonnes of un-reusable timber pallet waste is generated however the estimated quantity disposed to landfill is not known.
  • Survey respondents reported a number of reasons for food waste generation, in order of frequency these included:
    • Packaged goods unsold before ‘use by’ date;
    • Fresh produce spoilage;
    • Damaged or spoilt packaged goods;
    • Food preparation waste; and
    • Packaged goods unsold before ‘best before’ date.
  • It is estimated that total annual food waste generation in the region is around 1,650 tonnes, with approximately 970 tonnes of this recovered by food retail and wholesale businesses by formal and informal management pathways.
  • A range of both formal and informal management methods are currently employed throughout the region to prevent food and timber waste going to landfill. This includes:
  • For food, formal management via waste to landfill, food rescue organisations, rendering plants and organics waste collections and informal management via collection by local farmers or residents for composting or animal feed.
  • For timber, formal management via returns to the supplier or to landfill and informal management via offering waste to employees or residents (usually for fire wood) and reuse in store.
  • Survey respondents reported a range of barriers to reducing food waste generation and to increasing food waste diversion.

Including: standardised ordering patterns, difficulty in predicting sales and incorrect ordering of stock quantities as barriers to reducing food waste generation; and isolated store locations, lack of food waste collection services, food waste collection fees, availability and space for extra bins, time required by staff, bin storage conditions for short shelf life food waste and internal food policies as barriers to increasing food waste diversion.

  • All survey respondents reported that the current quantities of food waste generated are generally unavoidable. Eight respondents agreed that food waste is a significant cost to their business and five agreed that diverting food waste could save their business money. Where respondents did not think food waste was a significant cost to their business, most noted that they produce “minimal” food waste already. Where respondents did not think they could save money by recycling food waste, most noted the additional collection fees for such a service, the size of their store and the lost productivity of staff for other business tasks.


Promotion of diversion of food for either on-site management or collection for reprocessing. On-site dehydration or rapid ‘composting’ units may be an option for businesses generating 100-500kg of food waste per day where no viable recovery collection service is available. Worm farm bins might be suited to premises producing smaller amounts of food waste.

Extension of council-provided food organics and garden organics (FOGO) services to service businesses in the food retail and potentially other premises likely to generate significant amounts of food, such as hospitality and the health and aged care sectors. Wangaratta Rural City Council provides a model for what can be achieved by strongly promoting /requiring that businesses with significant food waste separate it for recovery.

Supporting the private sector in providing food and timber recovery services to the food retail and wholesale sector and premises with recoverable quantities of food and timber.


For a copy of the full report please contact the office on (03) 5722 9498.