“Are you gonna finish that?” Food Waste & Its Implications

A few weeks ago we wrote a blog about how Delphi client, Loblaw Companies Limited, recently introduced the no name® Naturally Imperfect™ line of fruits and vegetables, which provides a market for farmers to sell their smaller, misshapen products; provides consumers with nutritious food options at a lower price point; and reduces the amount of food waste ending up in landfill.

Given that hunger continues to be one of the largest sustainability challenges facing humanity as societies continue to develop and expand, we thought it was worth taking a closer look at food waste. While technological advances have ensured higher-yield crops than ever before, nearly one-third of all food produced for our consumption is wasted.

What is food waste (technically speaking)?

Food is wasted when it is good enough for us to eat but is thrown out by retailers or consumers – or is not consumed and left to spoil. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 40% of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer level, primarily as a result of quality standards that emphasize appearance.  This accounts for nearly 30% of all fruits and vegetables produced annually in North America. In industrialized countries, consumer habits such as over purchasing and not using a product in time are the leading cause of food waste – next to lack of coordination between the various actors within the supply chain.

What are the global implications of food waste?

The Global Foodbanking Network claims that the amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010). Given that, in 2015, an estimated 795 million people were malnourished or hungry, the disconnect between food waste and hunger is worth exploring further.

In addition, the environmental impacts associated with food waste are significant. Food that is disposed of in landfills accounts for 20% of Canada’s methane emissions, which contribute to climate change. The diversion of edible food waste from landfills could help to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy and resources that go into growing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of food are also wasted when food is unnecessarily discarded. Food waste results in over 40 trillion litres of water being wasted, in addition to the energy expended throughout the process from production to purchase. The interconnected nature of food, water and energy suggests that a more collaborative approach between governments, producers, distributors, and retailers should be taken when tackling issues of food waste.

What is being done?

Both the public and private sectors have been working to decrease food waste.  While many governments have taken initiatives to reduce food waste, France has become a leader in terms of food waste diversion. In May 2015, the French government voted to outlaw the disposal of unused food waste, instead encouraging retailers to donate leftovers to charities and farmers. The initiative is part of the government’s attempt to reduce food waste by 50% by 2025. Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect initiative is an example of progress here at home.  Local charities and organizations have also stepped up to help distribute food to foodbanks and other organizations that help distribute food to the hungry.

While many governments and companies have adopted food waste initiatives, many current regulations fail to support innovative ideas around food waste. As the global population continues to increase, and issues surrounding food security and climate change become more pronounced, efforts to reduce food waste needs to become a top sustainability priority in both the public and private sectors.

 

Dara Potts – Intern (dpotts@delphi.ca)

Alex Carr – Senior Associate (acarr@delphi.ca)

 

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