Earlier this April, the Provision Coalition, in partnership with Canada's National Zero Waste Council and Packaging Consortium (PAC), hosted the Food Loss + Waste Forum to share opportunities that are readily available in the marketplace to address the challenges posed by food waste. Experts from several organizations across the food value chain shared their thoughts, experience, challenges and strategies for tackling food waste. Anthesis’ Curtis Harnanan attended the Food Loss + Waste Forum and decided to share the key learning points he took away from the event.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that a third of global food production is wasted, with around half of this total discarded solely in the US. A similar dilemma is faced by Canada, with a 2014 report by Value Chain Management International estimating the annual value of food waste and losses in Canada to be $31 billion - the equivalent of 40% of all food produced in Canada.
Food waste doesn’t only contribute to environmental issues such as GHG emissions and water consumption, but also raises a number of social and economic concerns. Almost 4 million Canadians experience food insecurity, and approximately 860,000 rely on food banks each month – 28% higher than 2008.
Unarguably, food loss and waste is a prevalent issue that affects a number of areas across the entire food value chain. After my attendance at the Food Loss + Waste Forum, six key messages emerged:
1 - Measurement is the first step
No matter where you are in the food value chain, the first step towards managing and reducing food waste is quantification and measurement. This will help you to understand how much food waste is being generated, where it is being generated, and the costs associated with this waste. Measuring food waste will guide you towards the most significant opportunities for reduction, and provide the necessary insight for identifying, prioritizing and implementing the most effective solution.
2 - Food waste reduction leads to business value
Even if you ignore the environmental and social benefits of reducing food waste, there is a tremendous economic potential that is difficult to overlook. ReFed’s roadmap indicates that in the US alone there is a $77 billion economic value annually.
It’s not a new concept that businesses could achieve tangible financial benefits from optimizing materials, energy and streamlining their operations. For instance, by assessing food waste in their operations, two Canadian-based bakeries identified between 63-265 tons of food waste per year, which, if addressed, will provide annual cost savings between $125,000-$725,000. In a separate example provided by Andrew Shakman, there is approximately $40,000-$100,000 of food wasted at the pre-consumer level, attributed to overproduction, food safety concerns and over-merchandizing of food.
However, while the economic benefits are attractive, several companies still choose to take action that benefits society and communities, which in turn helps to strengthen their reputation and brand. The Campbell Company generated $250,000 from re-purposing peaches into creating salsa that would otherwise have been sent to landfill. Through a partnership with the Food Bank of South Jersey, all proceeds from the salsa sales benefited nine hunger relief programs. Similarly, retailers such as Loblaw and Walmart Canada have programs that seek to divert edible food from landfills through partnerships with Food Banks and food distribution agencies like Second Harvest.
3 - Technology can be a key enabler
With numerous software and systems available, technology can be employed across the value chain to reduce food waste. Within the supply chain, it may be used to help in optimize transportation and distribution; for food processors, it could provide chemical imaging and mapping of food products to assess the quality; at a retailer and food service level, donation matching software can ‘connect individual food donors with recipient organizations to reach smaller-scale food donations’; and for consumers, it can be used to educate and encourage behavioral change via social media channels.
4 - Consumer education is essential
While food loss and waste occurs across the value chain, the most significant amount of food waste produced is at a consumer level. Value Chain Management International’s report estimates that 51% of food waste occurs in Canadian households, and maps the remainder across the value chain as follows:
In comparison, 43% of food waste occurs at household level in the US, as well as 85% of food waste in total produced post-harvest.
Source: ReFed website.
The root cause of waste at the consumer level is a lack of awareness, which often leads to misinformed decisions about food safety and quality, and ultimately results in the disposal of perfectly edible food. There are also a number of social factors, such as perceptions around ordering food in large quantities and the preparation of food, which feed into this issue.
Education on food waste to help change perceptions and behaviors is key to reducing waste among this segment of the value chain. Luckily, we’re starting to see numerous examples of education around food waste taking place. In 2015, Metro Vancouver launched a three-year campaign - Love Food Hate Waste (based on WRAP’s campaign in the UK) - to help reduce avoidable household food waste. Similarly, within the pending National Food Waste Reduction Strategy, Canada’s National Zero Waste Council proposes three actions to support consumer behavioral change:
- Consumer-oriented waste reduction campaigns,
- Educational materials on food scrap separation to divert food waste from landfill, and
- Educational and communicative materials to support the charitable donation of nutritious food.
However, whilst consumer education remains a priority, there is still an outstanding need for clearer language and consistency on food date labelling (e.g. "sell-by,” “best-by,” “use-by,” and “best before”). This could more accurately support consumer choices and reduce the premature disposal of fresh food.
5 - Source reduction is among the most effective actions
According to the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, reducing the amount of food surplus at its source is the most preferable option, and produces the largest net of environmental benefits. The ReFed Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste indicates that the reduction of food surplus could yield annual savings of 9.7 MT CO2e GHG emissions and 1.2 T gallons of water.
Source: US Environmental Protection Agency, Food Recovery Hierarchy
6 - Guidance and tools are available
Many organizations and groups have been developing solutions, guidance and tools to support measurement and standardize action. The Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard, as well as the Provision Coalition’s Food Waste Reduction Toolkit, are both good starting points for measuring your food waste. ReFed has developed a roadmap of 27 solutions to support an annual 20% reduction in food waste for the United States, and is about to launch a Food Waste Innovation Database.
So, what does this all mean?
While food waste is a large, but solvable, problem, it makes sense to tackle the issue on all levels: it drives profits and value for business, it creates jobs, relieves hunger among the disadvantaged and reduces significant environmental impacts.
How much food waste does your business produce? What are the key sources of food loss and waste for your business? What are the sustainability and financial impacts to your business? What types of solutions should be implemented to manage and reduce your food waste?
If you need answers to these questions, we can help!
Anthesis provides practical help to those looking to establish the business case for food waste reduction. By evaluating the true cost of waste, drawing up action plans to tackle waste, creating a legacy and driving long term change, we can partner with you for every step of your food waste journey, providing you with the independent view required to analyze your product-level data from the ground up.