By Chloe Alexander Posted August 4th, 2017
to see the discussion paper we are responding to click here.
We at Foodsharing Ottawa are grateful that the Ontario government is committed to tackling the issue of food waste. Without reiterating the statistics cited in the Discussion Paper: Addressing Food and Organic Waste in Ontario, it is fair to say that leaving food waste unchecked for so long has had serious environmental, social and economic ramifications. While non-profit organizations (such as food banks, gleaning services and community centers) and some businesses have been addressing these issues for a long time, food waste is finally getting the global attention that it deserves. France, Denmark and other countries are taking a strong stance on the issue and now it is Canada’s turn.
The framework you proposed is a good first step. Your discussion paper mentions that food waste is a complex problem that requires various sectors and groups to do their part to reduce food waste. We couldn’t agree more & that is why we decided to submit comments on the discussion paper. We wanted to start by first telling you a bit about what our organization does. We will then comment on the scope of the food waste problem before discussing the barriers and solutions to addressing food waste in the agricultural, residential and industrial, commercial & institutional (IC & I) sectors.
Foodsharing Ottawa is a grass-roots, volunteer-driven organization whose goal is to reduce food waste in Ottawa. We do this in two ways:
The first is by educating consumers about the harms associated with wasting food and providing tips via our Twitter page and website on how to reduce their waste. We also have a Facebook group that provides a platform for people to personally reduce their food waste by posting & sharing their unwanted food with others.
The second is by partnering with businesses that have potential to waste food (i.e. restaurants and retail). We contact them (usually in person) to ask if they’d be willing to donate food that they usually throw out to us. We pick up the food, sort food into edible and inedible categories and donate edible food to local charities, not for profits, communities, neighbours, members of our Facebook group.
We only started in 2016, but have a local chain of natural foods (Kardish) and a health food store (Herb & Spice) that donate their unsold food to us on a weekly basis. We have saved over 20,000 pounds of food from being thrown out and distributed it to people who can use it.
Scope of Food Waste Problem
Due to our experience in dealing with food waste, we believe that the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change should centre its attention on food loss and waste at each cycle of the food industry. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO UN) reports that 1/3rd of the world’s food production is wasted or lost.
Some examples of food waste at different cycles of the food industry include:
-production/harvest: over produced food, food loss (due to weather, lack of training/knowledge), select food doesn’t get harvested
-storage: inadequate storage results in food spoiling and becoming inedible
-transportation/distribution: food is lost or damaged for various reasons (ex: transport truck accidents)
-processing: the whole product isn’t used so it leaves edible scraps and byproducts
-wholesale, retail, restaurants: food is over ordered, packages are damaged, one fruit goes bad in a bag and the whole bag is thrown out, food gets defrosted, holiday food goes unsold after holiday
-residents: buy too much food, don’t know how to use certain foods or don’t use the whole thing (i.e. peels, scraps)
It is unacceptable for 1.3 billion tonnes of food to be wasted worldwide per year while 800 million people remain food insecure. We believe that your food waste framework should align with the Ontario government’s food security plan as these issues are interconnected.
Although the discussion paper mentioned that the framework will not focus on agriculture, we feel that it is necessary to address food waste that the agricultural sector produces for two reasons. The first reason is that your framework goal is to reduce food waste-related greenhouse gas emissions and by ignoring agriculture you are not able to address 10% of these greenhouse gas emissions. The second is that Ontario is adopting a circular economy and agriculture provides a lot of opportunities to recover edible, saleable produce.
There is a lot of pressure on the agricultural sector to produce fruits and vegetables that meet a certain cosmetic standard (in terms of standardized shape, colour, weight and other features). This standard means that a lot of fruits and vegetables that don’t meet these standards are left in the fields to rot, even though they are edible and nutritious. Essentially it is not profitable enough for them to be picked.
While there are not for profit organizations who make a dent in this by picking fruits and vegetables after harvest (gleaning groups such as Food Bank Community Harvest, Hidden Harvest, Gleaning Guild and Ample Harvest), due to their string shoe budget and workforce of volunteers, they only recover a small portion of the edible food left in fields. In addition to these services, there is a new trend of businesses selling “ugly” or “imperfect” fruits and vegetables at a discounted rate (ex: Loblaws’ “Naturally Imperfect”, Imperfect Produce boxes).
Your ministry could support not for profit groups via grants and subsidies so that they could recover more food. It could also build demand for “ugly” fruit and vegetables so that more businesses are interested in selling them. Your support could reduce the amount of food wasted in the agricultural sector by making it a profitable business choice, while supporting insecure food communities at the same time.
