Our Climate Crisis and Food Security

Our Climate Crisis and Food Security

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 2021 report in August 2021. Based on the analysis of over 14,000 studies, the report soberly concludes that humans have caused a climate crisis. 

The devastating impacts will be widespread. They will range from extreme weather events to severe droughts, heatwaves, catastrophic rains, flooding, ocean warming, rising and acidification, increased global temperatures, and changing growing seasons. This is happening faster than previously anticipated.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope—but only if we act now and decisively!—which we will discuss shortly. 

One major impact that our changing climate will have is on our global food security. 

The Climate Crisis and the Food Industry

How the Climate Crisis Impacts Food Security

If global temperatures rise 1.5C and higher in the next decades, food production and supply will suffer. This is expected to cause higher food insecurity for many reasons. 

Our Changing Climate’s Impact on Agriculture

“Across the globe, over 80% of calories consumed come from just 10 crop plants, including rice, maize, and wheat,” Bonnie Waring, senior lecturer at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, said in a Guardian article. “Although a few staple crops – like soybean – may do better in a warmer future, warming temperatures and increasingly frequent droughts are likely to reduce yields of these key crops across many regions of the globe.”

The IPCC report states that there will be an increased number of days per year with higher temperatures than crops can stand. This extreme heat, coupled with prolonged periods of drought and changing rainfall patterns will make agriculture more difficult in the years to come. It may also wipe out entire yields of crops.

Some farmers are already experiencing this. Record-high heatwaves across Canada caused fruits to “cook” on the vines and branches in British Columbia, as an example. 

“Increased heat and humidity will harm current crops and livestock, with droughts and floods having the potential to wipe out harvests as well,” Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, said to the Guardian. “Massive shifts in agricultural practices, including changes to crops and livestock, would be needed to counter these effects.”

Beyond an increased frequency of record-breaking hot days, our growing season will change. For example, the first and last frost days will change as the cooler months get shorter and less cold with fewer days of snow and participation. Many crops rely on the clockwork-like predictability of those frost cycles, however, as well as needing cold nights to thrive. 

Likewise, devastating rainfall may damage plants and wash away essential nutrients or cause fields to flood completely. 

All of this will make farming practices more difficult. 

How the Climate Crisis Impacts Food Security

Our Changing Climate’s Impact on Fisheries and Aquaculture

The same goes for the fishing industry. Increasing ocean temperatures, acidification, and deoxygenation will (and is already) impact fisheries and aquaculture. For example, this year’s heatwave cooked billions of shellfish alive along the entire Pacific Northwest Coast. The increased frequency of powerful storms will also make it more difficult to farm and fish the changing coastlines. 

The Climate Crisis and Food Security For A Growing Population

“If we fail to act, then significant numbers of people could face major problems with food,” said Ilan Kelman. By 2050, our global population is expected to top 10 billion. This means that our global food production must rise by half in the next 30 years. 

These are the same 30 years that IPCC says that we are locked into worsening climate changes, regardless of any changes we make.

According to the IPCC’s Food Security and Food Production Systems report from 2018, compared to 2010, the world will need an extra 7,400tn calories per year in 2050 and beyond. That means that we will require a landmass twice the area of India if we continue on the same path of unsustainable consumption.

Water, Our Climate Crisis and Food Security

Our Climate Crisis and Food Security

Last month, we wrote about our freshwater crisis in A Drop’s Worth: The Value of Water on Food Security. Only 2.5% of our changing planet is currently made up of freshwater—and ~70% of it goes to agriculture. Humans using this precious freshwater unsustainably, specifically in developed countries. Meanwhile, the IPCC’s 2021 report states the certainty of drier, hotter years and decades ahead. 

An Excerpt From Our Piece on Valuing Water 

Water scarcity is a serious and growing concern. This is especially true when we look at the link between water and food production.  

