On March 2, 2017, leaders from business, academia, not-for-profit and government came together in Halifax to dig deeper into a pressing social, economic and environmental issue: food waste.
The Food Waste Summit, held by Divert NS and sponsored by Nova Scotia Environment and Walmart Canada, convened over 80 stakeholders to discuss issues around food waste and brainstorm solutions.
There’s no doubt: food waste in Canada and around the world is a growing threat. Although Nova Scotia banned organics in landfills over two decades ago, other provinces and countries still send food waste to landfills, contributing to higher levels of methane gas and harmful carbon emissions. According to presenters at the Summit, an astonishing one third of food produced worldwide ends up wasted.
And even composting is not something to use as a crutch. While organics recycling does produce a valuable resource, the ideal situation is to find ways to reduce food waste before it ends up in green carts.
Mayor Malcom Brodie of Richmond, B.C. and Chair of the National Zero Waste Council, said at the Food Waste Summit: “This issue presents challenges and opportunities for Canada.”
In fall 2016, the National Zero Waste Council published a report outlining three priority areas in the battle to eliminate food waste: policy change, innovation, and behaviour change. Food Waste Summit attendees were able to share input on the report, and discussed priorities like a food expiry label policy and national food waste communications campaign.
Stakeholders from across all sectors agreed that while food waste is an intimidating issue, it also holds untapped economic and social opportunities. Feed Nova Scotia and FOUND Forgotten Food, two local organizations, embody the social impacts that reducing food waste can have on a community. Nick Jennery from Feed NS said that donating unwanted or excess food can have life-changing impacts for people in need.
“The foundation of Divert NS summits is to bring the right people into the same space to talk about a common challenge, so we can we can work toward solutions together,” Jeff MacCallum said at the beginning of the Summit.
Exactly that purpose was realized when Lindsay Clowes and Laurel Schut from FOUND Forgotten Food expressed their need for a company truck, to enable the collection of more food in their operation. It was a highlight of the day when, coincidentally, Divert NS was able to help by offering to donate a surplus vehicle of their own!
Cynthia Thompson, speaking on behalf of Sobeys and their dedication to diminishing food waste, said it simply: “We hate waste.”
Sobeys and Walmart both presented on how employee training programs, innovative purchasing and storage practices, and donation of excess food are already becoming common practice for many retailers to reduce waste. In fact, Thompson said that Sobeys currently donates over one million pounds of excess food in Nova Scotia alone each year - adding that “there is always room for improvement.”
Presentations from Acadia University and Chartwells dining services stimulated discussion on how institutions are working toward reducing food waste. Universities have a unique set of challenges, hosting thousands of students from different backgrounds. This can add complexity when implementing different strategies to combat food waste. Yet, strategies similar to those seen in the retail sector are beginning to help.
With a great variety of perspectives and discussion, Divert NS’ Food Waste Summit shed light on an issue gaining traction in Canada and around the world. Although challenges lie ahead, it was encouraging to hear about hard work already being done in the retail and institutional sector, and how organizations and concerned citizens are beginning to contribute to the discussion.
To learn more about food waste and review presentations from the Food Waste Summit, click here.