Apples rot on trees, surplus milk gets thrown out, and crops wither in fields after orders are canceled.
Across Canada, there are myriad ways that food gets wasted, starting at the source of food production and ending with restaurants, grocery stores, and homes.
Together, these forms of waste have created a crisis of unsustainable levels, according to a new report by Second Harvest.
Canadians waste 58% of all food produced in the country, 32% of which could be recovered and used to feed people. The value of this recoverable food is $49.46 billion annually, or $1,766 per household.
"The outcomes of this report make it very clear that we need to radically change how we as Canadians value food," Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest, said during a news conference. "The abundance of food we produce has led us to dismiss its intrinsic value."
At the same time, more than 4 million Canadians don’t get enough healthy food, including 1.4 million children.
The report argues that if food waste were effectively addressed throughout the country, then this hunger crisis could be alleviated.
Reducing food waste could also divert massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. As food waste rots in landfills, it releases methane, which traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Canada’s food waste generates 56.6 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions annually.
The report breaks down the various forms of food waste and shows that the largest proportion of waste occurs when food is being processed and manufactured, followed by consumer waste.
As food travels from field to fork, there are a number of reasons why waste is created.
For example, processors have to grade food by its size, shape, and appearance, and fruits and vegetables that don’t fit exacting standards can get tossed even though they’re perfectly edible.
The report argues that Canada has to move beyond these arbitrary standards and recognize the inherent quality of all edible foods, regardless of how they look.
Food producers also plan harvests according to market forecasts that occur months or years in advance. If a harvest comes to fruition and market demands shift, then a supplier could be left with a surplus that often goes to waste.
The report says that the food industry has to establish systems that accommodate these market inefficiencies. Rather than letting the harvest go to waste, another purchaser should be notified of the surplus.
Another major cause of food waste involves packaging. Many companies put “best-by” dates on their products that give the wrong impression that food is no longer edible once that date passes.
The report says that only a handful of foods actually spoil in this way, and regulators should encourage companies to extend best-by dates.
Other forms of food waste include retailers failing to deliver old food to places that can rescue it, and consumers buying too much food and letting it go bad.
“We live in an environment where food is cheap and plentiful and few people have experienced hunger or food insecurity,” a survey respondent in the report said. “Therefore societal attitudes do not support avoiding food waste.”
Although Canada is wasting an immense amount of food, the authors of the report believe that simple fixes can have a major impact.
"All of us — from farmers to manufacturers, from producers to distributors, from stores to homes — need to rethink how we view excess food and change our habits, so that people can benefit and an environmental crisis can be avoided," the report says.