Five tips for reducing food waste

By Brenda Bouw

Of the $27-billion of food that is wasted each year, half comes from households, according to an estimate by Statistics Canada.

That problem is not only costing us money, but is also wasting energy and, in turn, impacting the environment, says Ralph Martin, professor and Loblaw Chair in Sustainable Food Production at the University of Guelph’s department of plant agriculture.

Consider the amount of water and fuel used to produce and ship food to stores, and eventually our tables. While more municipalities are composting food scraps, those programs also require money and energy to run.

“Reducing food waste is about food awareness,” says Martin, who offers some tips to help households reduce the amount of food they throw out: 

Manage leftovers.

Not everything you can’t eat for dinner needs to be destined for the garbage bin or composter. Martin urges Canadians to think about ways to spice up leftovers for another meal.

Shop more to waste less.

It sounds counterintuitive, but Martin says shopping more gets people into the habit of eating the food they purchase sooner, before it expires. Less shopping can lead to overbuying of food and increasing the chance it won’t be consumed.

Get a smaller fridge.

Most families opt for big fridges to stuff in as much food as possible. Martin’s research has found that food often gets forgotten in the back of a big fridge and eventually expires. Smaller fridges allow people to get a better view of what’s inside and eat it ahead of the best-before date.

Family planning.

Martin recommends including kids in the decisions on what to put on the grocery list. Giving them choices of what they want to eat for the coming days will make it easier to plan meals in advance.

Buy less to save more.

It’s human nature to buy more of something if it’s on sale, including food. The problem is when it doesn’t get eaten. “If we buy too much just to get a better price, and we end up throwing it out, we haven’t saved anything,” Martin says. “It actually costs us more.” 

Connecting waste reduction and profitability

Ensuring a sustainable agri-food industry is critical to the world’s future, but sustainability will be unattainable unless the industry is viewed as an integrated system, says Dr. Martin Gooch, CEO of VCM International, a consulting firm that helps businesses improve their profitability and competitiveness.

According to researchers, the world generates 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes of food waste annually and between 30 and 50 per cent of all food produced is wasted along the value chain. In 2010, it was estimated that Canada wastes $27-billion worth of food every year.

“We use finite resources to produce food, much of which is shipped halfway around the world merely to be wasted or thrown away,” says Dr. Gooch. “While no one goes out to purposely waste food, attitudes of perceived abundance and affluence have led to wasteful behaviour becoming part of our psyche.”

He believes three things must occur to reduce food waste. Objective action-focused research is necessary to identify what’s happening and why. An increase in consumer awareness and education can help people know how to buy, handle and store food correctly and understand the true cost of waste. and proving the connection between reducing waste and profitability will allow producers to base their decisions less on volume-related metrics and more on eliminating hidden costs and identifying missed opportunities.

– Chris Freimond