Wasting Away

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According to a recent article published on the CBC website, 58% of all of the food produced in Canada (roughly 35.5 million tonnes) is wasted or lost. A report titled “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste” was published by a Toronto agency called Second Harvest, which re-distributes food to a variety of agencies, such as shelters and drop-in centres. The report claims that one third of this waste could be re-claimed and sent to communities in need across Canada.

The report claims that 4.82 million tonnes of food (worth $21 billion) is lost or wasted during processing and manufacturing. The total value of all food wasted or lost in Canada is $49 billion. That’s enough food to feed every Canadian for five months. The report goes on to say that food waste in Canada produces the equivalent of 56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-like emissions. Food waste results in methane gas in landfills, which, the report claims, is 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

These are astounding numbers to some people. However, for those who work in the food industry, every day they see a frustrating amount of food going uneaten or wasted. Everything from food thrown out for being past the “best before” date, to imperfect produce that goes unsold, to prepared meals at restaurants that customers didn’t eat. Food waste is a major problem for grocery retailers as it severely impacts their profitability. The average Canadian family loses $1,766 per year, courtesy of food waste, and throws away about 180 kilograms of food per year.

In France, they recently passed laws preventing grocery stores from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead, these stores must donate this food to food banks and charities. In fact, stores with square footage over 4,300 must sign food donation agreements with these not-for-profit organizations. This makes it easier and faster to give the surplus food to these organizations. Failure to do this could result in fines of up to 75,000 Euros, and up to two years in jail. Currently, France wastes approximately 7.1 million tonnes of food annually (about one fifth of what Canada does).

The message is clear: in Canada, we need to start looking at food as a limited resource (like other natural resources), and not something that we can “just grow more of”. Overall, food waste is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful solution. A great place to start would be to change our attitude towards food. Shop for food more frequently and buy less, stop stockpiling food, stop buying larger sizes of food items than necessary, cook more frequently at home, plan your meals and buy accordingly, and freeze leftovers for future meals. There are just some of the things that we can do to reduce our family’s or our personal food waste and save money!

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