Stop Wasting Food! Commit to Zero Waste This Year

February 2015 - Community & Environment

Each year, Canadians throw $27 billion into the trash. In a country where one in eight families struggle with hunger, close to half of the food that is produced ends up in the landfill. Food waste is a major problem, and it has serious costs for both our planet and its citizens.

The average Canadian household throws away approximately 215 kg of food each year, an amount worth about $600, but Canadians aren’t the only ones with a waste problem. In the United States, 40% of food produced annually is discarded, and $165 billion worth of good food ends up in the landfill. On a global scale, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that close to half of all food produced is wasted.

One of the primary reasons for all this waste is consumer attitudes. Expectations of what food should look like are responsible for the waste of as much as 30% of all produce intended for retail stores. These”ugly” fruits and vegetables are thrown out before they even hit the shelf because consumers will not purchase them strictly due to their appearance. Unfortunately, household waste accounts for almost half of all wasted food in Canada. A report released by Ontario based Value Chain Management Centre states that waste is “largely a symptom of current processes and attitudes, primarily of abundance and affluence.” The report, aptly named Cut Waste, Grow Profit finds that Canadians are guilty of overbuying, overeating, and generally being ignorant to the amount of food they or their families actually need. Furthermore, most Canadians are uncertain about what best before dates actually mean and when food is no longer safe to eat.

In developed countries, 222 million tons of food is wasted each year, an amount that is equal to the annual net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is this great waste that prompted the European Union to declare 2014 the European Year Against Food Waste. Along with consumer waste, food is tossed out at the retail level (11%), during farming (9%), by food service and industry (8%), and as a result of transport and distribution (3%). Citizens of developed countries are quick to throw valuable food in the garbage, without thinking that the poorest people in developing countries spend as much as 80% of their income just trying to purchase the amount of food that we are content with throwing away.

The environmental implications of such enormous waste are many. Rotting food produces greenhouse gases, specifically methane, which, pound for pound, is 20 times more harmful to climate change than carbon dioxide. 20% of Canada’s methane emissions come from rotting food in landfills. In addition to greenhouse gases, throwing out food has deleterious effects on the water supply. Growing, harvesting, and transporting food requires a colossal amount of water. In the US the amount of water wasted by tossed food is as much as 40 trillion litres. That is enough to supply 500 million families for a year. When food is thrown out, resources like water, electricity, and manpower are also wasted.

“Ugly” Produce
In response to the European Union’s fight against food waste, one French supermarket decided to reduce its waste by selling less than perfect fruits and vegetables at a discount. The idea was a huge hit with customers buying up all of the bumpy, twisted or otherwise deformed produce. This idea saved heaps of aesthetically-challenged produce from being otherwise discarded.
At Nature’s Fare Markets, we use these somewhat strange-looking fruits and vegetables in our soups and smoothies, because we know they still taste delicious, despite their somewhat unsightly appearance. This way we are able to save loads of great produce from going straight to the trash.

Understanding Best Before Dates
Manufacturers are required to put best before dates on all products that have expiration dates of 90 days or less. Contrary to most people’s beliefs, best before dates are related to product freshness and quality, not safety. Best before dates become irrelevant once the food package is opened. That means that if stored properly, many items will remain safe to eat after the best before date has passed. Canned and packaged goods like crackers and cereals will last long after their best before date provided the packaging is in good condition. As the food ages, it will lose some of its nutritional value, so keep that in mind, and rotate your pantry items using a first-in, first-out system.
Meat products may have “packaged on” dates that tell when the product was packed for sale. For these items it is best to follow both the packaged on date and the expiration date as spoiled meat can cause serious illness.

Eliminate Your Waste
Throwing out perfectly good food is hard on the planet and on your pocketbook. Making a few simple changes to your routine will make the most of the food that you purchase.

  1. Make lists before shopping, and plan how you will use items on the list.
    Having a list helps you to stay on track and purchase only those items that you know you will eat in the coming days.
  2. Keep your fridge and pantry organized.
    This will help you easily see what you already have so there is no danger in overbuying any item.
  3. Eat your leftovers.
    Not only does that take the pressure off you to cook a big meal each day, it also prevents all that good food from going to waste. If you don’t have enough leftovers to feed the whole family, re-purpose what’s left into something new. For example, if you only have a little bit of chicken soup left, combine that with additional carrots, celery, and peas and make chicken pot pie.
  4. Plan at least three meals per week in advance
    Knowing what you are going to be eating for at least three meals will help to ensure that the food you are buying will actually be eaten, rather than sitting in the refrigerator for weeks before it is thrown out.
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