Taking stock: Reducing food loss and waste in Canada


Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas generated following the disposal of food waste in landfills. As part of a range of activities focused on reducing methane emissions, under the Strategy on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is consulting stakeholders on strategies to reduce avoidable food loss and waste. This report is designed to support stakeholder discussions by documenting the current state of knowledge and practice in Canada regarding food loss and waste.  It was compiled to share information on existing policies, programs and initiatives currently taking place in Canada to reduce food loss and waste.

In 2015, Canada committed to the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, which sets a target to “halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses” by 2030. Reducing food loss and waste can benefit Canadians by saving them money, improving the efficiency and competitiveness of the agri-food and agriculture sector, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and will contribute to global efforts to address this issue.

Recent research estimates that 20% (or 11 million tonnes) of all the food produced in Canada annually becomes avoidable food loss or waste – food that could have been eaten, but was instead landfilled, incinerated or managed as organic waste (VCMI, 2019).   

What is food loss and waste?

Food that is grown, raised, caught, or harvested, but never eaten, is considered to be food loss and waste. For example, a piece of fruit that is damaged during transport; food items in grocery stores that spoil before they can be sold; leftovers from a meal prepared at home that are not eaten; or food dishes prepared in a restaurant that are never served and are instead discarded. The term food loss applies from the point of maturity of a crop, finishing, catch, or harvest up to, but excluding, the retail stage; whereas food waste is applied to the retail and final food preparation and consumption stages.

When food loss or food waste is disposed in landfills, it degrades over time to form methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Reducing food loss and waste prevents the generation of methane, and ensures that the energy, water, and land resources that go into growing our food are not wasted.

Hierarchy of solutions

The food recovery hierarchy describes solutions to food loss and waste that maximize environmental, economic, and social benefits by prioritizing waste reduction and recovery of food over recycling and disposal. The hierarchy provides a framework for developing solutions at many levels – from deciding how to handle household food waste to developing local, regional, and national policies.

Recovery of surplus food to feed people is not proposed as a solution to food insecurity, but instead recognizes that the highest value of food is maintained when it is consumed by people. Recovery of surplus food can involve both donation to food banks or use in commercial operations to create new food products.


Long description 

This image illustrates the hierarchy of solutions to address food loss and waste.  The most preferred solution is to reduce it by improving our operations and practices to reduce the amount we generate.  The second best solution is to recover it by donating surplus food to people that need it or by manufacturing animal feed or other food products from it.  The third best solution is to recycle it to create ingredients for products such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fertilizers, or produce biodiesel from waste oils or renewable natural gas through anaerobic digestion, or create compost from it.  The least preferred solution is to dispose of it in landfills or incinerators.

Canada's food supply chain

At a glance



Processing and packaging

Wholesale and distribution

Restaurants and other food services

Retail sales of food and beverages

Households and consumers

Food loss and waste: from farm to fork

Food loss and waste occurs throughout the entire supply chain. Reducing waste and losses at each step of the process can save Canadians money, improve the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, and help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The following sections provide a glimpse of the existing actions being undertaken to prevent food loss and waste from happening at each point in the food supply chain. Another section outlines initiatives in place to recover and redistribute surplus food from this system. A summary of proposed key action areas is provided in each section.


An estimated 13% of fruits and vegetables grown in Canada go unharvested or are discarded following harvest. A recent survey of producers noted land application, composting, anaerobic digestion and animal feed as the primary destinations for food loss at this level (VCMI, 2019).   

Why food loss happens here

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

With the intention to improve profits for farmers and fisheries, many actions have been undertaken to address the underlying root causes of food loss. Some of these include:

Key action areas

The following key action areas were identified as opportunities to reduce food loss in the food production sector:

Transport and storage

Little is documented about the quantity of food lost during transportation and storage.  Produce, meat and grain losses during transport are believed to be particularly high (Jedermann et al., 2014, Provision Coalition, 2014).

Why food loss happens here

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

As with food production, initiatives and technologies that improve efficiency can also help address root causes of food loss during transportation and storage, for example:

Key action areas

The following key action areas are opportunities to reduce food losses in the food transport and storage sector:

Packaging, processing and manufacturing

Losses at the packaging, processing and manufacturing stage vary by food commodity and processing type. For example, recent data indicates that 1% of the sugars/syrups and 10% of the produce, meat and field crops that enter facilities at this stage become avoidable food loss. Although diverting to animal feed and landfilling are common approaches to waste management in this sector, in 2015 almost 624,000 tonnes of food processing, slaughter, and rendering by-products were used as inputs to produce industrial bioproducts like biofuels, biochemicals, and biomaterials (AAFC, 2017).

