According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.” In Canada, up to 40% of all food produced is wasted, of which 30% doesn’t even make it onto store shelves and 47% is wasted by consumers! According to Global Gâchis, a program about food waste on Ici Explora, “Food thrown away by producers, distributors and consumers in Western countries could feed the hungry people on the planet, seven times over.” The average Quebec household throws out 194 kg of food every year—around $771 worth. That’s two and a half times more than in the U.S. In Canada, $27 billion of food disappears every year, or approximately 2% of Canada’s gross domestic product.
See how can we change these sad statistics that earned Quebecers the title of Champion Food Wasters in the media in 2013 (Proulx, 2013).
REDUCE FOOD WASTE AT SOURCE
The food industry—producers, processors and distributors—is often blamed and could, in many cases, improve its practices by implementing simple initiatives:
- Change the expiry date system. In France, perishable food products have two dates: a best-before date and a use-by date (indicates when food is no longer safe to eat).
- Sell outdated food to tackle food waste and educate people about expiry dates. This way, no one needs to feel bad about taking surplus food, because rather than being given away, it’s sold at very low prices.
- Stop destroying outdated food that’s still safe to eat and give people access to dumpsters, often jam-packed with edible treasure! Read about a Mum who filled four grocery bags with food in perfect condition from dumpsters.
BIG CHAINS CAN DO THEIR SHARE
A few major supermarket chains in Quebec are making an effort to reduce food waste. Loblaws, for example, has developed a pilot project with the Moisson Montréal food bank to redistribute nearly expired food to people most in need rather than throwing it out. Due to its success, the project has expanded and other food banks in Quebec now receive tons of supermarket food from Maxi, Loblaws, Provigo, Métro and Super C. This saves tens of thousands of kilos of food every year. Five IGA Louise Ménard supermarkets in Greater Montreal manage their stock efficiently to minimize food waste, and several prepare food onsite with consumable unsold food products or donate them. According to Louise Ménard, grocers have a lot of responsibility when it comes to consumer food waste. “We have to stop making you buy six oranges to get a discount when you only need two,” she says. “Quebec should draw on the European model of stock management and move away from the North American focus on bulk buying and the tendency to ‘Think Big.’”
Food waste has other lesser-known impacts: it also damages the “environment by generating unnecessary emissions, increasing water consumption and reducing biodiversity due to farmland expansion.”
CONSUMERS HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY TOO
Yes, the industry has a key role to play, but we consumers also have to take responsibility for the large-scale food waste occurring in industrialized countries. According to the Sauve ta bouffe [Save your food] website) “47% of food waste occurs in households—on average 95 to 115 kg a year. North American and Europeans believe they only waste 1% to 5% of the food they take home, but actually throw away 14% to 25%!”
It’s time for a little soul searching if we want to change our consumption patterns. The goal? To let common sense guide us—not the grocery store flyers and special offers encouraging us to buy more or the expiry dates on yogurt containers.
- Become a food waste warrior. Check out these tips for reducing food waste. (French only)
- Make meals using leftovers: decide what food in the fridge needs to be used up, and adapt a recipe to include it, or make up a recipe—and don’t forget to spice it up! Remember, presentation is important too. Simple leftover meal ideas: soups, smoothies and sauces
- Get into the habit of freezing.
- Organize your fridge. When you get back from the grocery store, put the freshest food at the back of the fridge and the oldest food at the front so you remember to use it.
- Don’t throw things out too quickly! “Best before” dates do not guarantee product safety. However, they do give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods you are buying.
- Why not set up a community fridge in your neighbourhood?
More information, tools and tips
- Tons of tips and useful information for reducing food waste—in the fridge, at home and when grocery shopping (French only)
- Special feature on food waste on Ici Explora: Global gâchis (global waste)
- New app aiming to reduce food waste in Montreal
- Food waste facts
- Food waste news
- Want to try dumpster diving? Check out this edible dumpster map of Montreal
- Read about UK-based Love Food hate waste: Tips for reducing waste, recipes.