A friend has pointed out that in yesterday’s post about supermarkets and expired food I overlooked the practice of their deliberately destroying the food that goes into their bins. The complaint of many seems to be that supermarkets do this simply because they don’t want poor people hanging around their bins. Taking this at face value, it would sound pretty callous that supermarkets are denying hungry folk food simply because – for whatever reason, but probably because they are just bastards – they don’t want poor folk nearby. Or maybe they don’t want poor folk feeding themselves for free when they can be forced into paying for it?
But there are valid reasons why supermarkets wouldn’t want this, aside from their just being bastards for fun. Having anyone regularly rummaging through your bins is probably going to come with additional problems, such as people camping semi-permanently beside them waiting for food to be dumped and being a nuisance for staff and the public. Private householders wouldn’t want people in their back yard rummaging through their bins, so I don’t see why supermarkets would be happy about it.
But in reality it feeds in (sorry!) to the main point I made yesterday regarding liability. A company is still responsible for its waste products up until custody changes hands in the collection process. A supermarket has a duty of care towards the public which includes doing everything reasonably practicable to ensure they are not harmed by its operations and products, which includes the waste food as it lies outside discarded in the bins. This will also include ensuring nobody will come to any harm if they decide to climb into the bin to eat something: if somebody does so and injures themselves somehow, the supermarket is liable. Stupid, but this is how the law works. The supermarkets are also liable should somebody fall ill by consuming waste food which by the supermarket’s own definition is unfit for consumption. The supermarkets are especially liable because they know in advance that people will try to gather and consume this stuff, so they cannot claim ignorance for not doing more to prevent it.
And this is the issue: the supermarkets are legally obliged to prevent people from eating out of their dumpsters. If they just leave them open and unguarded, they are being criminally negligent in their duty of care towards the public. And this is what the campaigners don’t get: those among their numbers have imposed these rules and regulations and set these legal precedents and this is the result.
Supermarkets have two realistic options here: secure the bins in such a way that nobody can get at them, or destroy the food so thoroughly that nobody will try. This new law will be discarded as soon as a liability case arises, it is pointless posturing by the wealthy middle-classes. If the welfare programmes that exist to ensure nobody goes hungry are failing, they need to be fixed: but that would likely involve shaking up bureaucracies and firing useless managers, and that would never do. So instead they take a cheap swipe at the supermarkets for dealing with a set of conditions that they themselves created.