For the past two decades in Canada, the third week of October has marked Waste Reduction Week. But educating and empowering Canadians to overhaul their consumption habits requires time. That’s why the Circular Innovation Council extended October’s Waste Reduction Week to help Canadians better understand the issues of waste and opportunities to change as we shift toward a circular economy. October is now Canada’s first-ever Circular Economy Month, which includes Waste Reduction Week.
In honour of Circular Economy Month, we’ll look at what a circular economy is and how it can help us rethink—and renew—our relationship with waste in Canada.
What is a Circular Economy?
In a traditional linear economy, we produce, consume and then toss our waste into landfills. Or as the Circular Innovation Council puts it, we “take—make—waste.” Waste is the end of the resource’s lifecycle and the cost of doing business. A circular economy, on the other hand, is an entirely different way of thinking about resources and their value.
“The circular economy is regenerative where everything is valued, resources are more efficiently used, nothing is wasted, and everything is a resource that can be fed back into the beginning of production cycles in a closed-loop system.”
Let’s unpack that statement before moving on because the council touched on many key points.
Everything is valued
Resources are more efficiently used
Nothing is wasted
Everything is a resource that can be renewed to close the production cycle loop
Thinking Differently About Waste in a Sustainable Future
If we think about closing the loop on our current linear economy of production, consumption and waste, then waste—our current end product—must be renewed so that it can be consumed again and again. Renewing resources that would otherwise go to waste can be done in many ways. For instance, we could reuse, remanufacture, repurpose, repair, refurbish, redistribute, remake, or recycle them over and over. (Even more R’s!) For this to happen, however, the initial product needs to be designed and made to last in all of its forms.
Why is a Circular Economy Important to Reducing our Waste?
The way that our traditional linear economies take, make and waste resources puts too much pressure on our systems and environment. For instance, 58% of all of the food produced in Canada is lost or wasted. Every year. That is 35.5 million metric tonnes of food loss and waste, which is unsustainable for our land, water and other resource use, communities, economies and public health. Circular economies, on the other hand, have the power to save money and resources. It can also reduce waste and create new opportunities and markets for businesses and individuals.
In keeping with overhauling Canada’s food systems, Second Harvest’s food rescue helps connect businesses and individuals with surplus food to those organizations in need of food.
We’re on a mission to grow our innovative, efficient food recovery network to fuel people and reduce the environmental impact of avoidable food waste. Surplus of potatoes on a farm, for instance, can be rescued and redistributed to organizations that help feed food-insecure community members across the country. Take, make, rescue, redistribute, share and consume.
We all have a role to play in making circular economies work.
Join in and do Your Part to Limit Waste this October
Thanks to Circular Economy Month and Waste Reduction Week, there is a wealth of information at Canadians’ fingertips to explore and learn. Transitioning away from an unsustainable and wasteful economic model takes a collaborative effort on everyone’s part, from governments and businesses to individual consumers.
Here are some ways you can get involved this October and beyond:
Food waste is a challenge that spans far beyond Canada’s borders—and so do its solutions. As Canada’s largest food rescue organization, Second Harvest has dedicated much of our time, energy, and thought into growing an online library of free resources, tools, e-learning, research, and blogs that will help all of us put an end to food waste at home (wherever that may be).
Here is a collection of our top food waste resources to help us all in our collective mission to eliminate food waste for good. But before we jump in, here is a little food for thought to help inspire you to make new (and good) food habits.
Food For Thought on Reducing Waste
From Stop Food Waste Day to Waste Reduction Week and Circular Economy Month in Canada, these annual awareness days are meant to educate, inspire, and ignite change. All of us must overhaul our consumption habits in order to make a real impact. We must place a higher value on our resources, including those that helped put food on our plates.
Take a carrot, for instance. In order to grow a carrot, a farmer took the time, effort, and resources to prepare the land, plant the seed, water it, weed, fertilize, spray, and then harvest it, before a manufacturer washes, sorts, cuts, destems, packages, markets, sells, and ships it to a distributor, who then transports it to your grocery store. It took time, money, energy, freshwater, soil, sun, seeds, fertilizer, sprays, labour, packaging, refrigeration, and fuel to get that carrot to you.
A carrot, therefore, is so much more than just a carrot. It is all of the precious and often finite resources that went into getting it from the farm to your plate. And all of that combined is why we must stop food waste.
