Wow, do I produce a lot of garbage. Moving to the farm makes me look at the amount of garbage I produce in a more critical way than when I lived in the city, where someone comes and takes it away for you every week. I use as much of the food scraps as I can, compost the rest and recycle the containers. The biggest problem is the cat litter. I have 2 inside cats and they produce a remarkable amount of heavy and stinky scoopable cat litter. Our core community of 4 women at the farm had a fire a few weeks ago at my place, and D2 the farm dog came over and got into some uncovered garbage. I discovered, much to my horror, that he had eaten literally pounds of cat litter. Luckily he was ok; in fact, he loves the stuff! I, however, am struggling with what to do with it other than put it in plastic and send it to the landfill. I can’t, in good conscience, feed it to the dog, yet I still haven’t figured out what to do with the cursed cat litter.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in 2014 estimated that the accumulated cost of wasted food is approximately 2 and a half that of the retail value of the food. For Canada, that equates to a true cost of over $100 Billion in food waste annually. Reports have estimated that the quantifiable cost of food waste in Canada is still significant but lower at $31 Billion.
Waste occurs throughout the food system, and is categorized by supply chain into farm, processing, transportation and distribution, restaurants, retail, consumers and international catering waste. The food waste in institutions is captured under the latter category and includes food waste from the military, hospitals, prisons, schools, airlines and cruise lines. The true cost of food waste also includes the cost associated with the waste of labour across the entire system, energy, transport, inventory, infrastructure, disposal, and financial costs.
Food waste can occur at each step along the supply chain. An example is the 30% of vegetables in North America that get thrown away before they reach the grocery store because they are considered “ugly” or “quirky”. As an aside, one thing growing carrots will teach a person quickly is that carrots grow in incredibly diverse shapes. Some are short and stocky and others are long and slim. Then there’s the ones that look like octopi or prehistoric fish heads. I am not kidding. The quirky ones taste just as good as the supermodels.
Food waste comes with costs to businesses, consumers, the environment and society in general. Consumers pay more for food, but also for hotel rooms, airfares and cruises as a result of the cost of food waste to companies. Businesses with already slim profit margins may not be able to afford the cost of waste over the long term, affecting sustainability. We suggest some easy and constructive ways that people can take to reduce food waste below.
At Sunrise Gardens, we’re concerned about keeping waste on the farm to a minimum. Any leftovers from market are distributed to family and friends; we dehydrate onions, carrots, squash, beets, herbs and garlic and use it in our dehydrated vegetable mix; any other vegetables that can’t be used are composted and used in the fields to enhance our soil biology. We estimate waste of approximately 4%.
How to reduce food waste
Practical actions consumers can take: use produce bags for unwashed vegetables to preserve freshness longer, use the most perishable food first, organize the fridge with the oldest perishable items in the front, grocery lists and meal planning help you use the food you buy. Learn the best storage conditions for different crops; for most vegetables and fruit moisture and warmth are the enemies, but some crops are better stored outside of the refrigerator such as garlic and potatoes. Composting is an action even condo or apartment dwellers can take with a small composting container. The items that don’t get consumed become compost that can be used to nourish the soil biology in the summer garden or in flower pots.
Use the freezer: save your vegetable ends and bones in freezer bags and make your own stock; freeze fresh ginger in freezer bags and grate into recipes from frozen; chop fresh herbs like oregano and basil into ice cube containers, cover with olive oil freeze and use from frozen in sauces and soups; freeze cherry tomatoes, celery leaves and Swiss chard in freezer bags and use from frozen in sauces and soups; cook squash and store in sealable bags in the freezer ready for use; bread ends can be placed in freezer bags and used for breadcrumbs; save the ends of cheese and they can be frozen in sealable bags and used grated from frozen and in sauces and soups.
Local suppliers: the farther away from home your food is sourced the more food is wasted at each step in the supply chain. Buying direct from a local farmer cuts out several steps in the supply chain, supports local businesses and is more sustainable in the long term. Plus, tomatoes that come from a farm 1 hour from home are fresher than if they came from a continent away and you will throw less away. Of course, if you grow your own then vegetables will be really fresh!
Best before dates: these dates represent the durable life expected from packaged food that is fresh for less than 90 days, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They do not guarantee food safety and are not governed by regulations, but do give information on the freshness and potential shelf-life of unopened food that is stored appropriately. Sunrise Gardens sprouts and shoots have best before dates that range from 10 days for Spicy Mix and Broccoli Shoots to 16 days for Sugar Pea Shoots and Sprouted Bean Mix. However, the products frequently last longer than the best before date depending on the storage conditions. For example, it is not uncommon for Pea Shoots to last 3 weeks.
Fruit rescue organizations: if you have fruit trees in your yard with unused fruit consider becoming involved in a local fruit rescue organization. In Edmonton, contact organizations such as Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton and the Fruits of Sherbrooke. Volunteers will pick the fruit and shares of the harvest go to the homeowner, the Food Bank, the volunteers and to process in jams and preserves.
FAO. 2014. If we had to pay the bill to nature, what would food waste cost us? Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/zhc/detail-events/en/c/243143/ . Accessed January 31, 2017.
Gooch M. and Felfel A. 2014. ’$27 Billion’ Revisited: The Cost of Canada’s Annual Food Waste. VCM International. http://vcm-international.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Food-Waste-in-Canada-27-Billion-Revisited-Dec-10-2014.pdf . Accessed January 31, 2017.