Canadians Are Getting Better at Reducing Food Waste, Survey Says

Lockdown life has taught us to be more frugal, but now we need to hold on to those skills.

cucumber peelings go in garbage

@Irrmago via Twenty20 

The ever-agreeable, polite Canadians are in disagreement over whether or not they're wasting more food at home since COVID-19 began. At the start of September, I reported on a survey from Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab, which found that Canadian households are discarding more food each week as a result of stockpiling ingredients, failing to eat items before they go bad, and not planning meals in advance.

Now the opposite finding has been published by campaign group Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW), backed by the National Zero Waste Council. Using 1,200 survey responses collected in June 2020 from a range of household types across the country, LFHW found that Canadians are, in fact, wasting less food than they were pre-COVID. It sees the pandemic as a valuable reset for many households and says that it "may have had a positive impact on food management in the home – with Canadians planning more and wasting less."

The report lays out the problem: Household-based food waste accounts for 21% of all food waste across the country; the rest happens elsewhere along the supply chain, prior to food reaching people's homes. That amounts to 308 pounds (140 kilograms) tossed annually per household, worth around $827 (CAD$1,100). Numbers for the United States are considerably higher, with annual household food waste believed to be worth around $1,866, according to data published earlier this year in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. All this is to say, there's significant room for improvement.

Love Food Hate Waste has found that Canadians' shopping habits have changed, due to COVID. Not surprisingly, they shop less frequently now and buy larger quantities, mostly in order to limit trips to the store. More people have reported embracing food-saving strategies: 46% say they check the fridge and pantry thoroughly before heading to the store, 33% are making a list more often, 32% make a meal plan for the week ahead, 42% are freezing fresh foods to extend their shelf life, and 41% are trying to think of ways to use leftovers creatively. 

The survey also quizzed Canadians on their thoughts about food waste, why it happens, and why they're motivated to reduce it. The most common reasons for food waste occurring are (a) food being left too long so that it's unappetizing or unsafe; (b) food not getting used by the expiry date (although these are notoriously arbitrary); and (c) family members not eating all the food on their plates. 

When it comes to reducing food waste, most people (50%) want to save money, and some (30%) have a sense of social obligation, wanting to "ease guilt or do the right thing." Only 14% cited environmental considerations, which is an alarmingly low number for an action considered to be one of the most effective for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Project Drawdown states that the food we waste is responsible for roughly 8% of global emissions.) 

Unfortunately, there's evidence that food habits bounce back to "normal" once lockdown restrictions are eased, as has happened in the United Kingdom. The people at Love Food Hate Waste do not want to see that here in Canada, and are hoping that getting Canadians talking and thinking about their household food habits will prompt them to make lasting changes. If people just keep doing what they're doing now, in other words, we'll all be better off.

Check out the research here.