Explore These Resources and Stop Food Waste for Good
Bookmark this post and refer back to it on your journey toward a sustainable food future. Together, we’ve got this!
The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste Report
Did you know that 58% of all food in Canada is lost or wasted—and that 32% of that could be redirected to feed Canadians? In a first-of-its-kind report, The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste demonstrates the need to radically change how we value food. The report follows a year-long research project by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International, a leading public and industry voice in food waste. Among many other findings, they discovered that every year, 56.5 million metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions are created by food waste in Canada.
We’re experts in the field of food rescue and waste reduction—and we’ve done the research for you! Check out our collection of blog posts on food waste to find more statistics, hopeful stories, thought leadership articles, and inspiring tips, tricks, and challenges to start doing at home and at work.
Here are some of our top blog posts on food waste to help you get started and inspired:
Free Online Workshops on Food Waste Prevention Training
Second Harvest offers free online workshops, including several quick e-learning courses based on Food Waste Prevention. These workshops give businesses, corporations, individuals, and non-profits strategies, challenges, solutions, and tips to maximize food, while reducing unnecessary and environmentally harmful waste (and spending).
Some of the food waste prevention e-learnings include:
Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization. Last year, we rescued 41 million pounds of food that would have gone to waste and sent it to Canadians in need. That’s equivalent to averting 162 million pounds of greenhouse gases from the environment. Second Harvest works across the food supply chain to stop food waste and support hunger relief in Canada. But we’ve never done it alone. We all have to do our part to stop food waste both in our homes, our communities, and at our workplaces.
In the summer of 2021, a partnership between Second Harvest and Arctic Co-operatives Limited (Arctic Co-ops) was formed. Together, we delivered 61,700 pounds of rescued food from the Greater Toronto Area directly to community members and food banks throughout Nunavut by sealift. The remote communities that received shipments were so grateful—explaining that anything we can send them helped—that we did it again the moment that the sea ice melted and ships could go north in the summer of 2022.
This is the story of how Second Harvest and Arctic Co-ops partnered for a second year to ship food rescued by Second Harvest in spring 2022 to send on three different sailings to the shores of dozens of Nunavut’s remote communities throughout the summer.
From Spring in Southern Canada to Summer in Nunavut: Organizing a Logistical Feat
The Harvest Journal team had the pleasure of connecting with Marie-José Mastromonaco, Second Harvest’s Head of Operations for Quebec and Nunavut. When we spoke in early July 2022, the first summer shipment (10,785 pounds of food rescue; the second sealift was set to deliver 32,690 pounds) had already left the port in Montreal and was sailing north on its two-week journey to the first communities receiving Second Harvest’s donation.
“This is an amazing project for the simple reason that these communities are so far away that for anything to be shipped, we start planning in April for the first sail at the end of June when the sea ice melts,” Marie-José said.
“All of that time is organizing and overcoming very challenging logistics. We have to find the products that have a best-before date that is far away enough for it to make sense to ship. But of course, we’re dealing with rescued food surplus that most often is coming near its best-before date.”
“From the moment that we decide that those are the products that we have to send and they want them, they won’t get them for 4 or 5 months. So it’s not like when we have food surplus in Toronto, it leaves the warehouse and a few hours later, many organizations receive the food. For us, 10 organizations will receive the food, but in months.”
Arctic Co-op and NSSI Ship Second Harvest’s Food Rescue to Nunavut
The shipping company is Nunavut Sealink and Supply Inc. (NSSI), an Inuit majority-owned Nunavut-based company with a sizeable fleet of multipurpose cargo ships and tankers. NSSI’s main shareholder is Arctic Co-op, Second Harvest’s partner. These Arctic Co-ops are independent stores in Nunavut communities that represent the interests of thousands of Inuit members and sell and distribute local foods, traditional arts and crafts and furs.
“A lot of the communities don’t have grocery store facilities, but the ones that do, it is the Arctic Co-op,” Marie-José said. Once Second Harvest organizes and packs the food rescue for each community, the GetPaq puts it in the sea can for that community, packs it on the NSSI vessels and ships them north to communities, regardless if they have a store or not there. These hamlet communities don’t have ports though, so the sea cans are often dropped right on the beach and community members unload and distribute them.
