Hope for the end of food waste

Sometimes it’s all too easy to feel like an issue is too big or beyond ourselves. Environmental issues often fall into this as they can feel disconnected or beyond the scope of the individual consumer.

I’m not trying to get people down, but rather to take heart in something I like about studying food waste. In this case, the huge environmental (and social, and economic) problem is very much one of which the average consumer is a part: that is the beauty of the issue. According to a report from last year, 47% of food waste in Canada is created at the household level, making it the largest sector, as can be seen in the chart.

VCMC - Fig. 4.1

From the Value Chain Management Centre report:  “$27 Billion” Revisited

While I don’t mean to oversimplify (there are certainly structural changes which also need to occur), consumers do play a major role, as we can see from the fact that the majority of food waste occurs at the household level. The beauty of this is that we do have a great deal of power to change by altering our waste creation and disposal practices.

Perhaps I’m more talking to myself, but I think sometimes we need the sense that a difference can be made. Because so much of the waste occurs in the home, changing household behaviour can have an enormous impact. Consumers can reduce the amount of waste they create by adopting proper food storage or careful meal planning, but consumers can also create demand for less wasteful products, or buy products close to their best before date in order to cut down on retail waste. Even just being aware of food waste has shown to cut down on it.

I like to take heart in this,  that individuals have so much power in this area.  While consumers may feel overwhelmed by the need for systemic change, and it is important, I think it’s equally important to remember to start with the easy changes, including steps that de-normalize food waste. Food waste is complicated, but there are some areas of low hanging fruit, like starting with eating your leftovers and composting inevitable food scraps. The reality is that changing policy can make the food system more efficient, but that still won’t cut out food waste in homes, where so much of it occurs – that requires changes in consumer behaviour. And here’s where I think there’s so much potential: consumers have already been seen to produce less waste once they are conscious of it, and with the growing attention to our food and now the waste associated with it, I feel more confident that food waste is manageable and that we will start to see changes.