Every month, almost 900,000 Canadians rely on food banks, yet every year, more than $31 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada.
According to the United Nations, over 25 per cent or 1.3 billion tonnes of the world’s entire food supply spoils every year. That is a shameful waste of epic proportion!
Sadly, private households are responsible for almost half of our country’s food waste.
The main culprits of food waste break down something like this:
- Households: 47 per cent/$14.6 billion
• Food manufacturing and processing: 20 per cent
• Farms: 10 per cent (before food even enters the distribution system)
• Retailers: 10 per cent
• Restaurants and hotels: 9 per cent
• Travel sector: up to 5 kg per person per day
• The rest: processing facilities, like food terminals or transportation
These numbers don’t include waste at institutions like prisons, jails, hospitals, and schools; if you add that and include the cost of energy, water, land, labour, capital investment, machinery, transport, and infrastructure, the true cost of wasted food in Canada is closer to a staggering $100 billion a year.
Food waste also has an environmental impact. Although produce is biodegradable and seems harmless to discard, decomposing food in landfills is responsible for emitting 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year, including methane, a gas far more harmful than carbon dioxide.
How can this happen?
Food and produce is wasted at many stages. Some crops are left on the fields, dumped, or spoiled if the farmer has no demand for them. Supermarkets or restaurants may overestimate demand.
Produce can be damaged or spoiled during transport, and the industry’s aesthetic requirements for fruits and vegetables prevent imperfect-looking specimens from ever being seen on supermarket shelves.
To help reduce this produce bias, Loblaw recently introduced its Naturally Imperfect line for smaller, misshapen, or blemished fruits and vegetables. The purpose of this discounted line is to make fresh and healthy produce more affordable, while providing farmers a market for their ‘odd’ produce. For now, this product line is available at Real Canadian Superstores and select No Frills locations in Ontario, and some Maxi stores in Quebec. The company plans to go national by the end of the year.
What can be done?
Vancouver introduced a new bylaw in January that makes it illegal to dispose of food waste in landfills. In Toronto the green bin program diverts organic household waste, processes it into compost, and makes that available to homeowners free of charge at community environment days.
Some of our local food stores prevent food waste from even happening. Since 2003, COBS Bread has donated more than $15 million worth in bread to local charities as part of their End of Day Giving program. Each bakery has a weekly schedule for pickups from local charities.
Rowe Farms participates in the Second Harvest Food Rescue program. Second Harvest is a non-profit organization that rescues excess perishable food and donates it to 200 social service agencies across Toronto. Second Harvest has saved over 95 million pounds of food from landfill and delivered it to people in need since 1985.
The city and the province could encourage or enforce programs to develop better food harvest, storage, processing, transport and retailing processes to lower food spoilage and waste, and improve communication between food suppliers and retailers to better match demand and supply. Other opportunities:
- Public institutions and procurement rules for catering and hospitality ensure award contracts to responsible catering companies who use local produce, and redistribute leftover food rather than dumping it, just as Second Harvest does.
• Set guidelines for “best practices” across all sectors that produce, distribute, and sell food and food products.
• Run a public education campaign on how to avoid household food waste.
Individual households can reduce their ‘foodprint’ through better meal planning and portion control. This can help North American families eliminate the average 25 per cent of food and beverage purchases they waste annually, which costs each family around $1,500. Look online for tips on how to reduce household food waste.
It depresses me to know that such huge amounts of food are wasted around the world and in our own country, when there is so much poverty and hunger right on our own doorsteps. Let’s all do our part to prevent food waste, and give those gnarly and misshapen fruits and vegetables in supermarkets and farmers’ markets a chance.
Martina Rowley is an environmental communicator ~ firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 647-208-1810