Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary By Suzanne Armstrong, Director of Research/Manager of Board & Committee Services
Food Waste is a significant problem in Canada, and globally. Household food waste is a big piece of the food waste pie. Waste from production through to retail sale was the focus last week, and next week will examine the role of food banks, which are at their greatest need in the summer months.
Food waste does not mean banana peels or coffee grounds. A report from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) defines food waste as “the avoidable waste: food that is thrown out while it is still edible…or food that is allowed to spoil before being consumed.”
Household food waste is one of the biggest culprits. A recent 2014 report lists consumer waste as 47% of the total waste in Canada, at a cost of $14.6 billion dollars annually. They note that things like price promotions contribute to food waste both in the supply chain and at home. This is the fallacy of volume, where buying in bulk is often not really a bargain.
According to the FAO wealthy countries and developing countries waste about the same volume of food, but in developing countries most of the food loss happens before final sale. Consumers in developing countries waste very little. As the FAO website points out, consumers in North America waste the most food among consumers globally, which also means we have a lot of opportunity to contribute to solving the problem.
One wonders whether to blame or pity first-world consumers who bear most of the cost of this wasted food. But the real costs go far beyond the money spent on what gets thrown away. The ECO report mentioned above notes the “resources that went into the production, packaging, transportation and storage of that food…are now squandered,” wasting valuable water, energy, and soils. Methane released from organic wastes that end up in landfills contributes to the problem of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The report points out that reducing food waste could significantly contribute toward meeting GHG reduction targets.
So what can consumers do? A great documentary called “Just Eat It” explores the adventures of a couple who decide to go on a special “freegan” diet, rescuing perfectly edible food from dumpsters. But you don’t have to eat what someone else threw away to make an impact.
In fact, the greatest action needed is at home. Books like Dana Gunders’ recent “Waste Free Kitchen Handbook” are a good place to start. She has many excellent suggestions starting with planning meals before shopping, and sticking to your list. She also has many educational tips on how to tell if food is safe to eat, and how to store food more effectively.
Reducing food waste at home is clearly beneficial to consumers, but benefits everyone in the long run. Next week looks at the role of food banks relating to food waste.