We need water to produce food. Water helps plants grow, boosts crop yields and nutrition levels, allows farmers to expand their production to feed more people, and allows us to grow food during dry seasons or droughts. The more water that a community—or country—has available for agriculture, the higher the food security. There is also known to be less malnutrition, famine, and undernourishment where there is better access to good water. 

Water is therefore central to our food security, health, and nutrition. 

It is also in high—and ever-increasing—demand as our population continues to grow and more droughts plague our changing climate.

Read more (and find out how you can reduce your water use).

The Higher Cost of Food and its Impact on Food Security

Agricultural challenges and risks in a changing climate come at a cost. 

This will, unfortunately, impact food prices, access, and affordability for all, including those vulnerable to food insecurity individuals and families. In Canada, for example, one in seven individuals are currently food insecure. 

IPCC 2018 Report: Food Security and Food Production Systems table of food access and impact of food price increase on it.

Caption: IPCC 2018 Report: Food Security and Food Production Systems. Table of food access and price increases for climate crisis and food security reference.

According to a study by the World Bank, since 2010, there has been an estimated net increase of 44 million people in extreme poverty in low and middle-income countries as a result of food price increases.

It’s time to act. Our climate crisis and food security depend on swift and widespread changes.

The Glimmer of Hope if We Act Now

The IPCC 2021 report laid out five scenarios or climate futures. In all cases, global warming of at least 1.5 degrees. The impacts discussed above will happen in the coming decades.

However, the best-case scenario states that we could limit global warming after 2050 if we take aggressive, fast, and globally widespread action to cut our CO2 emissions starting now. This kind of action requires global, political cooperation that most governments have not been able to achieve so far. 

The worst cases, where we do not slow our emissions, predict global temperatures of 3 to 6 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels by 2100. This will have catastrophic consequences to humankind and our only home. 

Reduce Food Waste and Eat and Farm Sustainably

It’s up to everyone to act now. From policymakers and government bodies to organizations, farmers, and consumers. 

According to EPA, the single largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions is electricity and heat production. That includes the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat. Make an impact by switching to renewable energy sources, such as hydro, solar, wind, ocean, and geothermal. 

After that, the second-highest group of CO2 emitters includes agriculture, forestry, and other land use—with most of the emissions coming from agriculture and the cultivation of crops and livestock and deforestation for agriculture. 

Fixing Our Broken Food Systems

This is exacerbated when we consider our broken food systems: one-third of all food produced globally goes to waste. Food loss and waste represent nearly 60% of the food industry’s environmental footprint. If food waste and loss were a country, it would be the worst emitter of CO2 after China and the U.S

Unsustainable food consumption and production patterns must change now.

The IPCC report - climate crisis and food security in Canada

“Governments must begin taking urgent steps now to build resilience into agri-food systems,” Shefali Sharma, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, told the Guardian in an interview about protecting vulnerable farmers. “This means building soil health, agricultural biodiversity in crops and animals, serious extension work that builds on traditional knowledge and local breeds and seeds and adequate support for adaptation.”

For consumers, this also means eating sustainably. Eat less meat and dairy and less often. When you do consume meat or dairy products, support local, sustainable farmers. Eat more vegetables and more often. 

“A rapid transition to agroecological farming offers a healthier and more sustainable approach to producing our food and requires a shift in our diets to less and better meat, with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables and the consumption of more pulses and legumes,” explained Rob Percival, head of food and health policy at the UK’s Soil Association.

Reimagining the Future—For People and the Planet

Healthy food should never go to waste, especially given the circumstances that we now find ourselves in. Yet 11.2 million metric tons of edible, potentially rescuable food is lost or wasted every year in Canada alone, from every part of the food chain, from farm to retail.

Imagine what could happen if that lost and wasted food was diverted from the path to landfill and redistributed to communities instead. Given the high toll that food waste exacts from the environment, that one simple step could dramatically reduce the number of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Even as consumers, we can play a role, too. We can tell our favourite food retailers about Second Harvest’s food rescue app, available for free from the App Store or Google Play. We can vote with our wallets and choose to shop at stores and eat at restaurants that donate their surplus food.

