Farm-fresh... but destined for landfill: Why food rescue is important


(Lori Nikkel) #1

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: If the food wasted around the world were a country, it would be a greenhouse gas emitter rivalling China and the United States.

Where does food waste come from? Households are frequently cited and they’re an easy culprit: like those leftovers that linger in the fridge until tossed or the lettuce we buy but never eat. But the situation is also more complex: food loss and waste occur at every stage of the food supply chain and include millions of pounds of surplus, healthy food that never even reaches the consumer before it ends up in a landfill.

Once it’s in a landfill, decomposing food creates carbon dioxide as well as methane, and although methane accounts for only 14 percent of emissions worldwide, it traps up to 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide. This means that even though carbon dioxide molecules outnumber methane 5 to 1, this comparatively smaller amount of methane is still 19 times greater a problem for climate change and global warming.

The UN’s current assessment reports that “every bit of [global] warming matters” since warming “increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems.” To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

This is what food waste looks like. Surprised?

This bounty of gorgeous, ripe apples was not headed for retail or for the processor: they were destined for landfill – and this is not unique. Municipalities across the province regularly see this scale of farm-based food loss, for reasons including inaccurate forecasts to harvest surpluses to changing retail specifications. And this is happening while 13% of Canadians struggle with food insecurity and lack access to healthy food.

This story, however, has a happy ending: those apples didn’t go to landfill; they were rescued by Second Harvest, redistributed to a network of social service agencies and food hubs via Second Harvest’s fleet of refrigerated trucks, then eaten and enjoyed. Local Partners, Global Impact

Given the intensely negative environmental – and social – impact of food waste, Second Harvest is stepping up our efforts to end it by launching our online food rescue portal to connect social service agencies and non-profits across Ontario with food donors in their own communities.’s mandate

Our goal is to lessen our environmental impact by enabling local recovery of perishable, unsold, surplus food to provide immediate hunger relief.

Thanks to the provisions of the Ontario Donation of Food Act, businesses have protection from liability when offering a food donation, and takes this assurance one step further by asking that food donors and recipient organizations comply with our donation and recovery guidelines. All facilities also need to have up-to-date health inspections and food safe handling training.

Food businesses can set up an online account to post offers of perishable dairy, protein, prepared foods, along with any other edible items such as produce, baked goods, and fresh, frozen, or shelf-stable food products. Non-profits register and receive real-time updates via text or email about available food within their area and arrange the pick-up themselves. also tallies the poundage of food rescued and calculates the greenhouse gases kept from being released so that food donors can see their impact and share those results.

What is showing is that there are countless opportunities to rescue food, whether it’s bushels of apples from a commercial orchard or unsold sandwiches from a local café. Changes don’t need to be earth-shaking to be earth-saving – they just need to be made.

Further reading and resources

  • As part of the Food Working Group with the National Zero Waste Council, Second Harvest helped in the development of Guidelines to Minimize Wasted Food and Facilitate Food Donations, which is offered to food donors and recipient organizations on the website.

  • also offers one-sheets on safe transportation of temperature-sensitive food, as well as thermometer calibration and measurement guides and other capacity-building resources for both food donors and recipient organizations.

  • also has resources for families about best-before dates, how to revive food, and how to cook for party-sized crowds and avoid waste.

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(Thea Silver) #2

Thank you @LoriNikkel for your thoughts and information! I have so much to think about in my own household and what I do to reduce our own impact!

If you had three tips or pieces advice for a busy urban family to reduce their food waste, what would those be??

Also, for those wanting to learn more, check out resources from Waste Reduction Week in Canada.

(Lori Nikkel) #3

Great question!

Our 3 tips for busy families to reduce food waste would be:

  1. Learn about best-before vs expiry dates and what they actually mean as far as freshness and safety are concerned. So much can be eaten after its so-called “best-before” date has passed.

  2. Actually eat your leftovers the next day… but if you do freeze them, label the container with the date you put it in the freezer so you will know how soon you need to reheat and eat.

  3. Think about how you cook and eat. If a recipe calls for a few basil leaves, plan ahead before you buy and decide what you will do with the remaining bunch (make homemade pesto and freeze it in an ice cube tray, perhaps). If fresh fruit tends to go uneaten in your house, take a break from buying it and use frozen fruit instead: you can make smoothies, blend them with yogurt or just eat them on their own; the nutritional value of frozen and fresh are the same – and sometimes frozen is even better.

Individual actions do count, so start small… but get started!

(Jennifer Roynon) #4

Great advice @LoriNikkel, thanks! Following on Thea’s question…do you know of any great resources / tools / apps that help families meal plan with the goal of reducing food waste?

(Lori Nikkel) #5

Thanks for your question, @JRoynon! has links to some good resources, like the Guest-imator which helps you plan your party menu ( as well as the Heart and Stroke meal planning toolkit [PDF]. Each entrée name links to a recipe and there are even recipes that use that week’s leftovers which, for many households, are a major source of food waste.

But app or no app, the key is to start where you are and be realistic: it might be useful just to observe how you shop and cook “normally” before you commit to a brand-new menu plan. You can even start by cleaning out your fridge and freezer to see what you’ve bought and forgotten – and for bonus points, rescue and reuse what you can.

(Jennifer Roynon) #6

Thanks again - I’ll definitely check out these resources and get working on it.