On April 12th the Provision Coalition hosted Canada’s 2017 Food Loss + Waste Forum. The day was full of interesting facts and important discussions around food waste. It was inspiring to see representatives of so many different companies and organizations taking an interest in food waste reduction.
A conversation, led by author Johnathan Bloom, with an expert industry panel offered many interesting insights. Sonya Fiorini (Sr. Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, Loblaw Companies Canada) and Christine Bome (Senior Director of Public Affairs, Walmart Canada) both explained that they were proud of the changes their companies had made to forecasting and ordering in their supply chains. This means that the margin of error on orders of products can be decreased which therefore decreases the amount of unsold product and inevitable food waste. When asked why her company was interested in food waste reduction Helen Anne Hudson (Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Burnbrae Farms Ltd) described it best by saying that her company was looking for a win-win. Food waste reduction is a worth while win for companies. By reducing waste, they save money, and by reducing waste companies also lessen their negative environmental impact. In the highly competitive business world where the bottom line is key but positive customer perceptions of a company are vital, employing food waste reduction initiatives should be an easy decision.
Andrew Shakman, Co-Founder and CEO of LeanPath, lead a big picture discussion of how food waste occurs on the large scale and inside the home. He offered an insightful discussion on the “romance of compost.” This romance makes us willing to excuse food waste because we associate compost with doing something good. In reality, compost falls very low on the waste reduction strategy. The adage reduce, reuse, recycle is hierarchical. Reduction at the source is the first priority to deal with waste, then reuse and finally disposal in the form of recycling – which composting can be described as a form of.
The talks for the day concluded with an address from Dr. Martin Gooch (VCM International) who discussed, among other things, the importance of packaging in reducing food waste. Furthermore, an industry representative, Terry Grill (Director Sustainability-Americas, Sealed Air Corporation) provided data on how packaging can improve this shelf life significantly for many food products. One of her slides is included below.
This slide shows the changes in consumer buyer patterns once information is provided on how packaging can increase the shelf life of a cucumber.
Dr. Gooch also highlighted that the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced by food waste is significantly higher than the GHGs produced by plastic manufacturing. This was an interesting discussion and seemed to make the audience reevaluate their opinions of packaging. Despite this, I believe a more fulsome discussion and investigation of packaging versus food waste is needed. A full life cycle analysis of plastics that are and are not recycled should be considered when comparing environmental impacts of various products. Concerns over garbage issues such as the continually growing great Pacific garbage patch repeatedly floated to mind during these final talks. Ultimately, this is a complicated discussion that warrants further consideration and research.
(Mychal-Ann is a PhD. Candidate at the University of Guelph who researches restaurant food waste with UGSRP)