Food waste is a major problem. Can collaboration solve it?

Food loss and waste has been an issue for years. Canada's Zero Waste Council estimates more than a third of the food it produces goes to waste, and the numbers are similar in the U.S. and elsewhere. To put it in dollar terms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put the price tag on food waste in the U.S. in 2016 at $161 billion. The Zero Waste Council this week released an updated strategy for food waste reduction. And while it calls for a nationwide collaborative effort, many pieces of the plan could be adapted by cities, or included in food recovery and donation programs already in place in many communities. — Doug Peeples


The Zero Waste Council's latest food reduction plan, A Food Loss and Waste Strategy for Canada, calls for several changes in the way food is handled and distributed as well as in the way those activities are regulated.

The plan's goal is an ambitious one: cut food waste in half by 2030, a goal very similar to a target recommended for the U.S. by the USDA and EPA in 2015. But what stands out in the Canadian plan is the extent of collaboration the Zero Waste Council says is essential for significant reductions in food waste to be achieved.

"More than a third of the food Canada produces never gets eaten," said Malcolm Brodie, chair of the Zero Waste Council. "Half of this waste occurs on the supply side, and the rest at home. Though many food waste reduction activities are already underway, they are mostly happening in isolation from each other. We can achieve far greater success through collaboration and a unified vision for change."

The food waste strategy and the research that led up to it was the result of a cooperative effort between the Zero Waste Council, city officials, government and environmental organizations and hundreds of participants from the agri-food sector.

That level of collaboration across a broad range of stakeholders will be essential if the strategy is to be successful, as the food and waste strategy report's recommendations make clear:

  • Federal government to actively support a national food loss and waste reduction target of 50% by
  • 2030
  • Introduction of new regulations clarifying “best before” labelling
  • Improved inventory management at businesses and large institutions
  • Upgraded food service tracking and distribution
  • Remove barriers to heighten recovery of leftover safe and nutritious food through gleaning and
  • charitable networks
  • Eliminate financial, legal and policy obstacles surrounding food donations
  • Increased collaboration between government, businesses, retailers and community organizations

Environmental benefits, too
In addition to the obvious benefits of food waste reduction, earlier research from the Zero Waste Council found that a combination of food waste reduction in homes and businesses, keeping food waste out of landfills and sustainable waste management practices could bring about significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.