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According to the United Nations, 14 per cent of the world’s food is lost or wasted after it is harvested, and before it makes it to store shelves, and a further 17 per cent is wasted in retail stores and by consumers, especially in households. That wastage is enough to feed 1.26 billion hungry people every year. Food loss usually happens during food production, storage, processing, or distribution, whereas food waste happens at the end of the food chain, when food that is of good quality and fit for consumption is discarded. The average Canadian household wastes about 140 kg of food annually, the equivalent of throwing out more than $1,300 each year. That amounts to almost 2.3 million tons of edible food wasted each year, costing Canadians $20 billion a year. And 63 per cent of that food is still perfectly edible. That means that in 2022, Canadians wasted the equivalent of 450,000 eggs, one million cups of milk, and 2.4 million potatoes every single day. Businesses are also helping to rescue food by using Second Harvest’s website. When a business has surplus food available for donation, they create a post on the website indicating the type and amount of food that they have, and a time for pick-up. Interested organizations can claim the donation and go directly to the donor for pick-up. Through services like this one, food programs operated by social service organizations and schools receive greater access to fresh, nutritious food.

The carbon footprint of our food waste

Not only are we throwing out perfectly good food, but Canada’s food waste comes with its own carbon footprint, too. The 2.3 million tons of food we waste every year emits as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 2.1 million cars on the road! Rotting food in our landfills emits methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide89. Getting our food waste problem under control will save us time, money and energy, as well as benefit the environment by lowering our carbon footprint.

Giving new life to food waste

Farmers and food producers, particularly in the produce sector, are investing in solutions to help reduce food waste, like smart sensors and intelligent packaging that extend shelf-life. They’re also finding creative ways to find new uses for food waste:

• upcycling used café and brewery ingredients into flours, baking mixes and sustainable oils

• repurposing apple pomace — what’s left of the fruit after juice production — into a thickening agent for food production that’s also an added source of fibre

• turning spent lobster shells from seafood processing into functional, sustainable packaging that extends shelf-life

• processing cranberry seeds into a healthy oil

What’s a circular economy?

A circular economy is a different way of doing business. It’s about thinking of waste as a resource instead of a cost, and finding ways to reuse, repair, refurbish, recycle or repurpose products and material, so that as little as possible truly becomes waste.

On the farm, livestock can be fed the by-products of human food production, like distillers’ grains (waste from brewing and ethanol production); canola; soybean meal (what’s left after the oil has been removed); and beet pulp that’s left over after sugar beets are processed to extract sugar. Cattle are also being fed whole produce that isn’t appealing to consumers, such as crooked carrots, cull potatoes, etc. Farmers are also using leftover carrot peelings, and fruit rinds from food processing plants, to feed their animals, providing them with nutritional feed, while keeping the products out of landfills.