Imagine throwing away a quarter of your groceries as soon you leave the supermarket. The amount of food waste that occurs in Canada—one of the worst countries globally in terms of food wastage—is equivalent to just that; each person discarding 25 per cent of the food they have just purchased each time they go to the supermarket.

There are two components to overall food wastage: food loss and food waste. As the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations details, food loss represents any food which is lost throughout the supply chain from producer to market. An example would be tomatoes crushed during transport as a result of improper packaging or apples rotting in the grass because there aren’t enough harvest workers.

Food waste, on the other hand, is the discarding of food which is perfectly edible. This can occur during sorting operations when companies decide to dispose of fresh produce that does not resemble what is considered to be the most optimal shape, size, or colour, in supermarkets, where foods which are close to the “best-before” date are discarded, and in household kitchens and restaurants, where large quantities of unused food are thrown away.

The Stats

A report conducted recently by Value Chain Management International concluded that 58 per cent of Canadian food production is wasted. One third of this waste was avoidable.  This is in sharp contrast to the fact that 4 million Canadians experience food insecurity. According to Canada Without Poverty, 1 in 8 Canadian households struggle to put food on the table.

The waste included usable groceries worth $50 billion, which is not only limited to the wasted food. The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the cumulative cost of the wastes associated with the production of food is 2.5 times greater than the actual value of food. Associated wastes include all the energy, water, land, labour, machinery, and infrastructure involved in producing the food. The actual cost of Canada’s food waste then comes up to more than a $100 billion.

Another harmful effect of food waste is the damage incurred to the environment. The Toronto Food Policy Council states that organic matter in landfills creates methane gas which is 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

A report released by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation found that 193 million tonnes of greenhouse gases are released as a result of the agencies involved in producing the food that is ultimately wasted. As Tamara Shulman, one of the authors of the report explains, that is the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by 41 million cars driven on the road continuously for a year.

Research conducted in 2017 by the National Zero Waste Council found that 63 per cent of the food Canadian individuals threw away could have been eaten. The most prominent types of food wasted were vegetables, fruits, and leftovers. This translates to about five hundred thousand heads of lettuce, two million potatoes, one million apples, one million cups of milk, and five hundred thousand eggs thrown away each day in Canada.

General advice entails restricting ourselves from buying and cooking in excess along with storing food correctly. Simple actions which can reduce food waste in the kitchen, as advised by Helen Sanders in an article for Zero Waste Canada, include using scraps such as vegetable peels, chicken bones, and onion skin to make nutritious soup stock. Other ideas are baking potato skins for a tasty snack and boiling meat bones to make popsicles for pets.

As suggested by Shulman, author of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation report, retailers should offer imperfect produce at a discount and consumers should purchase this produce to influence retailers not to throw it away. Other suggestions in the report include preventing food waste by reducing restaurant portion sizes and adding quick-fix items to buffets in order to limit over-production.

Less food and food waste will ultimately lead to positive impacts on climate change and livelihoods and therefore, each individual should actively try to avoid wasting food