Let’s work together to rewrite the script and reimagine a healthier future, one plate and shopping bag at a time.

Click to read The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste, our world-first research of food loss and waste, to learn where food is wasted – and how it can be rescued.

A Drop’s Worth: The Value of Water on Food Security

A Drop’s Worth: The Value of Water on Food Security

You’ve just sat down to enjoy a steak and salad for dinner. You pour yourself a glass of water and as you take a sip, you wonder, how much water did it take to make this meal? 

What’s Your Water Footprint?

One kilogram of beef—that feeds about four adults—takes about 15,000 litres of freshwater. This varies depending on how it was farmed and brought to your plate. To put 15,000 litres into perspective, that amount of water would likely overflow an average-sized pool. 

Back to your dinner. 

You’re not eating a kilogram of beef to yourself, so let’s say that it’s a 6oz steak. That requires 674 gallons or 2,550 litres of water to produce. A simple tomato, lettuce, and cucumber salad requires 21 gallons or ~79 litres of water. You also had a glass of water (another ¼ litre), which may not account for much here, but it all adds up. 

Where’s Our Freshwater Going?

The average person consumes 5,000 litres of fresh water a day. 

Some of that water you consumed physically through food and drink. Meat and dairy have big water footprints, but most things require water to produce. 

In fact, 90% of the water you use daily is virtual or indirect

Virtual water use is the water that it took to produce everything around you. 

That includes the water that it took to produce or farm, manufacture, package, and deliver your meal. But it also includes the hydropower used to light your home, heat your water, power your stove, wash your dishes, and even make your clothing, launder it, and get you cleaned in the shower.

Home consumption of water accounts for 11% of total freshwater consumption. Industry uses 19%. Agriculture uses 70%—some of which you’ve just consumed in your meal. 

A Drop’s Worth: The Value of Water For Food Security

Blue, Green, and Grey Water Footprints

Water footprints of food items are broken up into three different categories:

  • Blue: The amount of surface and groundwater used in production (for irrigation and watering).
    • Freshwater can be found in ice, groundwater that is hidden deep under the surface, and surface water such as ponds, lakes, atmosphere, permafrost, and rivers. 
  • Green: The amount of rainwater used in production.
    • Plants naturally absorb precipitation and store it in their roots, as well as evaporate water from their leaves.   
  • Grey: The amount of water used to dilute pollution created in the production.

For every statistic like 15,000 litres are required to produce one kilogram of beef, it also has a blue, green, and grey water footprint breakdown. Respectively for beef, it’s approximately 93% green (rainwater only), 4% blue, 3% grey water footprint, but varies greatly depending on farming practices

The largest share of green water used—99% of it—comes from irrigating the feed that the cattle consume. And yes, even entirely grass-fed beef has large water footprints due to the water needed to grow the grasses that the cows graze on. 

A Drop’s Worth: The Value of Water For Food Security

Water Use and Sustainability  

But the Earth is 71% water! 

Yes, and only 2.5% of that water is fresh, deliciously drinkable water. The other ~97% of our planet’s water is the ocean, which is too salty in its current state to consume or irrigate with. 

As you can see, our freshwater use is unsustainable, especially on a global scale. Especially in developed countries where the value of water seems much too low for how much we need and use it.

Over the past 100 years, global freshwater use has increased sixfold and continues to increase by roughly 1% every year since the 1980s. If we continue on business as usual, by 2030—a mere nine years from now—the world will face a 40% global deficit in freshwater. 

Global water withdrawals over the past 100 years - the UN Water Development Report 2021

Caption: UN World Water Development Report 2021 figure on global water withdrawals over the past 100 years. 

