Tesco is starting a scheme which could hand tens of thousands of tonnes of surplus food from its stores to local charities as supermarkets come under rising pressure to reduce waste.

The UK’s biggest supermarket admits that it wasted 55,400 tonnes of food from its stores last year, about 30,000 tonnes of which was edible. Some food left over at its warehouses is already distributed to charities, but Tesco currently sends the vast majority of food waste from shops for use as animal feed or to be loaded into anaerobic digestion energy plants.

A new partnership with food redistribution charity FareShare will link Tesco store managers with local charities to hand over unwanted food several times a week. The scheme has already been tested at over 100 stores in Ireland and will go into an initial 10 stores in the UK including outlets in Glasgow, Belfast, Merseyside and London.

“This is potentially the biggest single step we’ve taken to cut food waste, and we hope it marks the start of eliminating the need to throw away edible food in our stores,” said Dave Lewis, chief executive of Tesco. He said he hoped similar schemes could eventually be implemented in some of the other 12 countries where the supermarket operates, as well as across the UK.

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