Canadians are among the world's most well-fed people — so much so that we're wasting billions of dollars worth of edible food a year, mostly coming from our homes, according to a study.
The Cut Waste, Grow Profit draft report from the Ontario-based Value Chain Management Centre (VCMC) suggests that more than half (51 per cent) of the estimated $27 billion of food wasted countrywide ends up as unwanted leftovers dropped into household trash bins.
Expectations for larger portion sizes, confusion about safe consumption and sell-by dates, and the low cost to households of over-purchasing and wasting food were among factors blamed for the wasteful behaviour.
"The food waste that occurs in Canada is largely a symptom of current processes and attitudes, primarily of abundance and affluence," the unpublished paper states.
The VCMC is an extension of the independent agri-products think-tank the George Morris Centre, and provides annual research about food waste.
Food waste, as defined by the draft report, is the loss and disposal of food that's perfectly fit for human consumption. The group released the paper ahead of the forthcoming Cut Waste, Grow Profit forum on Nov. 19 in Mississauga, Ont.
The chart provided in the background document points out that the second-worst area of food waste is via packaging and processing (blamed for 18 per cent of lost food), followed by retail stores (11 per cent), the farming stage (nine per cent), the food service industry (eight per cent) and transport and distribution (three per cent).
Last month, the U.S. Natural Resources Defence Council estimated that nearly 40 per cent of food in the States ends up in the trash ever year. The figures are roughly in line with recent estimates of how much Canadians throw away.
According to 2011 figures from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly one-third of all food is lost or wasted, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of food per year.
"Most troubling about the massive volumes of food we waste is that it could help compensate for the needs of those who do not have enough," the draft report states. About 860 million people in the world are malnourished, according to a study published by the Stockholm International Water Institute.
According to Statistics Canada figures, in 2009, the per capita wastage of edible food at the retail and consumer levels for the items for the food groups listed below was about 172 kg. That's roughly equal to the weight of a fully grown adult male lion. The breakdown for what and how much we wasted was as follows:
- 122 kg total fresh and processed fruits and vegetables.
- 6 kg of dairy projects.
- 10 kg of poultry (boneless).
- 16 kg of red meats (boneless).
- 18 kg of oils, fats, sugar and syrup.
The VCNC document also provided examples of British, American and Canadian food waste-reduction initiatives. In Canada, for example, the Montreal Urban Community Sustainment group's Zero Food Waste Network picked up "surplus food" from local businesses and passed it on to local food banks. Unfortunately, that organization has ceased operation, the VCNC said.