Canada’s annual food waste a staggering $31B. Here’s how to reduce it

A new report estimates that the value of food waste in Canada amounts to a staggering $31 billion a year. Here are some ways you can reduce food waste. Justin Sullivan /Getty Images

TORONTO – A new report estimates that the quantifiable value of food waste in Canada amounts to a staggering $31 billion a year.

Released Wednesday by Value Chain Management International (VCMI), the report said this number equates to food that is described as terminal waste or food that goes to landfill, composting, bio-digestion, or animal feed and is discarded by both consumers and businesses.

While $31 billion may seem high, the true value of food waste is much higher.

“Such little quantifiable data exists on avoidable food waste occurring in institutions – such as hospitals, prisons, and schools – that we purposely omitted them from our calculations,” read the report.

WATCH:  Dr. Martin Gooch of Value Chain Management International has more details about the report

The cost of food waste falls into two major groups: quantifiable and unquantifiable. The quantifiable costs of food waste include the value of food wasted, and the environmental and social impacts.  The unquantifiable cost of food waste, meanwhile, looks at various elements, such as the losses of wetlands, biodiversity of pastures, and the value of fish discarded, as well as the scarcity of essential agricultural inputs and the increase in food prices because of less supply.

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The value of consumers’ waste is estimated to be around $14.6 billion annually with the highest levels of waste occurring in fruit, dairy, meat and poultry, vegetables, and bakery.

We take a look at some ways to reduce food waste.

Wait to wash fruits and vegetables until you’re ready to eat it

Moisture from washed produce helps encourages decomposition and mould growth. When it comes to washing your fruit or vegetables, use running water and use a soft brush if needed. Don’t use soap.

Remove produce from plastic bags

Airtight wrappings suffocate fresh produce and speed up the decay process. Speed up the ripening process by putting the item (a peach, for example) in a paper bag with a banana.

Don’t rip off fruit stems

Microorganisms start to grow on fruit once living cells are broken. To avoid this, keep produce whole as long as possible.

Check your stock before you buy

Before heading to the grocery store, take inventory what you have at home in order to avoid duplication and waste.

Plan your meals and avoid making impulse purchases

A busy schedule can make this difficult but taking time to pre-plan some of your meals in advance can help you reduce waste by refraining from purchasing perishable food items that you may not end up using.

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If you’re heading out to the store hungry, eat a light snack or meal to avoid impulse buys.

Look closely at expiration and ‘best before’ dates

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a “durable life” or “best-before” date means the anticipated amount of time that an “unopened food product, when stored under appropriate conditions, will retain its freshness, taste, nutritional value or any other qualities claimed by the manufacturer.”

“Best before” dates do not guarantee product safety, said the CFIA, but give consumers information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods they are buying.

The CFIA said you can buy and eat foods after the “best before” date has passed, however, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed. Some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost.

“Remember that ‘best before’ dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date,” says CFIA. “They apply to unopened products only. Once opened, the shelf life of a food may change.”

WATCH (from the archives): They live for free. They eat for free. Or as close to free as they can manage. They’re more than frugal; they’re freegans. But is it possible to live off other people’s trash? Mike Drolet gets an inside look at living the freegan life. 


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