Food waste. It’s something I’ve thought about more and more in the past several years. It slowly started to dawn on me that I was throwing out a lot of food, especially fresh (or not so fresh anymore) produce. And that all the produce that was going into the garbage (more recently the green bin for composing) was costing me money.
When I thought about it some more, I realized that resources were being wasted too.
- The water used to grow the crops.
- The fertilizers and pesticides applied on the fields to grow the food I wasn’t eating.
- The fuel used in the machinery to harvest the food.
- The materials used to produce the packaging for the food, and the energy to power the plant that makes the packaging.
- The gas in the trucks that transports the food from Southern Ontario, or California, or Mexico, to my grocery store in Ottawa.
Once I really thought about it, the waste was so much bigger than the uneaten or spoiled food that was going into the garbage.
Scary, right? But do you know the scariest part? I am not alone. I am, in fact, perfectly ordinary. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), North American consumers waste an average of 115kg (253lbs) of food each year. That’s per person! That’s just the food that we bring home from the store.
The price tag attached to this food waste? In Canada, it’s $1,500 per household each year. Think of the vacation your family could enjoy with that money. Or the day camps for your kids. Or how much faster you could pay off your student loan…
In Canada, this consumer food waste accounts for almost half of all food wasted. Half! And it adds up. To $14.6 billion annually wasted by consumers in Canada alone.
But food waste isn’t limited to the consumer.
Farms account for 10% of the waste, most of it from fruits and vegetables. This can be due to:
- rejecting produce that isn’t “pretty” enough for consumers;
- fruits and vegetables that are the wrong size (too big or too small for that basket of peaches, too long for the bunch of carrots, etc.);
- produce that is too ripe to be transported across the country; and
- produce being trimmed to fit the bag (think outer stems of celery stalks, outer leaves of heads of romaine to make romaine hearts).
Food wastes is costly to us all. It adds about 10% to your grocery bill.
If we stopped throwing out food, the average Canadian household would save $1,500 per year. If food waste in all the stages from farm to retail were eliminated, we would spend about 10% less buying it in the first place.
The cost of food waste extends beyond our pocketbooks. It takes a toll on the environment too. Resources such as water go in to growing food that ultimately doesn’t get eaten. Globally, the amount of water used to produce food that doesn’t get eaten is equal to the amount of water flow of the Volga River, the largest river in Europe.
And where does the food we toss out end up? Most of it ends up in landfills, where it breaks down and emits greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane. So much food ends up in landfills that this is a major source of methane production worldwide. With all the concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, isn’t it crazy that we could all help reduce them simply by wasting less food?
The fact that almost half of food waste occurs at the consumer level is actually good news. It means you have the power to reduce food waste. You don’t have to wait for businesses or government to act. You can waste less food. You control what you buy and what you throw away. You can save $1,500 per year for your family, and help the environment at the same time. Now that’s a win-win.
Next week I’ll share some tips on how you can reduce your food waste (and save money).