Food Waste: Facts and action items

Food & drink

April 29 is “Stop Food Waste Day!” I’ve put together some information about the issues surrounding food waste, including what we can do to help fix the problem.

Food waste is a complicated issue. The problems run much deeper than first meets the eye, and therefore our solutions must as well. We cannot discuss food excess without also discussing the opposite: hunger. Food waste is a human rights issue as well as an environmental issue, as our wasted food could instead help feed the hungry. The stats are truly staggering, but we do not have to accept this! We can help to change these systems.

How much food is wasted?

An estimated 1/3 of all food produced in the world goes to waste (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

An estimated 58% of all the food produced in Canada ends up wasted, according to 2019 news reports. 

Why does food waste matter?

Food that ends up in landfills releases methane, contributing to the climate crisis. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. An estimated 20% of Canada’s methane emissions come from landfills.

According to the WHO, more than 820 million people around the world are hungry, so food waste is a human rights issue as well as an environmental issue.

Why does food waste exist?

The reasons for food waste range from simple to complicated and political. Here are a few reasons.

  • Individuals let food go to waste in their homes.
  • Unsold food in grocery stores go to waste.
  • Produce aesthetics: consumers prefer “pretty” food, so “ugly” produce is wasted.
  • Date coding/labelling, in which food gets tossed even if it’s perfectly healthy and nutritious to eat, because it is past the “best before” date.
  • Political reasons in production, manufacturing, and distribution such as labour shortages, low prices, and quotas. (See “Second Harvest Food Rescue. The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste” report for details.) 
  • Emergencies (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) change food systems.

How is food waste impacted by COVID-19?

New reports are showing that due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the massive shifts in food systems, even more food is going to waste. This is because sectors like restaurants and hotels have far less business, leaving food to spoil. It’s also because of labour shortages and shutdowns due to outbreaks.

COVID-19 is also predicted to cause widespread famine among the most vulnerable populations, so fighting hunger is more important than ever.

What can we do in our own homes?

We can work to reduce food waste in our day-to-day lives.

  • Learn the difference between “expiry dates” and “best before” dates. Do not consume anything past the expiry date; however, use your judgment on “best before” dates.
  • Choose “ugly” produce.
  • Clean and organize your fridge/freezer so food can’t hide in the back and spoil: consider making an “eat me first!” bin, and label and date leftovers.
  • Meal prep and plan your grocery shopping in advance.
  • Store your veggies and fruit properly to minimize spoilage.
  • Cook with food waste! Use overripe fruit in baking or smoothies; use veggie scraps for cooking stock; make bread pudding with stale bread, freeze extra tomato paste or herbs, etc.
  • Let others choose their own portions and consider serving smaller portions to children (but offering seconds).
  • Compost so food waste can create healthy soil, not methane gas.

What can we do collectively?

We need to reframe the value of food, and redistribute excess food to those who need it.

  • Get involved in local food action groups.
  • Contact your local politicians about the issues.
  • Tell your grocery stores (and their parent companies) that you want to see excess food donated or diverted.
  • Push for municipal composting programs.
  • Support food rescue and diversion organizations/companies.
  • Donate to food banks.
  • Help spread the word!

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References More than half of all food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, report says. 2019. FAO, Food Loss and Food Waste. Municipal solid waste and greenhouse gases. 2017. WHO. World hunger is still not going down after three years and obesity is still growing, UN report. Second Harvest Food Rescue. The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste. Stop Food Waste Day. Global News. Canada’s meat-and-potato problem: Coronavirus pandemic hits the food supply chain. Coronavirus pandemic ‘will cause famine of biblical proportions.’ Governments must act now to stop 265 million starving, warns World Food Programme boss.

What do you do to help fight food waste? I’d love to hear your favourite tips!


3 responses to “Food Waste: Facts and action items”

  1. Did not know about this day, thanks for sharing!
    Personally, I make sure I buy only what I can immediately eat. The market is close by and I can go and get whatever I need when I need it.
    I also choose to eat the “ugly” fruits and vegetables.

    1. Three cheers for “ugly” produce! That’s awesome 🙂

  2. […] are showing that due to the massive shifts in food systems, food waste is on the rise—even with so many people going hungry. This is because sectors like restaurants […]

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