New zero-waste grocery store opens in Montreal

The latest food waste reduction strategy to come out of Montreal is a grocery store that aims to operate on a “zero-waste” policy. Located in the Rosemont area, Méga Vrac sells food in bulk and does not offer any products that are packaged. Instead, the store asks that customers bring their own containers to fill with purchases.

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Image: The Canadian Grocer

Food packaging is a major contributor to waste, as food it often sold in packages that are too large for people to consume. However, with stores such as Méga Vrac, customers can choose the amount they need while avoiding excess packaging that food is usually found in.

Previously, the store was not zero-waste but co-owner, Ahlem Belkheir said she was inspired to transform it because her customers were already bringing in their own containers. She saw an opportunity for change as she realized the demand for zero-waste existed. Belkheir also is focussing on preventing waste at its source by bringing their own barrels and containers to their suppliers.

Belkheir told The Canadian Grocer that she is not wary of competing zero-waste stores, because she believes everyone – including other grocery stores – should be working towards reducing waste as well.  “Our lives should become zero waste.”

Read more about Méga Vrac here.

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Copenhagen introduces mandatory separation of household food waste

Copenhagen has introduced a new, mandatory system of household food waste separation. By providing all households, regardless of size or location, with a bucket and biodegradable bags, the city hopes to reduces the amount of food that ends up in landfills. Previously, participation in food waste separation was voluntary and residences were not provided with buckets or bags.

The separated food waste will be collected by city workers and processed at a biogas plant. The byproduct will then be used as fertilizer on farmer’s fields. City officials are confident that the new plan will be readily accepted among Copenhagen residences, as Danish people are already very environmentally aware. Many people separate food waste already without any forceful regulations.

Morten Kabell, the city’s deputy mayor for technical and environmental issues, told Danish news site CPH Post that “Copenhageners are very good at taking responsibility for the environment and climate. We see that with all the people riding their bicycles to work in the wind and rain. So I think we can get a lot of Copenhageners to sort more of their waste if we make it simple and manageable for them.”

You can read more on the new policy here.

Sustain Ontario launches household food waste toolkit

As the majority of Canada’s food waste occurs in the household, some of the most effective waste reduction strategies focus on the individual. In support of this idea, Sustain Ontario has released its second Food Waste Toolkit, a guide for municipalities and regional governments, food policy councils, NGOs and community groups. It contains information on existing initiatives as well as opportunities to reduce food waste at the household level.

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Canadians waste more food at the household level than any other sector.
Image: Sustain Ontario.

The online toolkit seeks to help communities in maximizing food waste reduction, offers economic benefits to local economies and facilitates partnerships with actors across sectors.

Read more about the toolkit as well as Sustain Ontario’s other food waste initiatives here.

Food waste, insects and urban gardens at the Feeding 9 billion challenge

From Saturday, September 17th to the following Sunday, students from the University of Guelph worked tirelessly to develop a tangible solution to food insecurity. The event, called the Feeding 9 billion Challenge, was originally developed by Guelph Professor Evan Fraser and has spread to universities across the country. Over the course of the weekend, students divided into groups based on shared interests. By the end of the challenge, some amazing ideas had formed that have the potential reduce and food insecurity.

Judges giving feedback to the groups. Image: Ideas Congress via Twitter

It was very encouraging to see many of the groups focus on reducing and redirecting food waste for their solution. One promising idea was “Late Night Bite”; an app with with users can buy discounted food (that would otherwise be tossed) from restaurants and businesses just before closing time. Other ideas included a food truck that serves recovered food waste, as well as an increase in insect protein consumption to replace livestock-based diets.

The students involved in the challenge will be developing their ideas over the course of the fall semester and will undoubtedly have some amazing final pitches in December.

You can read more about the Feeding 9 Billion challenge here.

Spain’s “Espigoladors” harvest unwanted crops to feed the hungry

Image: Natalia Lázaro Prevost via The Guardian

Spain has made progress in closing food cycle gaps by stopping food waste at its source. The social organization “Espigoladors“, or gleaners, recruit volunteers to harvest rejected farm produce, which is then donated to food banks. Those volunteers who already use food banks are allowed to take home a box of their harvest at the end of the day. Gleaning has long been a tradition in Spanish culture: it is understood to uphold the dignity of the poor by providing them a job of harvesting crops and allowing them to take home a part of their harvest as payment. In modern day Spain, this old practice has been revived and may prove to be effective in feeding the hungry while reducing food waste.

