Food loss and waste

Each year in Canada a significant portion of the food that we produce is never eaten. This uneaten food can end up in landfills, where it contributes to accumulating waste and creates methane – a powerful greenhouse gas.

Learn about key terms, impacts and causes of food loss and waste, as well as solutions for reducing it.

Key terms

When food spoils or is discarded before being sold, it is considered to be food loss. For example, a piece of fruit that is damaged during transport or food items in grocery stores that spoil or become inedible before they can be sold.

Food that is purchased but never eaten becomes food waste. For example, leftovers from a meal prepared at home that are not eaten or food dishes prepared in a restaurant that are never served or are only partially eaten, but are instead sent to landfill or for composting.

Causes

There are many causes of food loss and waste such as:

  • inaccurate forecasting and inventory management leading to surplus food that cannot be consumed before it spoils
  • inadequate storage or packaging that cause food spoilage or contamination
  • discarding food scraps in the garbage instead of using compost or organics collection bins

Impacts

Not only does food loss and waste represent a waste of the natural resources that go into producing food that is never eaten; but as it decomposes in landfills, food waste creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to the warming of the planet. Preventing food waste from ending up in landfills will reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Food loss and waste also influences business and household bottom lines: when you buy only what you need and use it all up, you’re not spending money on wasted or uneaten food. Not to mention, by reducing waste, businesses and municipalities can lower the cost of managing waste.

Solutions for reducing food loss and waste

Each player in the food system – from producers and retailers, to consumers and regulators – has a role in reducing the amount of food we waste and therefore improving the sustainability of our food system. Solutions for reducing food loss and waste are ranked according to a hierarchy, as some solutions are more effective and have larger positive impacts on the sustainability of our food system than others. Canadians should first be looking for ways to reduce, recover and recycle the food waste they create, before disposing of it.

Reduce - Minimizing the quantity of food loss and waste we generate begins by taking action to reduce the amount of surplus food we produce. This means being aware of our habits as consumers and business owners – tracking the amount of food that we purchase versus the amount we consume (and what ends up in the garbage). Meal planning is a simple way to reduce your grocery budget and ensure you are consuming all that you bring home.

Recover - It is our collective responsibility to ensure that edible, surplus food does not go to waste. We can recover surplus food by donating or finding alternative markets for food that would otherwise be wasted. Food donation on an organizational scale is a great way to avoid sending food to landfills.

Recycle - All players along the food system can collect non-edible, unsold and uneaten food for home or municipal composting or for producing renewable energy through anaerobic digestion.

Canadian actions

Globally, there is a growing consensus that action is needed to address food loss and waste. Recently through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Canada, Mexico, and the United States created the North American Initiative on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery – a collaborative effort that  explores opportunities to reduce and recover food waste in North America.

At home, reducing food loss and waste falls under several Government of Canada commitments and initiatives to support action on climate change and sustainability within Canada. These include:

Under Pillar 1: Enhancing domestic mitigation, the strategy commits to begin consultation and collaboration on strategies to reduce avoidable food waste in Canada, specifically as it relates to the role of food loss and waste as a contributor to Canada’s methane emissions.

The Sustainable Food goal within the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy recognizes that reducing the methane emissions created by food waste in landfills will contribute to a sustainable agricultural system.

Tools and resources

Tools and resources to help you prevent food loss and waste wherever you are, and no matter your role within the food system.

By province and territory:

Contact us

For more information contact us at ec.ges-dechets-ghg-waste.ec@canada.ca.

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