Why food loss happens here

In addition to spoilage, losses during processing and packaging can occur due to:

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

Several multinational food and beverage companies with Canadian operations (including Maple Leaf Foods, McCain Foods, Kraft Heinz Canada, Unilever Canada, General Mills, Nestlé and Kellogg’s) have recently made public commitments to reduce operational food loss and waste. Smaller food processors may not have recognized how much food loss impacts their bottom line or have not made public commitments to reduce these losses.

Process optimization studies and waste assessments are used by several Canadian manufacturers to identify, track, and reduce food loss in their facilities. Provision Coalition plays a leadership role in developing tools and providing guidance to food processors on how to conduct food waste assessments, and advocates for increased awareness and education on the benefits of addressing food loss. Through their Food Waste Stakeholders Collaborative, Provision Coalition supports discussion and collaboration in addressing food loss and waste in the processing sector.

Resources have been developed to support food processors in evaluating opportunities for reducing food loss within their operations, including Provision Coalition’s Food Loss and Waste Solutions: Innovative Technologies and Best Practices,  Food Loss + Waste Toolkit, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Dashboard and workshops that support root cause analysis, monitoring, measuring and tracking at the facility level. Assessment results help companies to understand the avoidable food loss and waste, including the embedded energy, water, labour, calories and financial impacts.

Innovative technologies, such as hyperspectral imaging and pulsed light, are used by some processors to optimize sorting, extend shelf life and reduce enzymatic browning of food commodities. A number of companies, including Nestlé and Unilever, use blockchain technology (via IBM’s Foodtrust platform) to improve food traceability, which will help better target food recalls and reduce associated food loss and waste.

Funding for research and innovation: The Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Partnership), the latest federal-provincial/territorial agricultural policy framework, is a five-year investment that supports the growth, innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness of the agriculture and agri-food sector. This includes activities such as research on the commercial use of industry by-products. The Partnership replaces the 2013-2018 framework, Growing Forward 2. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has collaborated with a range of partners including industry and academia on scientific research projects, which have led to innovations in reducing food loss and waste at different stages of the supply chain.

Proposed regulatory approach: In April 2018, Ontario released its Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement that, among other actions, sets a target for industrial and commercial facilities to reduce food waste between 50 and 70% and to recover resources from this waste by 2025. The policy also indicates that large manufacturing establishments that generate more than 300 kilograms of food waste per week should identify where food waste occurs in their operations, conduct regular food waste audits to quantify the amount and type of food waste and take measures to prevent and reduce the amount of food waste that is occurring.

Key action areas

Where facility specific solutions are needed, reducing food loss will rely on the motivation of companies to measure and investigate the causes and costs of food loss within their own operations. The following key action areas are opportunities to reduce food loss in the food packaging, processing and manufacturing sector:

Wholesale and distribution

Distribution related losses appear low across most commodities, ranging from 1% (sugar/syrups and field crops) to 4% (fish and seafood) of food products that enter this stage (VCMI, 2019). Food losses may be sent to industrial composting or anaerobic digestion facilities, or disposed in landfills. De-packaging facilities can remove food that is no longer marketable from packaging and prepare it for organics processing.

Why food loss happens here

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

Inventory management: As with manufacturing, sophisticated management systems can optimize performance and reduce food waste. Linked inventory management systems (IMS) between distributors and retailers, combined with detailed knowledge of a store’s layout and automation, can reduce handling times and exposure to suboptimal temperatures. Large Canadian distributors like Sobeys and Metro have either implemented or are planning to modernize and automate their networks of distribution centres to better handle fresh and frozen goods (Canadian Grocer, 2013).

A case study published in 2017 by VCMI for the Ontario Produce Marketing Association’s Food Waste Reduction Initiative describes the short-term and long-term policy and procedural changes made by a food distribution company that resulted in reduced food losses, created savings, and increased sales.

Key action areas

Since retailers are also the largest distributors in Canada, corporate commitments to address food waste in their operations should have a significant positive impact on distribution losses.

The following key action areas are opportunities to reduce food losses in the food wholesale and distribution sector:

Retail sales

An estimated 12% of Canada’s avoidable food loss and waste occurs during the retail phase of the supply chain (VCMI, 2019).  This waste may be sent to industrial composting or anaerobic digestion facilities, or disposed in landfills. Donation of surplus food is common among the largest retailers (VCMI, 2019).

