Food waste is a problem businesses and the government are starting to look at as a serious environmental hazard and drain on the economy.
One program that has seen success in southern Ontario is being welcomed with enthusiasm in Sudbury to help businesses and individuals donate excess food and keep it out of landfills.
Food Rescue was introduced to dozens of people at a special conference at College Boreal on March 27 as a way for donors and recipients to find each other and get still edible food to people and organizations in need. It included a panel discussion about current distribution systems in the region, how they worked and what could be done to improve it, how the new system will work and who could benefit from it.
Diverting food away from landfills served many purposes, said emcee Angele Young, regional manager of Sudbury/Manitoulin Student Nutrition. Among them are reducing greenhouse gasses and landfill waste, as well as giving communities food security.
The conference started with a breakfast made from rescued food, and a short video showing the amount of time and energy put into growing, transporting and storing food, only to have some of it thrown out.
“To see the impact food has on our environment, to follow this journey is an eye-opener,” Young said. “We are all seeing this in our lives. To reduce this, in any way we can, will ultimately save resources.”
The impact on the environment was exemplified during the panel discussion with Lori Nikkel of Food Rescue, who is also the director of programs and partnerships at Second Harvest. She said right now there is more than enough food to feed every human in the world, but in Ontario alone, about 3 billion tonnes of produced food never gets eaten, with 60 per cent of that going into the landfill. That produces methane gas, a direct contributor to climate change.
That also equates to $31 million in food across the supply chain.
While people can help by planning their shopping and not overbuying, she said they can divert food away from the landfills with options like composting, biogas, feeding to livestock, and now sorting and getting still-good food to people who need it.
“At the very end is the landfill, and it should never hit the landfill,” Nikkel said. “It's just not good for anybody.”
The new system is online now. People can log on, register as a donor or a recipient, and follow a list of what kinds of food are being donated or are available, how much by weight, who is donating it, and where to pick it up and what time. The system sends out a notice via email or text to let recipients and organizations know where to pick it up.
Some issues people had with current systems are pickup, storage and distribution. Nikkel said the aim of Food Rescue is to have a system that will get food to its destination.
From a business standpoint, it's all about profit loss. But there are more people who are thinking in terms of giving people a safe and secure food source to keep them healthy and help support them as members of the community.
Chantal Smith, owner of Be Greater Organics, said she is concerned about her customer base. It was frustrating for her to produce so many specialty goods, have them expire, and then have no idea who she could donate them to.
“We cater to people with dietary restrictions, and a lot of the people on these programs have restrictions,” she said. “Around 28 per cent of people under the age of 18 in Sudbury has some kind of severe food allergies, so being able to offer our products is great.”
Some of the food waste comes from confusion over if food is safe to donate. Major Bruce Shirran, executive director of the Salvation Army New Life Centre, said all food donations they receive are sorted to provide nutritious meals, and they educate people on the difference between no longer good and past best before. He said many foods that are only past best before are still safe to eat up to three months after the date.
“There are times when we get food that is too far gone, but there are other items that we know there is an extended period that goes on after the expiry date. It helps us with planning our menus so we can offer nutritious meals,” Shirran said.
Investing in the environment has impacts across the board, from health to the economy, said Jeremy Dunton, communications and outreach co-ordinator for MPP Glenn Thibeault, who was attending on behalf of the minister.
“The impact of food rescue is a great idea, and great ideas have long-lasting impacts,” Dunton said. “Donating surplus food feeds the hungry; it has major repercussions. Investing in the environment, it helps us clean our air and water, and improve on mistakes we made in the past. Investing in the environment literally affects everything around it.”