Sending Non-Perishable Rescued Food to Northern Canada
When we spoke, Marie-José was in the middle of coordinating the next shipment of 26 pallets or 32,690 pounds of non-perishable food and supplies. This required dividing and labelling each shipment by pallets to be delivered to nine individual communities, including Nunavut’s capital of Iqaluit as well as Cambridge Bay, Clyde River, Sanirajak, Kugluktuk, Qikiqtarjuak and others, set to receive this second shipment. A lot of the first logistics in rescuing the suitable donations is being handled by the team led by Ian Gibbon at Second Harvest.
All the food being shipped is shelf-stable and includes products that the Inuit communities will use. Some of the shipments had canned goods, including tuna and dried goods, such as cereal, oatmeal, baby cereal, as well as baby puree and vitamins. All of this rescued food was donated to Second Harvest by organizations and businesses that, for one reason or another, had a surplus.
“We’re sending pallets so we have to think that we’re sending it to a community of 1,000 people and those people are 150-200 families, so they won’t use all of that cereal, for instance, all in one week. It has to last in time for months. So all of that logistical planning has to revolve around best before dates to make sure that the products are going to last and are good for their cultural diet.”
Locals Receiving Food Rescue Shipments in Nunavut
Marie-José explained that finding folks in those remote hamlets who can actually receive, unload, distribute and store the donations is the most challenging part of the Arctic shipments. “Say someone somewhere in Nunavut opens a food bank, but then they don’t receive food for months until summer’s melt, the food banks or other community organizations are often run by volunteers, which sometimes makes it difficult to stay functional. Then we need to make another connection. It happens a lot, unfortunately.”
Marie-José explained why it can be so hard to find community members to receive donations in the first place. “It’s very logistically challenging to coordinate with such remote places,” she said. “Phone lines [or landlines] exist, but it is very hard to reach anyone and there is a language barrier, plus the internet is spotty or non-existent in some parts. It makes things extra complicated.”
That’s another reason why Arctic Co-op is so essential to making this partnership work. But even those communities that don’t have an Arctic Co-op might receive shipments from our partnership together. From theArctic Co-op’s 2021 annual report: “Additionally, we helped facilitate the delivery of food bank contributions for the people in Clyde River, NU despite not having a Co-op to support in that community; it was simply the right thing to do. Arctic Co-operatives worked together in partnership with Second Harvest and Food Banks Canada to help overcome the distribution challenges of the Arctic and supply food to several communities.”
Waiting for Summer Shipments in Remote Nunavut Communities
“If you miss the boat, you miss the boat!” Marie-José said of shipping goods north every summer. The NSSI ships are already full of other sea cans with items like cars, clothing, building materials, snowmobiles and all kinds of deliveries that people bought throughout the past year and they’re on the first boat up there. “Everything is sent by sea cans on boats,” she said. “Unless it’s sent by plane, but that’s very expensive so most people wait for summer, especially for the heavy stuff.”
Sea cans are most often dropped right on the beach. “Community members unload and distribute everything,” she said. “They don’t have a port like the port of Montreal; they don’t have the infrastructure for that.”
“Most communities are just happy that we’re thinking of them. Without our partners though, we wouldn’t be able to help them. And once we helped them once, it honestly feels so amazing for Second Harvest to be able to and be allowed to help them. And they need the help.”
“I thank you very much and I wish you many blessings for your good work to lessen the hunger in the world.”
Eating healthy and nutritious meals every day is essential for children and youth. A well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and healthy fat nourishes and fuels their growing minds and bodies. Plus, it sets a lifetime of good habits early on.
Millions of children and youth rely on school nutrition programs during the school year. In Toronto, for example, more than 200,000 kids participate in daily Student Nutrition Programs run by thousands of volunteers. The Breakfast Club of Canada feeds more than 580,000 children in 3,500+ school nutrition programs each morning. They do this to help ensure that all children are well-fed and thus have an equal chance to learn and thrive.
What happens in the summer when school food programming ends? How do we ensure that food insecure children and youth get the daily nutrition they need and deserve?
Feeding Our Future: Canada’s Free Summer Food Program for Kids
Second Harvest launched Feeding Our Future in 2012 to tackle summer hunger by providing healthy food and resource kits to agencies that run summer programs for kids in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Since then, the program has grown to become Canada’s largest free summer lunch program.