Why food waste happens here

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

Canada’s largest retailers (including Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc., Save-On-Foods, Sobeys Inc., Walmart Canada) have set food waste reduction targets (Provision Coalition, 2019). Specific initiatives undertaken by some retailers have included:

Many retailers focus on improving infrastructure and systems for donating surplus food (see Surplus Food Recovery and Redistribution), although there is less evidence of this amongst small and medium-sized food retailers.

Technological solutions have been implemented to reduce food waste at the retail level:

Educational resources:

Key action areas

Retailers can play a key role in reducing food loss and waste – influencing both their supply chains (e.g. through procurement practices) and their consumers (e.g. through marketing practices and customer food skill education). The following key action areas are opportunities to reduce food losses in the food retail sales sector:

Restaurants and other food services

Recent data collected from companies in the food service industry (including hotels, restaurants and institutions) indicates that the proportion of food purchased for sale by these establishments that becomes waste is significant – 21% of dairy, eggs and field crops, 38% of produce, and 20% of meat (VCMI, 2019). Currently, most companies addressing the issue focus on food donation, diverting from landfill, with an increasing number also identifying opportunities to reduce waste.

Why food waste happens here

Pre-consumer losses in the kitchen result from:

Post-consumer losses occur when:

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

Several large multinational restaurants and food service companies, including Aramark Canada Ltd. and Sodexo Canada, have made public commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

A number of organizations have developed resources and tools to support food waste reduction in food service operations, including:

CHU Saint-Justine, a children’s hospital in Quebec, undertook a major food services modernization, changing from a traditional heat-preserved meal service with a strict service schedule to a just-in-time system, in which food is prepared and trays are delivered at the convenience of patients.  This change increased meal satisfaction rates and lowered uneaten meal rates, resulting in significant cost savings through food waste prevention.

Key action areas

The food service sector represents a significant opportunity to reduce food waste both within operations and within households. The large number of young employees in the food service sector may be receptive to the idea of reducing food waste and capable of generating innovative solutions. Education on how to avoid food waste within the food service industry could also influence household food waste as employees become informed and challenged to address the issue.

The following key action areas are opportunities to reduce food waste in the restaurant and other food services sector:

Households and consumers

Organic and kitchen waste makes up about 30% of the waste disposed by Canadian households. Studies indicate that produce (fruits and vegetables), breads and cereals are the most wasted food groups in Canadian homes, and that most of this waste is avoidable. However, research also indicates that many consumers are unaware of the avoidable food waste that they generate (Parizeau, 2018).

Why food loss happens here

Current actions to reduce food loss and waste

Awareness and education: A number of resources have been developed by governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations to improve awareness of the causes and solutions to household and consumer food waste. Of note is the Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) Canada national awareness campaign launched in 2018 by the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC) with retail and municipal partners.

Increasing food literacy: One pillar of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy is an effort to improve the food literacy of Canadians. Improved food skills can help decrease household food waste by helping consumers to shop wisely and make the best use of the food they purchase. There are many Canadian initiatives focused on improving food literacy – one example is “Regroupement des cuisines collectives du Québec” which coordinates small collective kitchens to enable people to share time, money and skills in planning, purchasing and preparing healthy and economical dishes for their families.

Standardization and education on date labels: Improved clarity and understanding of “best before” date labels could contribute to better decision-making regarding the edibility of food and reduce premature disposal.

Packaging: Food waste can be reduced by packaging products in quantities that can be consumed within their expiry date, and in shapes that encourage full use. The Packaging Consortium has compiled a number of case studies and examples of packaging solutions that aim to reduce consumer level food waste.

Product innovations: Canadian research has focused on developing innovative approaches to prolonging shelf life including:

Key action areas

The following key action areas are opportunities to reduce food waste at the household and consumer level:

Surplus flood recovery and redistribution

Food recovery and redistribution is the process of obtaining surplus, edible food from across the supply chain and redistributing it to local food programs or commercial enterprises that can utilize this resource, maintaining the highest value of food - as nourishment for people. While recovery and redistribution of safe, surplus food that would otherwise be lost or wasted across the supply chain makes the best use of resources that have gone into growing and producing it, this activity is not proposed as a solution to address food insecurity.

Policies supporting surplus food recovery and redistribution

Tax incentives

The provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia provide tax credits or deductions for farmers to help offset the cost to harvest, package, and store food for donation. Quebec additionally provides a tax credit for donation of certain foods by food processors.

Liability protection

Every province and territory has legislation that protects companies and individuals from civil liability for harm that might be caused by donation of surplus food.