Water and Food Loss and Waste

Unfortunately for us and our planet, most of the food that is produced in the world goes to waste. Food loss and waste (FLW) represents nearly 60% of the food industry’s environmental footprint. 

When food is lost and wasted along the food supply chain, so is water. 

Most of the waste was avoidable. 

According to Second Harvest’s The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Technical Report, for every tonne of FLW in Canada alone, 128 tonnes of precious blue water was wasted.  

Second Harvest's Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste and water use

Caption: Blue Water footprint of Total, Avoidable, and Unavoidable Food Loss and Waste in Canada from Second Harvest’s The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste: Technical Report.

The Link Between the Value of Water and Food Security 

Water scarcity is a serious and growing concern. This is especially true when we look at the link between water and food production.  

We need water to produce food. Water helps plants grow, boosts crop yields and nutrition levels, allows farmers to expand their production to feed more people, and allows us to grow food during dry seasons or droughts. The more water that a community—or country—has available for agriculture, the higher the food security. There is also known to be less malnutrition, famine, and undernourishment where there is better access to good water. 

Water is therefore central to our food security, health, and nutrition. 

It is also in high—and ever-increasing—demand as our population continues to grow and more droughts plague our changing climate. 

A Drop’s Worth: The High Value of Water

The good news (!) is that we have the power to act responsibly and change our ways. 

Only the privileged few have the ability to access and use 5,000 litres of water a day, for example. Three billion people around the globe lack access to clean, safe drinking water. 

The same can be said of food insecurity. 

One in seven Canadians doesn’t have access to good, healthy food, despite the avoidable food loss and waste. That’s why Second Harvest works to divert surplus food from the landfills (and compost buckets) to help feed those in need. 

Just like rescuing food, water conservation doesn’t have to be a burden.

Here’s what you can do to value and conserve the water you use:

1. Change your diet

  • Eat more vegetables
  • Eat less meat and less often—start off with Meatless Mondays and go from there
  • Eat more whole foods and less processed foods 
  • Eat local and organic whenever possible

2. Change your buying habits to support eco-friendly brands

  • Support sustainable and local farmers and producers—and get to know their farming practices
  • Talk to your grocery suppliers about their sustainability practices

3. Waste less food and water

4. Cut back on indoor and outdoor water use

  • Turn off the tap!
  • Opt for shorter showers
  • Fill a water bottle and put it in the back of your toilet—it’s that much less volume of water flushing every time
  • Use energy- and water-efficient dishwashers and laundry modes with larger loads
  • Conserve water while you’re cooking and cleaning 
  • Save your leftover water in a jug for your plants
  • Dry farm—let the rain water your plants 
Water outdoor use

5. Conserve energy

  • Turn off the lights, heat, a/c, and fans whenever you don’t need them
  • Support eco-friendly home appliances and businesses

6. Switch to reusable water bottles

  • Make sure that you drink enough water every day, but do it in a sustainable way
  • Avoid single-use plastic water bottles that create more problems
  • There are great ones available, including from Second Harvest’s supporters at Fill it Forward. Learn more about Fill it Forward’s support of water programs below.

7. Educate yourself on water use in your country

8. Celebrate the high value of water every single day!

Fill it forward & inspire the world to reuse

With support from Fill it Forward, the Water First Internship Program supports young Indigenous interns in First Nations communities to become certified water treatment plant operators.

In order to address the problem of single-use waste most effectively, Fill it Forward has focused their efforts on influencing behaviours that inspire reuse. Their team develops macro-level systems and programming for large organizations, as well as micro-level product features and tech that engages individuals to create lasting change.

Every time you scan one of the reuse trackers into the Fill It Forward App, they track in real time the environmental impact of that decision as well as donate to their partners’ clean water, sanitation, or nutrition programs. Those projects range from the Americas to Asia, Africa and beyond.

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

When it comes to waste at home, the kitchen is an unfortunate hot spot. 

