Why food waste shouldn’t be treated the same as garbage

By: Daniel Wilcox, Advocacy Campaign Coordinator, World Vision Canada, with files from Jillian Zieske 

I live in Toronto, a city full of high rises and a population over 6 million, if you include the surrounding suburban area. While the city is not usually known as a hotbed for sustainable living, you will find farmers’ markets scattered around the city, organizations like Second Harvest who collect and rescue surplus fresh food to distribute to agencies feeding those in need, and a composting system run by the city. If you’re like me, you may even grow your own vegetables and do some preserving.

Yet despite these various efforts, Toronto still produces food waste at levels that are enough to make you sick to the stomach - over 600 pounds of food is discarded each year by the average single-family household in Toronto.

We’re not alone. A staggering 40 per cent of the food produced in the developed world (and 30 per cent worldwide) is never consumed. This food is discarded in farm fields because it’s not the right size or shape, tossed from stores and restaurants, and thrown out from family refrigerators.

In a world where 795 million people face daily hunger, this incredible waste is almost criminal. And in certain places, this is not too far from the truth. In Vancouver, Nanaimo, and Halifax it is not just mandatory for households to now compost food scraps but all apartment buildings, restaurants and grocery chains too.

A World Vision coffee nursery in Colombia that uses organic compost. 

Here are 3 things I’ve learned about the importance of green bins:

1. Food needs to avoid landfills.

When food and other natural compostable items are processed in a landfill they produce methane, and methane is a main contributor to climate change. Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 20 per cent of national methane emissions. And that can easily be diminished by sorting your rotten veggies into compost instead of trash.

So what happens in city composting? This organic matter goes to composting plants where they can break down and are then given or sold to businesses that can use compost for growing plants and produce, or making compostable items like utensils and cups. Essentially it’s all being recycled again and reducing the city’s carbon footprint. And in a city the size of Toronto, this is really important.

2. You start to think twice about how much food you are wasting.

When you’re required to sort your food from recyclables and trash, you are also take personal inventory of what are you throwing out. I started asking myself questions like, “Wait, could I use this half tomato for breakfast tomorrow?” and realizing I should bring my leftovers to the office for lunch instead of throwing them out right away.

My shopping changed, too. I started looking at expiration dates more and planning meals knowing that whatever I didn’t eat would be composted. It seemed like a waste to buy a bag of lettuce in my attempt to be “healthy” and not actually have a plan to eat it. In turn, I started saving money instead of wasting food.

3. Less waste brings us a few steps closer to a hungerfree world.

Ready for something crazy?

Canadians waste $31 billion in uneaten food each year.

Not only does food waste cost Canadians billions of dollars every year, it also wastes the resources used to produce the food. The farmer that grew that rotten celery in the bottom of your fridge used water to hydrate the plant, fertilizer to keep the soil full of nutrients, and pesticides to keep pests away. Using these resources has an environmental impact, even when they are used responsibly. Food waste means the farmer used these precious resources for nothing.

Now is the time for us to make conscious choices about our food. When we do so, we can positively affect our environment and be more mindful of what it will take to ensure everyone can live hungerfree.

Mary Ramdey in India supports her children through growing oranges. 

Let’s stop wasting food while others go hungry. Take action towards a hungerfree world by hosting a Meaningful Meal this October.