Not wasting food is one of the easiest and most powerful actions an individual consumer can take to lower their carbon footprint. Wasting less food reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves natural resources. Reducing food waste also saves money and yet, food waste is still a pressing problem not just in Canada, but around the world.
Every year, mountains of food are wasted or lost globally, which results in financial losses and greenhouse gas emissions. Even though much of that waste is avoidable, food waste is still high in most industrialised countries.
In this article, we take a brief look at food waste at the global level before focusing on food waste in Canada.
Food Waste Statistics for Canadians
- Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food is wasted or lost every year.
- The average consumer household food waste in Europe and North America is between 95 and 115 kilograms, while in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeastern Asia, it is only 6-11 kilograms per year.
- Saving just a quarter of food lost or wasted globally each year would feed 870 million people.
- Canadians create over 50 million tonnes of food waste every year despite 60% of it being avoidable through better planning and awareness.
- The average Canadian household produces 79 kilograms of food waste per year according to the UN Food Waste Index.
- 47% of food waste in Canada is generated at the household level.
- Over six-tenths of food waste in Canada could be easily avoided.
- Canada’s yearly food waste is equivalent to 9.8 million tonnes of CO2.
- Fruits and vegetables account for 45% of food waste.
- Redirecting or rescuing surplus edible food could save 3.82 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of food.
- Canada has pledged to reduce food waste by half.
- 4 million Canadians, including 1.2 million children live in food insecure households.
What is food waste and why it occurs?
Food waste is the amount of food thrown out. It occurs because of improper storage, overbuying, confusion over food labels, inefficiently used ingredients going bad, and poor planning.
Many organisations in Canada are working with farmers and distributors to limit the overproduction of food and teach consumers how to minimise food waste at home through better planning and understanding of food labels.
Food waste – the global picture
According to the UN Environment Programme, about one-third of food produced globally for human consumption, each year is lost or wasted. That is approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food.
Despite food losses amounting to roughly $895 billion in industrialised countries and $408 billion in developing countries, the amount of food wasted is similar in industrialised and developing countries at 670 and 630 million tonnes, respectively.
Fruit and vegetables as well as roots and tubers have the highest rates of waste, with 40-50% of produce wasted. Around 30% of cereals and fish and 20% of oilseed, meat, and dairy are wasted globally per year.
Each year, consumers in rich countries waste 222 million tonnes of food, which is almost the same as the entire net production of food in sub-Saharan Africa at 230 million tonnes. Per capita, food waste by consumers in Europe and North America is between 95 and 115 kilograms, while in sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeastern Asia, consumers throw away only 6-11 kilograms of food per capita per year.
While 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels in developing countries, in industrialised countries the same amount of loss happens at retail and consumer levels. Much of the retail-level waste is because of quality standards and too much emphasis on appearance.
By saving just a quarter of the food currently wasted or lost, we could feed 870 million people.
Food waste in Canada – the basics
Canadians create over 50 million tonnes of food waste every year. This results in financial losses and greenhouse gas emissions. One in eight households in Canada has been food insecure since 2018, and yet food waste continues. However, 60% of Canadian food waste is avoidable.
According to the UN Food Waste Index from 2021, the average Canadian household wastes 79 kilograms of food every year. In comparison, the annual household food waste in the United States is 59 kilograms, and 77 kilograms in the United Kingdom. Some of the worst countries in the world include Greece (142 kilograms) and Malta (129 kilograms) and some of the best are Austria (39 kilograms) and Slovenia (33-36 kilograms).
However, according to research conducted by the National Zero Waste Council in 2022, the amount of food wasted by the average household in Canada is 140 kilograms. Almost twice as much as the amount reported by the UN Environmental Programme. Wasting this much food costs households over $1,300 per year. For Canada as a whole, the cost is over $20 billion and totals over 2.3 million tonnes of edible food thrown away every year.
Almost half of Canadian food waste is produced at the household level
Food waste occurs at most points in the food cycle, including post-harvest, processing, distribution, retail, in the food service industry, and at the household level. 47% of the waste is produced by Canadian households, meaning that a huge portion of food waste could be avoided by consumers adopting more sustainable shopping habits.
Food processing, which is the second biggest contributor, creates 20% of the total food waste in Canada. At this level, waste occurs because of inefficient system designs, faulty infrastructure, inaccurate forecasting of supply and demand, and food contamination.
Over 60% of Canadian household food waste is avoidable
By practicing more sustainable habits, Canadian consumers could avoid 63% of food waste. Sustainable practices include planning shopping better to avoid overbuying, donating to community fridges, and storing food properly.
Some food waste is not avoidable such as fish or animal bones, eggshells, and coffee grounds. However, instead of ending in landfills, these items could be composted and used to fertilize the soil.