It makes sense: the kitchen is the heart of so many homes. It’s where we make meals for ourselves and for our loved ones. It’s where we get nourishment and recharge throughout the day. 

But, for every salad that we make, there are lettuce and tomato cores, carrot and radish tops and roots, avocado skins and pits, and lemon rinds as food waste, depending on the meal. For every barbeque, there are watermelon and corn cobs and meatless bones at least. All of that and more end up in the trash or compost—and add to our country’s growing food waste

Let’s think about creative kitchen hacks to reduce the food waste that we’ve become so accustomed to in our homes. Let’s challenge ourselves to reduce our food waste in our home kitchens—and see how this seemingly small step can make a big impact on a daily basis.

Here are a few super easy, yet ingenious kitchen hacks to reduce your home’s food waste and food costs.

The money saved in a zero-waste kitchen can help people across Canada! We invite you to join us to donate the difference back to Second Harvest to help keep healthy food where it belongs: on plates, not in landfills.

10 Clever Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

1. Re-use your lemon rinds to clean

Past generations could have told us that lemon (and white vinegar) works wonders as a natural cleaning product. They are naturally antibacterial and act as bleach to clean, shine, and remove stains in bathrooms and kitchens. Plus they smell delicious. Add a little coarse salt to your lemon rinds and it’ll clean and disinfect your wooden cutting board. 

2. Overturn spent grapefruits in the garden

Finished eating your grapefruit? Don’t throw it out, put it cut-side-down in the garden to attract slugs and other pests away from eating your garden’s leafy greens. 

3. Plants love spent coffee grounds 

Acid-loving plants love spent coffee grounds as compost! Save your grounds and sprinkle them on the soil of your tomatoes, blueberries, roses, azaleas, carrots, radishes, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and more. Give them water and watch those plants flourish. 

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

4. Crushed eggshells in your garden

Crushed eggshells are great in gardens. Finely ground eggshells act as a natural calcium powder that is similar in makeup to fertilizers. Or, leave them coarse and scatter them around your slug-loving plants as the first line of defence against them. 

5. Make a stock with your kitchen scraps

Stock is an important ingredient in so many delicious recipes. It can also be made at home very easily with plain old kitchen scraps. Collect your onion skins, vegetable tops, skins, and roots, wilted greens, floppy vegetables (like carrots and celery), and bones, in a container in the freezer or fridge until you’re ready to make a delicious stock. Just add water, a few bay leaves, salt and pepper, and boil to a simmer for the day. 

6. Freeze your fruits and vegetables

If you have fruits and vegetables that are about to turn in your fridge, seal them in a freezer bag for later use. Make sure to label the bag using a permanent marker so that you know what it is and how long it’s been in your freezer. Check out our best before-dates article for more information. 

Frozen greens, berries, and bananas make awesome breakfast smoothies. Or, heat your frozen berries up into a quick compote to drizzle over yogurt or French toast. The latter, by the way, is a classic great use of stale bread and stretching one egg for more people.

Another kitchen hack: Once you’re done with the freezer bag, if it’s in good shape, give it a wash, and reuse it. 

7. Use your wilted greens

Wilted greens like kale and spinach or herbs are perfect in omelettes, scrambled eggs, stirfries, smoothies, and other dishes that would naturally wilt them anyways. They still have so much nutritional value and flavour that it would be a shame to bin them just because they droop. 

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

8. Store leftovers to see them  

If your fridge is packed with coloured containers, it’s like playing a mystery game to figure out what’s inside of them. Sometimes, that leftover dish that you planned to eat got pushed too far back to eat in time safely. 

Put your leftovers in clear glass jars or containers and organize them in a way that encourages you to use them. 

9. Beef up your leftovers

Just because you only have half a sandwich left over, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a full hearty meal. Make a side salad or soup, slice a pickle, toss a few chips on your plate, or vegetables and dip to beef up your leftovers. Have some fresh fruit and a piece of chocolate for dessert. If it’s a stirfry for one that needs to feed more, fry in some fresh vegetables, leftover meat, and add fresh veggies and herbs to garnish. 

