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Thinking outside the green bin

Half eaten strawberry in the sun

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) estimates that Canada produces 18.4 million tonnes of organic waste per year, which is equivalent to 542.7 kg per person annually. While more and more food waste diversion programs are coming online across the food value chain, we continue to generate more and more waste.

While waste diversion is an important initiative, it is no longer enough to focus on end-of-pipe solutions. We must ask why so much food is wasted in the first place

In our panel at the Arrell Food Institute Summit this May, we will look beyond the “green bin” as an organic waste solution in order to consider the underlying reasons for high levels of food waste. We will hear from a member of The Food Systems Lab  who used a social innovation lab approach to mapping the causes of and solutions to food waste in Toronto. In a 2016 workshop, the Lab identified a number of underlying issues that span environmental, economic, political, and cultural/social drivers of high degrees of food waste.

The Food Systems Lab drew upon indigenous knowledge and learning traditions to develop a systemic perspective on food waste:

“The paradox of food waste (estimated annual cost of $31 billion) amidst food insecurity affecting close to one million Canadians, cannot be separated from the system that suppressed and discriminated Indigenous community members from their traditional food, land, spirituality, language and culture. Harmful food production and wasting practices are based on unequal social relations” (Designing Solutions: Food Waste in Toronto –  A Summary of Food Systems Lab Workshop 2; p.2)

Our AFI Summit panel will also consider emerging solutions to food waste in Canada that demonstrate social innovation, such as, a creation of Second Harvest. This initiative is currently being piloted in Toronto, Kingston, Sudbury and the Niagara Region. This digital platform allows food businesses and not-for-profits to connect online to facilitate the redistribution of surplus food to hunger alleviation programs:

“Although we redistributed over 10 million pounds in 2017, there is still far too much good food being thrown away.  So we decided to build a system to expand the recovery of perfectly edible food, giving direct access for social service organizations to help those experiencing food insecurity.”

Food waste is a complicated problem, and it requires multiple solutions along the food value chain. Please join us on May 22nd for a discussion of how we can reimagine a waste management issue as a food systems problem: the better we understand food waste, the better prepared we are to stop it.

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