Montreal, February 15, 2023 — Équiterre is unveiling the results of its new study today on how to reduce the amount of packaging used by Canada’s food retailers. The key takeaway is that providing zero waste options is a collective solution that can and must be implemented quickly.
The study, conducted between May 2021 and December 2023, focuses on the realities faced by grocery stores and the food packaging and distribution industry. It included a survey to better understand Canadians’ behaviours and preferences with regards to zero waste practices.
Équiterre’s report contains a number of recommendations, including legislative measures, to propel the transition of Canada’s food retailers toward zero waste practices. The priority must be tackling overpackaging, because too often, products are overpackaged rather than packaged based on what’s necessary to protect the product.
False resistance to change
The food industry sees many obstacles to adopting a true zero-waste system, for both food production and distribution. And rightly so; moving ahead with such practices will require a number of significant logistical changes. But according to industry stakeholders interviewed for the study, the main impediment to change is public buy-in.
We can’t count on the industry to change its practices, without legal or regulatory constraints. The COVID-19 pandemic forced certain zero waste practices that were taking hold to be pulled back. The time is now to bring them back.
Équiterre’s Canada-wide survey reveals that 40.6% of Canadians are already using zero waste practices, mainly for fruits and vegetables (54%), dry foods (35%) and fresh produce (35%). The public has clearly already begun the transition. Since the vast majority of the population (78%) shop for groceries at large grocery chains, shifting to zero waste practices could be a growth opportunity for Canada’s food retailers.
“To achieve short-term results, specific binding targets must be set. France, a leader in this area, will be implementing a number of measures in the coming years, including a requirement that food retailers larger than 400 m2 dedicate 20% of their store to bulk sales by 2030,” explains Amélie Côté.
An established practice that has been in place for over 200 years
Certain zero-waste methods have existed for decades. Among the best known is the multi-use refillable beer bottle, introduced in Quebec in 1808. But a lack of support has caused their use to plummet. In 2009, 83% of Quebec beer was bottled in reusable glass containers. By 2017 that figure was down to 32%, and this downward trend continues to this day.
Canadians are more than ready to see zero-waste systems expanded and rolled out on a large scale. It is high time for food retailers to get on board.
Équiterre would also like to see the zero waste model extended to other types of food offerings, specifically in the hotel, restaurant and institutional sectors. Myriad opportunities to implement reusable packaging and container systems are there for the seizing.
The results of the report will be unveiled this evening at 6:30 by Amélie Côté, Équiterre’s Analyst in Reduction at the source, during a panel discussion at the Maison du développement durable. She will be joined by Virginie Francoeur, Assistant Professor in the Mathematics and Industrial Engineering Department at Polytechnique Montréal, and by actor Cynthia Wu-Maheux.
To carry out this research, Équiterre received funding under the Contributions Program for Non-Profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.