In 2022, Second Harvest partnered with 32 agencies in the GTA that host summer camps or offer free lunch pickups for children and youth. The communities served through this program are situated in what the City of Toronto describes as Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. They are highlighted by their need for support to improve social, economic and physical conditions. For instance, the North York Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples and several neighbourhood Boys and Girls Clubs that run kids’ summer camps participate in the Feeding Our Future program.
Last year, we supported 2,500+ children and youth at camps with food and resources in the summer. This year, we had requests to support more than 6,000. This growth in demand speaks volumes about the growing level of food insecurity in our community.
In the summer of 2022, with the generosity of 222 volunteers donating more than 885 hours, Feeding Our Future produced and distributed more than 16,000 food and resource kits. This year, the program has supported more than 5,500 children and youth in the GTA. While the demand for healthy food persists, these nutrition-packed kits made a world of difference, ensuring that many kids had the energy and nourishment needed to learn and play and that families don’t have to choose between food or rent this summer.
Breaking the Cycle of Summer Hunger for Kids in Canada
“The kits have been helpful in breaking the cycle of hunger, in addition to the learning around clean and healthy food. Week after week, our program participants continue to express heartfelt appreciation for this kindness expressed by Second Harvest and all the donors and funders of Feeding Our Future program. With our hearts full of gratitude.”
—Lady Ballers Camp
Feeding Kids Healthy Food in the Summer Thanks to Donors
Each kit includes a rotating fruit component, vegetable, grain, protein, snack and beverage—plus something fun for the kids as a recreational item. Most of these items were purchased by Second Harvest or donated by some of our generous donors.
This program would not be possible without the support and generosity of financial supporters, in-kind donors who donated food and recreational items for the kits, hundreds of volunteers and our agency partners working on the ground in communities across the GTA.
A special thank you to all of our Feeding Our Future donors:
Nature’s Path Organic
Penguin Random House
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Green Shield Insurance
Marner Assist Foundation
The Otto and Marie Pick Charitable Foundation
Words of Kindness From Feeding Our Future Agency Partners
“Parents are very thankful for the program as it has helped to offset the cost of feeding the children while at home.”
—Rhema Food Bank
“The program reflects the strength and impact of community partnerships to help marginalized communities dealing with food security issues.”
—Toronto Central SDA
“Participating in this program has been great and has allowed us to reach a new youth audience that we haven’t been able to engage in our catchment area.”
—Toronto Centre for Learning and Development
“We are immensely happy and thankful to Second Harvest for allowing us to be part of this program. The MLMIF has been able to help low-income families with children every week thanks to the contributions provided by Second Harvest.”
—Maria Luisa de Moreno International Foundation (MLMIF)
“Everything has been great. A lot of our children arrive with snacks that are not sufficient or not very nutritious so it’s great to be able to offer additional snacks to keep them fuelled up with healthy food!”
An interview on donating surplus food in Canada with Holburne Mushroom Farm
Farmers in Canada ride a rollercoaster of good times and bad when it comes to supply and demand. Sometimes, farmers can’t produce enough inventory to keep up with the needs of distributors, retailers and consumers. Other times, however, sales slow and they’re left with surplus edible food.
Holburne Mushroom Farm is a family-owned and operated wholesale farm business based in Queensville, Ontario. In fact, it’s currently the largest supplier of fresh organic shiitake and oyster mushrooms in Canada. It produces 25,000 pounds of organic shiitake mushrooms and 5,000 pounds of organic oyster mushrooms every week from its 20,000-square-foot facility. Annual distribution from Holburne surpasses 1.3 million pounds. Recently the company has begun donating surplus mushrooms to Second Harvest.
We recently caught up with Stephen Rotiroti, co-owner and logistics manager of Holburne Mushroom Farm to talk about the recent donations, discuss the current climate around produce manufacturing and to learn about the farm-to-table lifecycle for mushrooms in Canada.
“Mushrooms are harvested 365 days a year. Every day we pick a fresh crop so there is no ‘not picking the mushrooms’ day. It has to be done every single day. When they’re ready to be harvested, they need to be harvested. You can’t leave them growing while you wait for more sales, because if you leave them, they spoil.”