Safety requirements for donated food

Provincial and territorial laws are also designed to ensure that any food collected for redistribution meets food safety requirements.

Current actions to recover and redistribute surplus food

Organizations such as Food Banks Canada, Food Banks of Quebec and Moisson Montréal have established partnership programs with large grocers like Loblaws, Longo’s, Sobeys, Metro, and Walmart. These large retailers have developed systems and invested in refrigerated equipment to recover, store, and deliver surplus food that cannot be sold. Organizations such as Second Harvest, Feed Nova Scotia and Refresh Foods operate redistribution systems to recover surplus foods from all stages of the food supply chain. La Tablée des Chefs operates a system that recovers and redistributes surplus food from hotel, restaurant and institutional sectors. Second Harvest and Food Banks Canada rescued a combined total of almost 10 million kilograms of food in 2018.

Community refrigerators are also used in some areas across Canada to collect surplus foods from citizens and households so it can be shared with their communities.  For example, Sauve ta bouffe maintains a directory of community refrigerators in Quebec.

Second Harvest developed an on-line platform called FoodRescue.ca to facilitate the delivery of surplus food donations across Ontario by connecting food supply businesses that generate surplus food with local social service organizations and charities that can make use of the donated food.  In Quebec, a similar on-line platform called Food Exchange was developed by Food Banks of Quebec.

Resources developed to support surplus food donation include:

Other organizations and companies have focused on utilizing surplus food to create added-value products that are then either donated or sold:

Key action areas

With available guidance, and existing technologies to connect donors with recipients, donation of surplus food is one approach to making the best use of surplus food generated in the supply chain. Food redistribution is an approach that makes the best use of surplus food, but should be undertaken in parallel with efforts to reduce the generation of surplus food within a business or organization. The following key action areas are identified as opportunities to support surplus food recovery and redistribution:

Research and data

Scoping the problem

In recent years, organizations such as the Conference Board of Canada, Provision Coalition, Value Chain Management International (VCMI), National Zero Waste Council, Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) and others have conducted research to explore food loss and waste in Canada. These studies have produced estimates of the amount, value, and impact of food waste in Canada, highlighted the reasons for loss and waste, and proposed approaches for assessing and addressing root causes. These studies have been supported by a mix of public and private sector funds.

Quantifying food loss and waste

Except for audited municipal waste streams, loss and waste estimates are largely based on the extrapolation of limited data across the food sector (CEC, 2018). Data collected from the Canadian food sector in 2018 by Value Chain Management International (VCMI) has improved information on the scale of food loss and waste for specific food commodities (VCMI, 2019). Enviro-Stewards Inc. has helped a variety of businesses across Canada’s food supply chain to quantify and assess the impacts of food loss and waste within their operations, and establish realistic and practical solutions to improve their bottom line.

ECCC, AAFC, and Statistics Canada are developing a framework for data collection and measurement to support priority setting and tracking of progress over time. This framework will depend, in part, on compiling data from individual facilities and companies to generate a regional and national estimates of the flow of food loss and waste through the Canadian food supply system and into the waste management system.

The CEC published a practical guide entitled, Why And How To Measure Food Loss And Waste, that provides a step-by-step plan for how companies and governments can begin the process of measuring food loss and waste. A global accounting and reporting standard (known as the Food Loss and Waste Protocol) has also been developed to assist organizations in quantifying food loss and waste.

Researching solutions

Statistics Canada, AAFC, and several Canadian post-secondary institutions gather data and conduct primary research on food, the food sector, and consumer attitudes and behaviors towards food. Researchers at the University of Guelph have conducted both waste characterization studies and household interviews to try to identify trends and reasons for the creation of food waste. Other research focuses on new products and process improvements to increase efficiencies and create new markets for the food sector.

Other research has focused on identifying systemic problems and solutions. These include both private sector (VCMI, 2019) and post-secondary research (MacCrea, 2019). Université Laval has examined legal aspects related to food waste in Canada, including food donations, food labeling, and the impact of legislation and industry safety standards on food waste in the fresh produce sector (IICA and Laval, 2018).

Collaboration between food waste researchers is emerging – the University of Guelph Food Waste Research Group hosted a “Building a Research Agenda for Reducing Food Waste in Ontario” event in 2016 that brought together companies, policy makers, and academics to discuss priorities for action.

Key action areas

As an emerging issue, research and data gathering on food loss and waste will benefit from collaboration between research organizations in Canada. Sharing work plans and discussing ideas for research needs will avoid duplication of efforts and ensure that scarce research budgets have the greatest impact possible. The following key action areas are identified as opportunities to support research and data on food loss and waste in Canada:

Collaborative efforts

Who else is involved and how are they connected?

