From Farm to Table to Landfill: Food waste in Canada and its ImpactsJanuary 14, 2022
Food waste is a bit more complex than simple consumer waste. Here we look at the impacts of food waste in Canada and addressing the issue.
By Rae Landriau
Food waste, the food we buy but don’t eat, in principle but the reality of the situation is that food waste is a bit more complex than simple consumer waste. Food loss and waste occurs as resources are discarded along the production and distribution chain in addition to at the consumer level.
Food loss is typically used to describe the food that is discarded during production through to processing whereas food waste is the food that is discarded during consumer distribution.
Adding to the complexity of the system is the difference between the planned or unavoidable food waste, such as that of animal bones, and the unplanned or post processing food waste such as bruised fruits during transit causing them to not be sold in a store. This second unplanned food waste is where the greatest improvements can be made to reduce food waste on the distribution side of things. For the consumer, we have the ability to make choices and adjust our habits to make an impact and lower our food waste.
Impacts of Food Waste
But why bother? What’s the big deal with food waste? Food waste has a large environmental impact which stems from the greenhouse gas, gases in the earth’s atmosphere that act to trap heat, emissions that result from its preparation, transportation, and decomposition in landfills. As food decomposes it releases a gas, methane, which is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, meaning it is 25 times more effective at trapping heat and keeping it in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. To fully understand the impact that food waste has on the environment the whole cycle of food production needs to be looked at, meaning all stages of it; starting with the process of acquiring seeds, planting, growing, processing, and transporting.
One part of food waste that is not always thought of is water waste. During the growing and processing of food water is used to nourish and clean, as a result on average 62 million tonnes of water is used to produce food. When over half of this food is wasted the water that was used to grow and clean this food also becomes wasted. On average 36 million tonnes of water is wasted because of food waste. This large-scale waste is unsustainable and leads to the mismanagement of our resources and will eventually put strain on the water system.
In addition to its environmental impact’s food waste has a hefty price tag attached to it. In Canada, food waste production is upwards of 35.5 million metric tonnes equivalent to 49.5 billion dollars worth of waste. Meaning that the average Canadian household wastes over 1,300 dollars worth of food. That’s a significant amount of money that can be saved and used for other purposes.
Addressing the issue of food waste
In order to address this multi level food waste system there needs to be proper implementation of waste prevention strategies such as partnerships between businesses and redistribution, better supply demand management strategies and purposeful management of waste streams to enable more inedible foods and beverages to be reused and recycled rather than ending up in landfills.
In conjunction with this we as consumers have the power to alter our habits in order to reduce our personal food waste. One key contributor to food waste production is best before dates, for many products these are very conservative estimates which identify a products “key freshness” however the products in most cases are still good beyond the date. As a consumer it’s important to note that these days are guidelines but not the be all and end all for the vast majority of products. By re-evaluating our personal food habits and working towards reducing our personal food waste we can have a positive impact on the environment and move towards making our lives more sustainable.
CBC News (2019). More than half of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, report says. Accessible at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/food-waste-report-second-harvest-1.4981728
Gooch, M., Bucknell, D., LaPlain, D., Dent, B., Whitehead, P., Felfel, A., Nikkel, L., Maguire, M. (2019). The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Technical Report; Value Chain Management International and Second Harvest; Ontario, Canada.
Nature Canada (2018). The Impact of Food waste on the Environment. Accessible at: https://naturecanada.ca/news/blog/the-impact-of-food-waste/