Residential Food Waste
As mentioned in the discussion paper, consumers are responsible for 47% of Canada’s food waste. There are several barriers to consumers reducing their food waste. Some of these include: lack of food knowledge (in terms of when food goes bad, how to use it in a variety of ways, how to store food properly and the meaning behind best before dates); lack of knowledge regarding food waste ramifications and how to combat them; and, limited access to composting services (for those in multi-residential buildings and geographically isolated areas). Below we will discuss three categories of solutions to these barriers: public education, legislation and compost.
-ban or discourage quantity discounts (cheaper prices for bigger things or buy one get one free deals)
-quantity deals encourage consumers to buy extra food & often this food goes to waste
-Ireland passed a law banning retail stores from having buy one get one free deals (although this was for health reasons instead of food waste)
-limit the quantity of food-related flyers that consumers can receive (ex: one flyer per store per week)
-food waste and recycling costs could go down
-subsidize or provide grants for organizations who provide free/cheap food safety and cooking classes
-this could increase peoples’ food knowledge and hopefully make them more aware of their waste
-develop an awareness campaign that posts billboards/bus stop ads about food waste
-savethefood.com has bus stop ads that explain that best before dates do not mean that food is inedible
-research and support consumer-focused apps that address food waste
-ex: Lunchbox is an app that organizes grocery lists, does inventory & keeps track of expiration dates
-encourage people to install composters on their property
-The FAO UN reports that in a year, each home composters can prevent 150kg of food waste from being sent to the landfill or compost facilities
-dedicate select public spaces to be community compost sites (ex: parks or community gardens)
-for people who don’t have access to the green bin program and/or live in multi-residential buildings and can’t have compost bins
-will divert food waste going to compost facilities
-research and subsidize vermicomposting on a residential and industrial level
-vermicomposting does not have the same odour or space restrictions as other compost facilities
-could create more jobs and GDP (as it makes regular compost for gardens)
Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Food Waste
As mentioned in the discussion paper, the IC & I sector has not been as effective as the residential sector in reducing its food waste. The main barriers to reducing their food waste are the perceived lack of economic incentives to prevent or divert waste, the lack of food waste reduction system and the lack of government support for waste reduction. Below we will discuss two categories of solutions: legislation and technology.
-abolish or streamline best before dates
-“Best before doesn’t mean toxic after” says Selina Juul, founder of Stop Wasting Food Movement Denmark
-best before dates are best guesses at when food won’t taste as fresh or flavourful
-the FAO UN reports that a lot of food gets thrown out nearing or past expiration dates even though it is perfectly edible
-by abolishing or streamlining best before dates your ministry can reduce the confusion regarding whether food is edible or not and reduce food waste
-charities can accept wider range of donations because food past its best before date won’t be turned down
-strengthen and enforce food safety regulations
-lots of food thrown out because of food contamination (ex: salmonella, mad cow disease)
-stronger regulations and enforcement would reduce food contamination causes and therefore food waste
-strengthen the Food Donation Act, 1994
– IC & I are cautious and apprehensive about donating food and think they’ll be sued if someone gets sick
-most IC & I members are not aware of this legislation or do trust it
-strengthen the act by addressing ideas of what donating safely means, the consequences of donating harmful food, standard of proof for determining intent, and whether or not products past their best before dates are harmful
-this will decrease apprehension and increase donations
-Ikea’s Food is Precious campaign polled staff and found that 70% felt proud that their employer was reducing food waste
-majority of staff Foodsharing volunteers talked to at cafes, restaurants, etc felt ashamed that food wasn’t donated and were enthusiastic about prospect of donating, rather than throwing food out
-ban food waste
-certain supermarkets in France have to sign contracts to donate their food to charities or farmers for animal feed or else they can be fined or receive jail time
-Subsidize food saving/tracking technology for food industry members to track food they order, waste, etc
-ex: Winnow, Forager, Olio, Lean Path, Spoiler Alert
-can track food going bad and prevent food waste, plus help with future ordering of food
We acknowledge that not all of these solutions can be done at the same time, but some will be short term solutions (public education ads), medium (encouraging IC & I to donate surplus food) and long term (banning IC & I food waste). Whatever you do we hope you keep in mind the importance of addressing agricultural food waste and we hope that your food waste framework aligns with your food security framework as these are both interconnected problems. Contact us if you have any questions.
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