Food loss and waste is not a new issue. Although many governments, non-government organizations and companies have begun collaborating to better understand and address the problem, opportunities remain to expand and strengthen these efforts.


Government initiatives can promote collaboration on issues like food loss and waste through setting high level reduction targets, consulting on strategies and policy approaches, and by directing funding towards projects that support collaboration in different areas – from research through to public education.

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) has traditionally played a role in promoting a coordinated approach for provincial and territorial authorities on waste issues through the Waste Reduction and Recovery Committee. Organic waste has been one area of focus in recent years.

Provincial commitments to reduce food waste include:

Several municipalities have taken a leading role in developing goals and implementing activities to reduce food waste within their boundaries. These include the City of Toronto’s Long Term Waste Strategy, Metro Vancouver’s Regional Food System Action Plan, and York Region’s Food Waste Reduction Strategy.  The issue of food waste also falls within the mandate of food policy councils developed in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities supports municipalities in efforts to improve the management of organic (including food) waste. They provide funding for emerging organic waste management technologies and are a hub for resources such as examples of bylaws for landfill organics bans and zero waste strategies.

The Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) – a network of Western North American jurisdictions (including British Columbia and Vancouver), have committed to a regional goal of halving food waste by 2030. In 2018, PCC partners invited leaders from the food product and retail industries to collaborate with west coast jurisdictions to:

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation has supported collaboration between Canada, the United States and Mexico through completion of several reports and projects focused on food loss and waste. Most recently, this collaboration engaged experts from all three countries to establish a practical guide on Why and How to Measure Food Loss and Waste and a Food Matters Action Kit to support youth engagement in reducing food waste.

The 2019 federal budget allocated resources for a new initiative to reduce food loss and waste in Canada. This included a $20 million fund for a Food Waste Reduction Challenge to foster innovative solutions for reducing food loss and waste in the food processing, grocery retail, and food service sectors. Additional resources were allocated to enable AAFC to lead federal action on food loss and waste, including efforts to reduce food waste within federal government operations.  

Non-governmental and industry organizations

Canada has an array of food, packaging, and waste reduction associations, with mandates ranging from information-sharing to governance and self-regulation. Several of these have taken a leading role in identifying food loss and waste as an issue relevant to their sectors including:

Key action areas

Governments have had a role in the regulation of food production and trade throughout history and are relied upon to help ensure a secure supply, public health and safety, affordability, and environmental and economic sustainability.  All orders of government – federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal – have authority over matters that can directly or indirectly influence the creation of food loss and waste. This represents an opportunity to identify particular policy and regulatory barriers and levers that could reduce food loss and waste in Canada. Several of these issues – food safety, transportation bottlenecks, limitations on human resources, and waste management – have already been recognized as areas of opportunity, but others may exist. Governments also have important roles to play regarding awareness-raising and education.

Existing government-industry interfaces such as AAFC’s Value Chain Roundtables touch on many of the possible solutions, impacts, and root causes of food loss and waste in the supply chain, including innovation, environmental impact, and transportation infrastructure. Appropriate government-industry interfaces could be leveraged to facilitate focused discussions on food loss and waste.

Industry organizations are well placed to leverage sector expertise to identify appropriate solutions and encourage adoption, where business cases exist. Enhanced engagement of industry associations could support increased awareness of the issue throughout the supply chain.

Appropriate geographic collaborations – like the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) – could be beneficial, recognizing the regional nature of activities at some levels of the supply chain (production, processing) and the national scope of others (transport, distribution).


Where do we go from here?

The early leadership shown by both private and public sector organizations to conduct research, to develop tools and approaches, and to begin engaging companies in the food system, provide a solid foundation for the next steps towards reducing Canada’s food loss and waste.


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National Zero Waste Council, 2018. A Food Loss and Waste Strategy for Canada.

Parizeau, 2018. Existing public opinion research on consumer food waste in Canada. Kate Parizeau, University of Guelph.

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VCMI, 2010. Food Waste in Canada. Value Chain Management International.

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VCMI, 2019. The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Technical Report. Value Chain Management International and Secord Harvest.

Annex: Canadian guidance and educational resources to support food loss and waste reduction

Guidance and resources developed for businesses and municipalities




Food service

Food donation

Household and consumers

Web resources developed to support improved household and consumer awareness






British Columbia

Educational resources on food waste developed for youth and schools

North America

National - English

National - French


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