Leftovers are only boring if you let them be. 

10. Transform your food scraps with creativity

Consider the avocado pit. 

You can clean it and grow it into a whole new plant that looks great—and it may even produce more avocados for you one day. Or, you can dry the pits and rehydrate them in an all-natural dye bath to transform your not-so-white bedding into a pretty pink colour. 

So many fruits, vegetables, and other plants can be repurposed in many clever ways. 

You can regrow lettuce and green onions in water to sprout more food (your family can learn how at our upcoming symposium!). One clove of garlic will re-grow into a whole bulb if given enough time and garden space. You can dye clothing naturally with onion skins, beets, turmeric, coffee, tea, you name it. 

10 Clever & Easy Kitchen Hacks to Reduce Your Home’s Food Waste

Get inspired!

All it takes is a bit of effort to set these food scraps aside—and creativity to use them when you have the time and energy—to hack your food waste systems in your home.

Here are more ideas to get inspired!

We’d love to hear about your food waste hacks. Post them on social and tag @SecondHarvestCA so we can share and create a food waste revolution, one kitchen at a time!

The Canadian Grocery Industry Tackles Food Waste & Hunger

The Canadian Grocery Industry Tackles Food Waste & Hunger

Canada is home to more than 15,000 grocery stores that employ nearly 400,000 Canadians. As the cornerstone to every community—large and small—the grocery and food industry is an essential service and integral part of our society. 

During the pandemic, grocery, manufacturing, supplier, and distribution employees worked tirelessly to keep Canadians across the country fed with healthy, nourishing food. They were diligent to try to keep everyone safe and socially distanced while keeping shelves stocked.

To honour them, July 19, 2021 is Grocery Heroes Day.  

Recognizing Frontline Workers with Grocery Heroes Day

Grocery Heroes Day commemorates the hard work that workers in the grocery industry have done to help feed Canadian families during COVID-19. 

As Canada’s largest food rescue organization, Second Harvest is proud to take this opportunity to recognize the outstanding work that our grocery partners and their frontline workers have done throughout the pandemic. They have helped put food on the tables of millions of Canadians during an unprecedented time, despite supply chain disruptions and added health and safety precautions.

Thank you to all of those working in the grocery and food industry. 

How Grocery Stores are Addressing Food Waste and Hunger

In the face of the pandemic, our grocery partners went above and beyond by helping Second Harvest to divert food waste at the retail level and help feed some of the 1 in 7 food-insecure Canadians.

Second Harvest’s Food Rescue App is a tool that grocery stores across Canada, including our partners Loblaws and the Empire group of stores, use as part of their sustainability strategy. Retailers of any size can use the free app to manage their surplus food and help keep it from being wasted—and feed those community members in need. 

Learn more about the food rescue app. 

Thank You, Grocery Industry Frontline Workers

Grocery Heroes Day is a great time to celebrate the frontline staff at grocery stores who are not only doing vital work for the community members they see in-store, they’re also working behind the scenes to rescue their stores’ unsold food and donate it to non-profits in their communities. As we commemorate the first-ever Grocery Heroes Day, we asked staff at just two out of the hundreds of grocery stores across Canada that rescue and donate food why they do what they do.

Samantha is the assistant store manager at Sobeys Meadowbrook in Edmonton, AB, which has been using the Second Harvest food rescue app since May 13. She is involved in the Sobeys Food Rescue Champion committee which is a group of eight very involved Sobeys store employees who promote the Food Rescue program and help enhance it. 

“I feel a responsibility to try to help feed as many people as I can, and the Second Harvest app has given me the opportunity to do that through day to day business at a job I love,” says Samantha. 

The Meadowbrook store donates twice a week to The Guiding Light Women Empowerment Society. Chinwendu Deborah from Guiding Light is picking up a car full of rescued healthy food donations.

