Miche Warwick: Identifying and reducing food waste: Part 1

We are losing an approximate value of $31 billion in food waste each year.

Value Chain Management International (VCMI) is a leading industry voice bringing awareness to opportunities and solutions surrounding food waste reduction, traceability and our environment, and they utilize diagnostic tools to determine where food waste occurs and how to eliminate it.

In October 2016, VCMI released an updated report detailing the picture of food waste in Canada.

What the report demonstrated is that annually in Canada we are losing an approximate value of $31 billion in food waste. This figure does not include data from Canadian institutions like universities, prisons, schools and hospitals, which means the value of food waste is likely significantly higher.

Our economy is losing 2 per cent of its entire gross domestic product (GDP) each year to food waste, and to envision a different perspective, $31 billion is higher than the combined GDP of the world’s poorest 29 countries. Nearly half of this food waste occurs in residential homes (47 per cent).

The report includes details from the VCMI 2010 study of food waste indicating that 31 per cent of food available for consumption in retail and households is wasted. This totals six billion kilos, or as a visual, 60,000 rail cars filled with waste, that would stretch 1,000 kilometres long.

The picture of food waste in Canada becomes dimmer, when you factor in the cumulative costs associated with producing, transporting, selling and disposing of this waste, which brings this figure up to more than $100 billion per year.

Some of the major drivers of food waste in Canada are: consumers having exceedingly high expectations for high-quality, aesthetically pleasing food; retail outlets using flyers to motivate consumers to buy beyond their needs by discounting food products; adherence to on-shelf availability tactics that do not coincide with shopping trends; and setting conservative use-by and best before dates that encourage consumers to throw away food that is safe to eat, to name a few.

The issue of food waste does not belong to only one stakeholder group.

Rather, food waste is a systemic issue that arises from how the entire food industry operates and lack of research and recommendations into methods of reducing food waste at consumer, retail and government levels.

The other side to the food waste story in Canada considers hunger. It is hard to fathom that 13 per cent of our national population faces food insecurity and more than 850,000 people utilize food banks every month, when, as a whole we are tossing nearly 40 per cent of the food we have available for consumption into landfills.

The question becomes, how do we tackle this national issue and encourage the diversion of good food from landfills onto plates of hungry families instead?

There are many community initiatives across Canada working to reduce food waste, as well as programs that exist to help educate people on household food waste and how to use simple strategies to reduce waste generated in the home.

Next week we will look to our neighbouring Kootenay community of Revelstoke to learn about the effective food waste reduction program the Revelstoke Local Food Initiative has undertaken, and we will reflect on some of the simple strategies we can all use in our own homes to reduce our personal food waste.

Miche Warwick is the founder of the Rossland Mountain Market Society and the Editor of the ‘Eat Kootenay Local’ seasonal food + farm newsletter. She regularly contributes articles to ag-focused publications across North America and engages eaters with the food on their plates through her Kootenay-based food blog: eatgrowflourish.com.