—Steven Rotiroti, co-owner and sales and logistics manager, Holburne Mushroom Farm
Donating Surplus Food: An Interview with Holburne Mushroom Farm, Canada
How’s it going?
Steven: These are crazy times for produce in Canada; people are speculating different things when it comes to why. The main one is the general consensus that people are being more money conscious at the grocery stores.
Is this a sign of the times for food in Canada?
S: I’ve talked to other farmers and wholesalers and they’re all saying the same thing. Whether they’re farming mushrooms like us, or fresh or root vegetables, or fruit, the last four or five months have been a rollercoaster for produce in Canada. There’s been lots of inventory, then no inventory. Great sales; no sales. So far, 2022 has been very slow and I think it’s a perfect storm.
Everything is more expensive, interest rates are going up, gas is ridiculous, as are food prices. We’re not really affected by climate changes growing-wise, because we’re farming indoors, but all of our inputs are going up. For instance, cardboard has more than doubled in price over the last year—that’s how we package and ship our mushrooms to our distributors. When gas or diesel prices go up then our carrier rates go up. So on. Everybody feels it.
Mind you, the mushroom industry tends to fluctuate and the summer is one of our slow seasons, whereas fall and winter are our busiest.
When Food Becomes Surplus: The Farm-to-Table Story of Surplus Food
Tell me more about mushroom farming and harvest. What’s the farm-to-table lifecycle of a mushroom?
S: The shelf life of a mushroom is very short – like a couple of weeks. So there is a constant supply of fresh mushrooms going from our farm to distributors and retail stores—and eventually to tables.
It starts with our own compost mixture that has mushroom spores in it and other good things. That ferments for 10-12 weeks before it’s ready for the grow room where we actually grow the mushrooms. Harvest happens 6-8 days later. We harvest the mushrooms, package them and a day or two later, they go through the rest of the food supply chain. It’s repackaged, branded, shipped and on the shelves within days. Everything depends on how fast people move. It’s a pretty short timeline from farm to table for mushrooms.
It’s summer, so you’re harvesting mushrooms every day, but people aren’t buying as much because it’s your slow season and these are unprecedented times. What do you do with the surplus?
S: We have three options. One: when we’re coming up on slow seasons, we can predict it and hold off a bit on production. We do this by putting out less compost so that we grow fewer mushrooms, but then we have a surplus of compost. Everything is connected and impacts something else in farming. Two: we can let it go to waste, which of course, does not benefit anybody and is a waste of a product that is still perfectly fine for the market. Or, three: we can donate the surplus to a good cause and put our food to use.
How did you hear about Second Harvest?
S: Other wholesalers and I were talking about the slow season and these challenging times that are making our sales and inventory fluctuate at unpredictable levels. Someone mentioned Second Harvest food rescue; so I got in touch. I saw the opportunity for us to do something good.
How has donating surplus food to Second Harvest gone so far?
S: It’s been a win-win, actually. We’re all about helping people. We’re a small family business and if we can do anything to help the community or province—or further, depending on how far these mushrooms go—why wouldn’t we? We farmed them to be eaten!
Plus, our mushrooms are niche, so it’s high-end gourmet and not everybody knows about shiitake or oyster mushrooms. Second Harvest distributes our product to their vast network of food banks, kitchens, and organizations and feeds people who may never have tried our mushrooms before. We’re getting great feedback that people are loving them! So there’s this added marketing perk that we hadn’t considered when we donated the mushrooms in the first place.
Not only are we getting our mushrooms out there to more people, but we’re also helping to feed people something healthy and nutritious while avoiding wasteful surplus. We can’t complain, but it’s a hurdle we must overcome. We have to adapt. We don’t know what the future brings, but we need to remain optimistic that the market will rebound and sales will start to get back to normal.
“Thank you to Second Harvest and to Holburne Mushroom Farm for this great donation of mushrooms! Now more than ever access to fresh produce is so important for being able to serve healthy balanced meals to the community. We really appreciate it!”
Thank you for talking with us (and donating)! Any parting wisdom for your fellow farmers when it comes to donating surplus food?
S: The way that I see it, sometimes, for whatever reason, we farmers and producers have a surplus of products. The right thing to do is to give it to people and organizations who will be able to do something good with it. There are lots of people going through hard times, and we donors should be proud of the fact that we are helping organizations that impact people’s lives for the better.