“Making connections and building relationships in our community is incredibly important to us. The Second Harvest program has allowed us to further our relationship with our community partners and help to create positive change for those facing food insecurity.”

The staff at Hardy’s YIG with some of the healthy food donations that will be shared with their neighbours in Devon, AB.

“We love working with Second Harvest!” says Susan Hardy, franchisee of Hardy’s YIG in Devon, AB. 

“For us, it can be hard to find the time to get out and donate our extra food and divert food from the landfill. We have been looking for ways to do this, and we could not find alternatives. Second Harvest has given us the help we needed to be able to accomplish this.” 

“They have made the process so easy for us! We just go onto the website and insert what we have to donate and the rest is basically done for us. We are now able to support our community and donate all our extra food, allowing us to both give back and create less waste.” 

Thank you to all of you!

Restore Our Earth: The (Avoidable) Cost of Food Waste

Restore Our Earth: The (Avoidable) Cost of Food Waste

Let’s say that you decide to make granola. You drive to the store, buy the ingredients for $30 plus a 10-cent plastic bag, and spend an hour of your time (and oven electricity) preparing and baking it. Even though it’s delicious and perfectly fine as-is, you decide that it’s missing an ingredient and want to start over again. You toss the granola into the 10-cent plastic bag and into the landfill. How much did that cost in food waste? 

You might think it cost $30 for the ingredients, plus however many resources it took to produce, harvest, process, package, transport, and sell the ingredients to you. But no, in the food value chain, the cost of waste is often calculated as just the landfill or disposal cost—like the 10 cents for that plastic bag. The rest isn’t measured. 

Now imagine this on a global scale. 

One-third of all food produced globally goes to waste. Food loss and waste represent nearly 60% of the food industry’s environmental footprint. If food waste and loss were a country, it would be the worst emitter of CO2 after China and the U.S. Food that goes to the landfill creates methane gas, which is 25 times more damaging to our beautiful planet than carbon dioxide.    

This is a global systemic problem. 

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal aims to cut global food waste per capita in half by 2030 at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food loss along the supply chain. While it is often assumed that the majority of food is wasted at the retail and consumer (home) levelsfood is wasted at every stage along the food chain from production, processing and manufacturing, and retail and distribution, to consumers—who are responsible for 14% of total food waste. 

This is exacerbated by disruptions in our food supply chain, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact on the restaurant and food retail industry. Comparing April 2020 with April 2019, for example, Second Harvest received over double the amount of surplus food than the pre-pandemic period. 

In honour of Earth Month 2021’s theme, Restore Our Earth, we are looking at the cost of food waste on our planet along every step of our supply chain and restorative actions to take in order to slow our impact on our climate crisis. Addressing the issue of food waste and loss through measurement and planning across all levels of the supply chain makes our system less vulnerable and more sustainable.

Food Loss and Waste Along the Food Supply Chain: From Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International (VCMI) Report: The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste.
Food Loss and Waste Along the Food Supply Chain: From Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International (VCMI) Report: The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste.

Food Loss in Production: Challenges and Solutions 

Surplus food is a complex problem that starts on the farm (or field, ocean, or greenhouse).

Production food loss can be caused by anything from fluctuating market prices, demand, labour changes, or harvest issues to aesthetic criteria, where produce is graded based on looks. For example, if a tomato has a blemish or it isn’t the right variety, it may not leave the farm despite the time, cost, and energy that went into growing, harvesting, and handling it. 

For one pound of feedlot beef, it takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 25 pounds of soil, and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gas. All of that is wasted if that one pound of beef never even leaves the processor. Millions of tomatoes are grown in Canada every year and it is expected that hundreds of thousands of them won’t make it to the market. According to a research project for the WWF by Dr. Ayana Johnson, half of the fish caught for the U.S. and EU goes to waste.  

