“Waste not want not” is a wonderful little catchphrase, but as with most such idioms, reality is often quite different from wishful thinking and token lip service.
Being one of the world’s most prosperous consumer societies should carry a certain burden of moral obligation to help make the world a better place for all of its rapidly growing population, but that hardly seems applicable in light of a shocking new statistical revelation showing that about $27 billion worth of food produced in Canada for domestic consumption ends up as waste—higher than the combined GDP (gross domestic product) of the world’s 32 poorest countries.
According to a recent report from the Value Chain Management Centre, titled Food Waste in Canada, “An estimated $27 billion in Canadian food annually finds its way to landfill and composting, creating unnecessary high levels of carbon and methane.”
To put this in further context, the amount of food we waste each year is more than Canadians spent on food purchased in restaurants in 2009; greater than the value of all of the country’s agricultural and afgri-food imports in 2007; and only slightly below the value of all Canadian agricultural and agri-food exports in 2007.
Moreover, this sorry stat doesn’t even account for the wasted energy, water, packaging and human resources used in the production, transportation, foodservice and retailing of food products, according to the study, which links our wasteful ways to “a general lack of willingness and/or inability to coordinate activities occurring along the value chain.”
While there is not much in the Centre’s report to make it an uplifting read, it is worth noting that for once, food packaging in general, and plastic packaging in particular, is not bashed as the waste generator it is often portrayed in popular media. In fact, “plastic packaging actually benefits us through markedly reducing food waste, by protecting food during transportation and handling,” says the study, which points to wasteful consumer behavior as responsible for over 50 per cent of the aforementioned $27-billion food waste.
So next time we pat ourselves on the back for dumping some leftovers into a backyard compost, it may well be worth a second thought to consider how much of that waste was actually all that necessary to begin with. As another old idiom suggests, throwing stones is never a good idea for people living in glass houses.
George Guidoni is the Editor of Canadian Packaging magazine.