Zero Waste Conference 2015

This Thursday was the Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Conference 2015, broadcast for the first time with Toronto as a satellite city, and showcasing many amazing speakers from both locations.  For those of you following me on Twitter or who checked out #ZWC2015, I’m sure you saw the highlights!  It was a unique experience where participants also got to interact with the speakers via Pigeonhole Live, and I enjoyed asking questions and seeing what my peers were interested in!

The conference covered many topics from compostable and recyclable products, corporate social responsibility, and more.  But the most interesting topic for me was food waste, an area where I feel we’ve barely begun to make any improvements in.

Food waste is a huge issue, over 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year.  The opening speaker for Toronto, Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton, shared with us a startling statistic: over 300 million meals go to waste in Canada each year.  This just goes to show, our current methods of food production, sales, consumption and disposal are completely misaligned with reality.

A lot of the issues we’re seeing stem from a lack of big picture thinking.  Consumers don’t get to see the whole system, so they’re not aware of how much waste goes into producing their food, both before and after.  For example, I’m sure most people can draw a lovely round red tomato, or a perfect crisp apple, or a zesty lemon.  I’m pretty sure most of us don’t realize however, that our ideal picture of produce is not what most produce looks like.  Most produce is less than “picture perfect”.  You simply don’t see “ugly” food in the stores however because there’s a theory that these fruits and veggies won’t sell.

In my opinion this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg theory: does ugly produce not sell because consumers are not willing to purchase it?  Or is it because we stopped selling all sorts of perfectly good food and got so accustomed to only seeing certain shaped tomatoes at the store that we forgot what real food looked like and now we are confused?  Which ever came first, I can gladly tell you that people are now remembering what food really looks like, and an ugly food movement has started up.

Bob Chant spoke to us on behalf of Loblaws, letting us know how the company stacks up in terms of their CSR for food waste.  One of the things they are implementing now is the sale of ugly produce.  This produce is sold in a bag for 30% less than the normal price, so it’s definitely a good deal for something which is still completely edible, but has blemishes or is oddly shaped.  This is definitely a step in the right direction, eliminating food waste by enticing consumers to buy it, and reintroducing the regular looks of produce back into our lives.  If anything, it at least gives the consumer choice.

Another great thing that Loblaws and other businesses are doing these days is donating leftover food.  Second Harvest in Toronto is a great example of this.  Their food rescue program picks up fresh, good food from producers and retailers and donates it to local shelters and hunger relief initiatives, instead of having it thrown in the garbage.  Countries such as France have already passed laws requiring large food stores to donate their unsold food to such charities, and I believe this is something that should become commonplace in Canada as well.

Tristram Stuart put this perfectly during the conference, pointing out that our current society looks at the hunger issues we’re facing and says: we need to produce more food!  So we cut down more forests, to create more farmland, and we farm more produce, but we still continue to throw 1/3 of it away, and then we wonder why people are still starving.

I hope this has been some food for thought, let me know in the comments below!

Feature image courtesy Toronto Public Library.


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