While researching organic waste collection programs across Canada I found this photo:
This photo made me disconcerted. It was from a presentation given at a conference entitled, “On the Road to Zero Waste: How Two of North America’s Leaders are Succeeding.” Nova Scotia was being held up as a shining example of how to crack down on waste. The province certainly has been a forerunner in waste by banning all compostable and recyclable materials from landfill. One huge area where regulations have made an impact is in the commercial sector. Many municipalities have good success with residents adopting the organic waste “green cart,” but the commercial sector can be a whole other story. That’s why this photo is included in the presentation, and I get it – it’s not always easy to get businesses to participate in waste diversion programs. But what irks me about the photo is she is happily throwing away what appear to be completely safe and tasty Timbits.
We don’t like seeing food become waste. However, that doesn’t mean we just squirm a little in our seats thinking about food in landfill and then pat ourselves (or Tim Horton’s) on the back for ‘doing the right thing’ and composting like in this photo. Composting is better than the landfill, but it isn’t a panacea: it doesn’t erase the energy, time, labour, and money that went into producing the food. Municipal composting isn’t free, and large scale composting facilities have steep financial and environmental costs. Seeing composting as the best solution ignores the waste hierarchy that most municipalities across Canada hold as the guide to waste reduction and management.
Diversion is good, but it isn’t the best option and municipalities seem to pay lip service to waste prevention and reuse (or food sharing and donation) while directing finances and energy into composting. Municipalities direct residents not first to reduction or sharing or even the backyard composter or worm bin but to the municipal program.The City of Kingston’s website says “If you can eat it, it can go in the Green Bin.” Really the message should be if you can eat it, eat it, then feed your animals or worms your organic non-edibles. Food that is unspoiled is better off in the compost than the landfill, but one step better is for it not to be created and if there is potential waste the first option to be explored should be revaluing as food (although one could make a case that Timbits are hardly food to begin with). Keeping in line with the waste hierarchy businesses and residents should firstly try to reduce the excess they produce, but when there is unspoiled food about to be thrown out they should put it to use, with food banks willing to accept it or organizations like Second Harvest that use food rescue as a means to combat hunger.
When we stop congratulating businesses for the edible food they compost and instead prevent it from winding up in the waste bin at all, multiple problems are solved at once. Businesses save money by reducing their waste, improve their reputation by helping out the needy, less energy and money is spent on waste transportation and processing, and those in need don’t go hungry. Metro Vancouver has issued a ban similar to Nova Scotia; however, it is making a point of directing businesses to organizations that accept food donations as well as protecting and informing businesses about legality of donating food. Efforts like those in Metro Vancouver offer some hope that a shift is coming. It is time that food waste realities line up with our supposed priorities, to put our money where our mouths are…or perhaps food waste where our mouths are.