What are the most common forms of household food waste?
According to Love Food Hate Waste, the most common food items thrown away in Canada are fruits and vegetables. Vegetables form 30% and fruits 15% of the household food waste. Leftovers account for 13%, bread and bakery products for 9%, dairy and eggs for 7%, meat, fish, and poultry for 6%, and other food items, such as crisps, snacks, and desserts, for 20% of household food waste.
Every day in Canada, about 1.2 million tomatoes, 1.225 million apples, 2.4 million potatoes, 650,000 loaves of bread, 640,000 bananas, one million cups of milk, 470,000 eggs, and 139,000 lettuce heads are wasted. Fresh produce like this is mainly wasted because of overbuying and improper storage.
The impact of food waste on the environment
The impact of annual avoidable household food waste in Canada is equal to 2.1 million cars and 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 according to Love Food Hate Waste.
Around 4.82 million tonnes of food, worth nearly $21 billion, is lost or wasted during the processing and manufacturing of food. The total value of wasted or lost food in Canada is $49 billion. If the food was saved, it could feed every Canadian for five months according to a report by Second Harvest.
The annual cost of the total amount of food wasted in Canada is $1,766 per household. The report also says that the amount of food wasted across all levels of the food chain in Canada creates approximately 56.6 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to carbon dioxide.
When food ends up in landfills, it rots and creates methane, a greenhouse gas. Methane can oxidise and create ground-level ozone and has eighty times more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide over twenty years. Methane is 25 more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste and are avoidable.
According to RestoBiz, there is a lot of surplus edible food that could be used or redirected rather than wasted. At 61% retailers are most likely to say they have surplus edible food, followed by 46% of food processors, food manufacturers, and hotels and restaurants.
Businesses in the grains and protein industries are the least likely to have surplus food at 30% and 31% respectively. In comparison, almost half (45%) of businesses in the dairy industry report having surplus edible food. However, the willingness to donate surplus dairy products is affected by having to process and package them into consumer goods.
According to Second Harvest, much of the surplus edible food is not donated because of five main reasons that are:
- Legal liability;
- Lack of financial benefit;
- Policies that prevent or discourage donation;
- Ineffective communication and coordination between producers and food rescue organisations; and
- Perceived complexity of donating compared to alternative disposal.
If edible surplus food could be rescued or redistributed, it would equate to a 3.82 tonnes reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for each tonne of food.
Canada has pledged to reduce food waste by 50%
According to the Government of Canada, various organisations aim to redistribute surplus food to reduce food waste. These organisations, including Food Banks of Quebec and Food Banks Canada, work with corporations to reduce food waste by redirecting it to insecure individuals and households.
Communities are also increasingly introducing community fridges. They aim to reduce food waste at the consumer level, by encouraging households to donate surplus food to those in need.
Other initiatives aim to educate people and to reduce “food illiteracy”, which is a lack of knowledge of food’s impact on the world. These initiatives include Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy and Collective Kitchens Association in Quebec, which help people to shop smarter and healthier.
Food Insecurity in Canada
In 2018, one in eight households in Canada were food insecure. This is 4.4 million people and includes over 1.2 million children. This number is higher than any recorded previously.
In 2017-2018, 84% of people who lived in food-insecure households were in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. However, the territories had the highest prevalence of food insecurity with Nunavut at 57%, the Northwest Territories at 21.6%, and Yukon at 16.9%.
In Canada, one out of six children is affected by food insecurity at the household level. Single-parent families, especially those led by a female parent, are the most vulnerable, with one-third of these households being food insecure. In Nunavut, where food insecurity is the highest, 78.7% of children live in food-insecure households.
Despite initiatives to reduce food waste, Canadians are still wasting huge amounts of food, between 79 and 140 kilograms per household per year, depending on the source of data. Much of this waste is avoidable and reducing food waste would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as save money.
Food waste needs to be targeted both at the consumer level and at the production level. With Canadian households being responsible for almost half of the yearly food waste in Canada, it is imperative to educate consumers on more sustainable food shopping and eating habits. At the production and retail level, it needs to be made easier to redirect surplus food.
Canada has pledged to reduce food waste by half and organisations are educating consumers and helping to redirect edible surplus food to those in need. However, there is still a lot to be done before food waste in Canada is halved.
Frequently Asked Questions
In Canada, over 50 million tonnes of food is wasted every year. That is 79 kilograms per average household in a year.
In Canada, 47% of all food waste is generated at household level.
Yes, it does. The food waste in Canada is equivalent to 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 every year. Redirecting or rescuing surplus edible food could save 3.82 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of food.
Yes, 60% of food waste in Canada could be avoided with better awareness and planning.
In Canada, 47% of all food waste is generated at household level.