A lot of preventable food waste occurs on farms, where rejected fruits and vegetables are left to rot because of strict aesthetic standards set by grocery chains. However, donating the produce or selling to a different buyer can be expensive or logistically challenging for farmers who often do not have the resources to carry out food-rescue programs. Volunteer programs such as the Espigoladors are needed to move food from the farm to those in need.

In addition to redirecting rejected produce to food banks, the Espigoladors have started a line of products called “Es Imperfect” (Is Imperfect) of jams, soups and sauces made from rescued produce. The label has seen incredible success and the company is looking to expand further.

 

 

Changing our expectations of “perfect” produce

Image: Dan Tuffs via The Guardian

According to University of Guelph Professor Sylvain Charlebois, imperfect fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by buyers account for about 17% of all food waste in Canada. Produce that does not meet strict aesthetic standards is usually discarded in fields, fed to livestock or dropped directly into landfills, which also wastes the energy and resources that were put into growing the food. However, the blame should  not be placed on farmers, as redirecting food to food banks or other buyers can be logistically or financially challenging. Instead, the issue stems from the unrealistic pressures that farmers face to supply “perfect” fruits and vegetables for consumers.

Initiatives such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect will be a positive step towards raising awareness of unrealistic expectations for fruits and vegetables but some have concerns about how it will impact future market prices. If people become accustomed to buying cheaper produce, the price that farmers can receive for all of their produce may fall. However, if “ugly” produce is treated like its aesthetically pleasing counterpart and sold for the same price, food waste could be reduced drastically.

As any of us who have had a vegetable garden know, not all fruits and vegetables are created the same. Yet, that wonky-shaped cherry tomato is still a mouthwatering addition to a salad, or that red pepper that has not quite lost its green pigment will still make a delicious, healthy snack. In our minds, we know that produce is not naturally uniform and perfect, but we are still presented with rows of impeccable fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. This causes the slightly misshapen or discoloured ones to stand out, which makes us say to ourselves, “that one must not be as good as the rest”. We pass them over in our search for the perfect box of strawberries or bag of apples, and the rest go to waste.

The new rules mean farmers can sell more of their goods and customers have more choice.

Image via CBC

However, new initiatives all around the world are starting to change our expectation of produce. In addition to “Naturally Imperfect,” grassroots start-ups like this group of  Montreal students who sell imperfect produce are reducing food waste, while destigmatizing “ugly” fruits and vegetables.

In an interview with CTV News, Charlebois said that “Mother Nature is not perfect…Over the next few years, people will feel more comfortable and become more educated about what agriculture is all about.”

Although food waste is a multi-dimensional issue, it can be reduced by the direct actions of consumers. We have a lot of power over what is stocked on grocery stores shelves and by demanding “normal” imperfect produce, we can help to change the unrealistic expectations of flawless products and reduce food waste.

 

California company delivers boxes of discounted “ugly” produce to your door

Imperfect Produce-Ugly Produce. Delivered.

(Image via www.imperfectproduce.com

The “ugly” fruit and vegetable movement has been growing in momentum in the past few years, and for good reason. A large amount of food is wasted before it reaches grocery store shelves due to the food industry’s strict aesthetic standards for shape, colour and size of produce. In order to combat this, some grocery store chains are beginning to sell imperfect vegetables and fruits, often at a discounted price. However, there is one company taking things even further.

Based in the California Bay Area, Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of imperfect fruits and vegetables to consumers at 30-50% less cost than “perfect” fruits available at grocery stores. Shoppers can choose from a number of boxes such as all-vegetable, all-fruit or mixed, all of which are available in different sizes.

“In America, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown don’t fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards — the crooked carrot, the curvy cucumber, the undersized apple — usually causing them to go to waste” reads a statement on their website. The issue is also prevalent in Canada, where rejected fruits and vegetables make up to 18% of total food waste. Companies like Imperfect Produce are working to combat this by changing the way consumers think about vegetables and fruit. Along with other “ugly” produce movements, the company hopes to educate people on the benefits of choosing to eat imperfect produce, which has the same nutritional content and taste as its aesthetically-pleasing counterpart.

Christinne Muschi for National Post

Misshapen or discloured peppers such as these are rejected by buyers and often used for animal feed or tossed back into soil. (Image: Christinne Muschi for National Post via Financial Post)

As a home-grown company, Imperfect Produce only delivers to certain areas of California, but the business model would likely prove successful here in Canada, as more and more consumers are aware of the extent of waste in the food industry. Based on the success of initiatives like Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect, it appears as though Canadians are ready to see the beauty in ugly produce.

You can read more about Imperfect Produce on their website.