It has been estimated that food waste in Canada amounts to some 2.2 million tonnes of edible food annually at a cost of more than $17 billion. And it's not simply a problem of economics. That 2.2 million tonnes of waste converts to 9.8 million tonnes of excess CO2, or the equivalent of 2.1 million extra cars on the road—cars that are essentially sitting in idle, going nowhere fast.
This is plainly unsustainable—and considering that 4.4 million Canadians in 2017-18 (the last period for which we have data), or nearly 12 per cent of the population, is food insecure, it's also unnecessary and unacceptable. But what do we do about it? Well, the easy answer is that we can all actually eat the food we buy before it spoils, or before it degrades enough to no longer seem palatable. And maybe we could donate more, and more often, to our local Food Banks and other organizations at the forefront of the fight against hunger in Canada.
But easy answers are easy for a reason: they're usually not the best or most complete ones. To be sure, better household food management will be part of the solution, but it is not the only, or even likely the most significant, part. That's because the problem is largely systemic, requiring a systemic response.
What shape might an appropriate response take? I think it will be circular—by which I mean, the circular economy, an economic model in which products and input materials are continuously re-circulated rather than discarded. The aim of this model is to avoid waste by preserving the value of resources for as long as possible, resulting in greater efficiency and profitability, better innovation and stronger relationships with customers—and, yes, less waste and lower costs.
Anyone familiar with the "three Rs" of waste hierarchy—reduce, reuse, recycle—knows the basic concept of the circular economy isn't new. But challenges like resource availability, unpredictable growing conditions, pressures on supply and margins in food production, and changing consumer preferences all demand that we rethink inefficient and wasteful linear models in our food supply chains.