Remember doing word problems in math class? Here’s one about food waste that will help you understand how it’s currently measured in much of the Canadian food value chain:
Jan bakes a chocolate cake for a bake sale. The cost of ingredients is $25, plus Jan hired a dogwalker for two hours ($10/hour) to keep the dog out of the house during the baking. The cake doesn’t sell, so Jan throws it in the garbage. The garbage bag cost 20 cents.
What is the total cost of the uneaten cake?
c) 20 cents
If you answered A or B, you’re incorrect. The cost of the wasted cake is based on the cost of the fee to dispose of it so the “correct” answer is C.
(And if you answered, “Why would Jan throw an entire cake in the garbage?” then congratulations: you are on your way to becoming a food rescuer and we should talk.)
The example of Jan and the cake is a microcosm of what happens in our food system. In the food value chain, the cost of waste is often reckoned as simply the cost of landfill or tipping fees; the labour, water, electricity, fuel, fertilizer and other costs that went into producing the food aren’t measured.
That would be problematic in even the most efficient food system but in Canada, only 42% of food produced ever makes it to market; nearly 60% of all food we produce is lost or wasted.
Not all food waste is the same: total food loss and waste includes bones, animal hides and other inedible by-products. But unfortunately, fresh food also becomes waste. At Second Harvest, our new research has shown that nearly one-third of total food loss and waste is edible and could have been rescued at numerous points along the supply chain, but isn’t.
As a food rescue organization, we’ve known for decades that we are barely touching the total amount of food that can be rescued: last year we rescued 12.3 million pounds of food but the amount of potentially rescuable food available in Canada is 11.2 million metric tonnes .
So why does it happen? Why do fields of unsold produce get plowed under and surplus milk go into sewers? How does edible food become landfill when 4 million Canadians struggle with food insecurity?
With the goal to finding answers Second Harvest partnered with Value Chain Management International on a research report, The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste.
It’s the first to use primary data sourced directly from industry and, based on responses from more than 700 food industry leaders across Canada, it identifies about 30 root causes of food loss and waste, including:
The acceptance of waste by the food industry as the cost of doing business, a belief sustained by low tipping and landfill fees;
Conservative best before dates that lead to industry and consumers throwing away food that is still safe and edible;
Pressure on producers to provide 100 percent on-shelf availability and aesthetic perfection, particularly with fruits and vegetables, leading to over-production; and
Reluctance in the food industry to donate safe, edible surplus food despite Good Samaritan legislation that already exists to facilitate donation.
The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste also has more than 100 actions that can be done by food industry, industry organizations and government to reduce food waste and facilitate rescue.
There is no social, environmental or business case for food waste, and yet it has become standard operating procedure in the food industry, not just in Canada but globally. With this research, we all now have the data and the tools to transform this crisis into a triple-bottom-line win across the value chain.
But it’s not all up to the big players: consumers like you and me can reduce the amount of food that ends up in landfill. Download The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste at www.SecondHarvest.ca/Research, dig into it and share it with your networks. Learn how Second Harvest is making food rescue easier for businesses and nonprofits at www.FoodRescue.ca. We each have a role to play: read the research and discover yours.