Reducing food waste and saving Canadians money

People across Canada are struggling to afford groceries, yet 2.3 million tons of edible food are apparently being wasted yearly.

The National Zero Waste Council, an organization focused on sustainable waste practices, says 63 per cent of food Canadians threw out so far this year could have been eaten. Wasteful food practices also cost Canadians more than $20 billion annually, according to the council.

At a time when food is more expensive than ever due to inflation, some organizations are trying to tackle this problem by helping companies that have surplus food reduce waste while helping consumers save money at the same time.

Here’s a look at how this is being achieved.

SURPLUS FOOD

Too Good To Go, a global organization that launched across Canada in 2021, acts as a liaison between consumers and businesses.

Country manager Sam Kashani says the company has an app that connects people with local restaurants, hotels and stores.

“There are so many businesses across the country that have surplus food and may not have an avenue to either have the food land at a donation facility through the logistics, or the sum is so little that, ultimately, it just doesn’t make sense to drive a truck there and pick it up,” he told CTVNews.ca.

When a consumer opens the app, they are greeted by a map showing a variety of businesses in their area with “surprise bags.”

These are packages the businesses put together of surplus inventory. A variety of food, depending on the business, is inside. Kashani says all surprise bags are sold for one-third of the valued cost.

“You get a collection of surplus food at a great discount, and for that reason, the business wins, because they get their food collected and make some incremental revenue instead of throwing it out,” Kashani said. “The consumer wins because they get perfectly healthy, delicious food at a fraction of the cost they normally would have paid for it.”

Shira McDermott, co-founder of a Vancouver flour mill and bakery called Flourist, says Too Good To Go has been an attraction for new customers.

“It’s a nice way for people to discover our products and get some deals,” she said to CTVNews.ca.

Flourist will pack up extra baked goods in its surprise bags. McDermott says the retail value of the goods is around $23 (the customer pays about $7) and they can be shared by a family of four.

“It’s usually a selection of cookies, pastries and maybe some bread,” she said. “It’s a really good opportunity to try day-old baking.”

Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization and works with companies and logistics operators to bring surplus food to Canadians.

“We do third-party logistics across the whole country,” Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest, told CTVNews.ca. “But on top of that, we look at what systemic challenges even allow this to happen in the first place. Why do we have so much food loss and waste? And how much do we have?

Second Harvest started in 1985 with two Toronto women who wanted to make a difference in their community. About seven years ago, the company started investing in research while expanding across Canada and focusing on lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal is simple: bring food that would otherwise go to waste to communities and organizations that can use it.

Food banks are staples when it comes to accessing food, but Nikkel says there is a whole other network of organizations hidden from the public’s view that can also benefit from reclaimed food.

These are the organizations Second Harvest focuses on.

“There are 61,000 places that are providing food to people and nonprofits across the country,” she said, adding that those are in addition to the network of 4,500 food banks. “They’re small, grassroots or midsize, but they’re just overlooked.”

Nikkel explains these organizations include senior centers, shelters, recreational facilities, school nutrition programs and religious institutions.

“Their core focus isn’t food, but food is what brings people together. You will attract more people because there’s food, (so) get them the healthy food,” she said.

IF FOOD IS NOT EDIBLE WHERE CAN IT GO?

Through organizations like Second Harvest and Too Good To Go, less food is being wasted. But there is some food that cannot be given to humans – think squished produce, stale bread and corn husks.

That is where companies such as Loop come in.

“Loop exists as a third party to make sure food goes somewhere good,” Jaime White, Loop’s director of new projects, told CTVNews.ca.

White works with companies like Second Harvest to continue the reclaimed food cycle. If a company has surplus products, Second Harvest will take edible food and bring it to charities. Loop will take any leftover food and find farms to take it.

The company began when a small group of farmers from Dawson Creek, BC, wanted to source low-priced food for livestock and reduce environmental impacts. They asked a local grocery store if the company would donate its leftover products that weren’t selling.

White says the store could not because of the “liability” issues it could face if something went wrong. That is when Loop came to fruition, addressing what the local store needed and what the farmers wanted.

Wilbur, Larry and Nancy are the three pigs benefiting from the bulk of the pumpkins, and the advantages are nothing to snort at. (Carla Shynkaruk/CTV Saskatoon)

Wilbur, Larry and Nancy are the three pigs benefiting from the bulk of the pumpkins, and the advantages are nothing to snort at. (Carla Shynkaruk/CTV Saskatoon)

Loop has since grown across the country and is partnering businesses with farms to eliminate food waste.

White says the company’s costs are cheaper than garbage pick-up and its services allow less food to be wasted. It acts as a middle organization, directing where food should go and educating farmers on what they can feed animals.

White believes food should feed people first and animals second, and says he’s seen the impact Loop can have when dealing with humans’ leftovers.

“You have never seen a happier pig than a pig in pumpkin pie,” White said. “Everything has a home on the farm somewhere.”

WHAT IS CONSIDERED FOOD WASTE?

The amount of waste produced daily by Canadians is staggering, with mostly vegetables and fruits being thrown away. Food waste is any byproduct of an edible source – for example, banana peels, rotten or moldy food and stale baked goods. The National Zero Waste Council estimates each day Canadians throw away equal to 130,000 heads of lettuce, 2.6 million potatoes, 650,000 loaves of bread and 1 million cups of milk.

According to PROOF, a University of Toronto report on food insecurity in Canada conducted in 2021, 15.9 per cent of households across the country experienced some level of food insecurity at some point in the previous 12 months.

“This high rate of household food insecurity has persisted through the past three years, with little change from 2019 to 2021,” the report reads. “Despite the systematic monitoring of food insecurity since 2005, this problem has not gotten any better.”

In response to pandemic supply chain disruptions and the increasing amount of people going hungry, the Canadian Government launched the Surplus Food Rescue Program. It gave $50 million in one-time funding to several reclaim food organizations like Second Harvest, which received $11 million from the initiative. Nikkel says the program was impactful, aiding producers, communities and environmental initiatives.

“Currently there are no plans to continue the Surplus Food Rescue Program,” a spokesperson from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said. “Under the Surplus Food Rescue Program, more than 1 million dozen eggs and over 7 million kilograms of surplus food due to COVID-19 disruptions were redistributed to food banks and community food organizations.”

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