REPORT: Food Waste in Canada

In Canada, the equivalent of 30 to 40 percent of the food produced is lost along the value chain, with much of it finding its way to landfill or composting.

This food waste is worth an estimated $27 billion each year. This indicates that significant opportunities exist for businesses along food value chains to streamline their operations, reduce food waste, and increase profit, while making better use of scarce resources, managing risk, and reducing their environmental footprint. Despite recent initiatives by companies and industry associations, the Canadian agri-food industry lacks a coordinated approach to addressing food waste.

The Canadian agri-food industry lacks a coordinated approach to addressing food waste.

In September 2013 Provision Coalition commissioned researchers at the Ivey Business School and Value Chain Management Centre to map the food waste challenge in the context of Ontario’s and Canada’s agri-food industry. Specifically, the project aimed to

• Define the nature of the food waste problem, its sub-issues and root causes;

• Identify the key entities influencing food waste in Canada; and

• Identify high level, strategic next steps for addressing food waste in Canada.

The research process was initiated and managed by the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS). This study is intended as input to a food waste working group to develop a coordinated strategy for tackling the food waste challenge in Canada.

The data for this study was obtained from three sources: 1) a literature review, 2) interviews with key stakeholders, and 3) a working session in which stakeholders validated a problem map and stakeholder map, and also identified key issues and opportunities for addressing the problem of food waste in Canada.

Key Findings

1. There is no clear commonly agreed upon definition of food waste in Canada and, therefore, no common measures of food waste and its impact on businesses and the environment.

2. Food waste is not a high priority for many businesses. The primary reason for this is that most businesses do not know the amount of food that they waste and its real impact on profitability.

3. Pioneers in reducing food waste tend to be larger businesses with more sophisticated management systems, more resources, and more stringent corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandates.

4. There is currently not enough data on where food waste occurs in Canada and the causes of food waste. The food waste problem map (within the report, Table 1) summarizes the study’s findings on where and why food waste occurs along the value chain in Canada, food waste hot spots, and the individuals and organizations that can help reduce the waste at each stage of the value chain.

Food waste arises at all levels of the value chain, with the consumer being the largest contributor.

Food waste arises at all levels of the value chain, with the consumer being the largest contributor. While different factors influence food waste at the various stages of the value chain, the root causes of food waste can be classified into the following five major categories:

• Human behaviour (consumers, employees, and managers);

• Time-limited biological reality of food – particularly of fresh and unpackaged food;

• Limitations of technology or lack of advanced technology, equipment, packaging, etc.;

• Risk perception and risk avoidance, among businesses and consumers; and

• Unintended consequences of regulation.

Click to download the full report, Developing an Industry Led Approach to Addressing Food Waste in Canada
The Provision Coalition is an advocate and partner, committed to working with its members, all sectors of the food and beverage industry and all levels of government, to make food and beverage manufacturers more sustainable, more competitive and more successful.