The biggest challenge and solution for food loss at the production level is to optimize the harvest.

Recommendations to Curb Food Loss at the Production Level:

  1. Find alternative, emerging markets for imperfect and less-than-grade-A foods, including retailers and food rescue programs 
  2. Work with buyers to move away from restrictive aesthetic criteria
  3. Ensure food waste and loss measurement practices that consider causes of loss for specific commodities
Restore Our Earth: The Avoidable Cost of Food Waste Along the Food Chain

Food Loss in Processing and Manufacturing: Challenges and Solutions

Manufacturers and processors turn raw, perishable foods into products. For example, they may take raw dairy, eggs, or meat, for example, and process and package it to be safe (and delicious) to consume. However, when supply chains are interrupted, as they were in COVID, manufacturers may end up with an overabundance of that perishable product. That’s exactly how Second Harvest ended up rescuing potatoes-turned-french fries and delivering them to communities in need across Canada.  

According to ReFED, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste in the U.S., almost 90% of surplus food in processing is byproduct and production line waste. The key to their success is improving efficiencies.

Recommendations to Curb Food Loss at the Processing Level:

  1. Find new uses and market for production use of edible byproducts and establish relationships with food rescue programs for surplus donations
  2. Improve inefficiencies and avoidable waste/bycatch along production lines such as date coding and labeling
  3. Encourage facilities to measure food loss within their operations and set reduction targets 
From Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International (VCMI) Report: The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste. These figures don’t include production costs, such as water, power, fertilizer, and labour, as well disposal fees. The environmental costs include GHG emissions produced by food decomposition in landfills.
From Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International (VCMI) Report: The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste. These figures don’t include production costs, such as water, power, fertilizer, and labour, as well disposal fees. The environmental costs include GHG emissions produced by food decomposition in landfills.

Food Waste in Distribution and Retail: Challenges and Solutions

Food waste happens for many reasons at the distribution level. The product may not have been stored or shipped correctly or shipments may have been disrupted or delayed, which might trigger best-before date issues. Or, it could have been handled incorrectly and caused bruising, wilting, or rotting that either the distributor or retailer could reject. 

Once the food reaches the retailer, such as a grocery store, food could be wasted because of stocking issues such as over- and under-stocking, food date labeling, or pricing issues. Or because of human error. Many foods require food-safe temperatures and if they’re not put into fridges or freezers fast enough, they could spoil.  

Retailers have a lot of power over consumer buying behavior and connecting the supply chain. Even just how a product is visually presented could mean the difference between a purchase and a loss. 

Recommendations to Curb Food Waste in Distribution and Retail:

  1. Start measuring food waste and find out where it’s happening. Set goals to reduce
  2. Educate employees to understand best-before labels for stocking and donation
  3. Engage employees in redistribution models for surplus food donations
Restore Our Earth: The Avoidable Cost of Food Waste Along the Food Chain

Food Waste at Home: Challenges and Solutions

After all of that, what a waste if the food finally makes it into our homes only to get tossed. What a shame. The average Canadian will spend $1,766 per household every year on avoidable food waste. That is food that was still good and safe to eat but looked wilted, bruised, or was opened a few days after the best-before date.  

When did “when in doubt, throw it out” become a contributor to the global issue of food waste on our planet? What if “when in doubt” is a nod to our lack of education around best-before dates and expirations? If we all knew how bad food waste was for our beautiful planet, would we not think twice about throwing out perfectly good food? 

Extra Readings and Resources to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Recommendations to Curb Food Waste at Home:

  1. Read our post on best-before dates and apply them at home
  2. Do a food audit of your kitchen to avoid overbuying
  3. Make a meal plan, buy only what you need, and use it (put waste in your compost, not the landfill)

It’s time that we all do our part, no matter where in the food chain we are.

Extra Readings and Resources on Food Loss and Waste 

Here are a few helpful additional readings, resources, and events to check out on your journey to reducing food waste!