Food Waste and Some Unique Strategies to Reduce Our Contribution at Earths General Store

Food is grown to nourish our bodies. A lot of labour, energy and financial resources went into getting it to our bodies. Along the way quite a bit of waste was generated (some estimate this to be as high as 40%) but we as the end consumer actually waste the largest percentage – almost 50% of this wastage. This wastage is disrespectful to the growers, the energy that went into growing and producing the food, and to the environment.

The food industry works to provide us with food for our bodies. The farmers plant the seeds, pickers pick the fruit, the machines harvest, transport companies move these products about the world. We are honour bound to respect this chain and the resources that went to produce this food for us by using it for what it was intended – to nourish our bodies.

It is estimated that in conventional about 3 - 10 calories of energy (fossil fuels, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, etc) is used to create 1 calorie of food energy. Not a very sustainable system. Food production is very resource intensive and therefore has the corresponding level of environmental footprint.

Buying bulk is not necessarily the best option because good good food, like fresh produce, spoils quicker than processed foods. Purchase with usage and expiry dates in balance with real expectations. Instead of looking for the best buy and purchasing more than you require find good quality, organic, and/or local food that will provide you with the appropriate amount of food.

Some things to consider to reduce food waste:

  • Store foods appropriately and regularly rotate foods so that they are used up.
  • Store leftovers appropriately (freezing if need be) but with the intent that they will be consumed in a reasonable time period but my usual process is that the excess is eaten the next day for lunch – yum leftovers are great for this.
  • We have to apply the hierarchy of the three Rs to food with reduce being the first and most important. Only buy what you can use and store it properly. Use a shopping list to focus on what you are going to use for your home and in what quantities.

Food waste that finally ends up in landfills (most organic waste – food wastes  - in Edmonton are processed through their composting facility) where it usually breaks down through anaerobic decomposition and produces, as a byproduct methane. Methane has the greenhouse gas equivalency of about 23 times that of carbon dioxide. I strongly believe that organic waste in landfill is a wasted resource.

Earth’s General Store works on many fronts to reduce our food waste output:

  • Ordering more often so the food is fresh and we have less of a storage problem – read less waste due to produce spoiling in our storage units
  • Rotating our inventory and keeping current on Best Before dates and putting these items on sale so that they can live out their purpose – providing sustenance to humans
  • Giving away food for free when past its prime (fresh produce) or expiry date (like milk or yogurt)
  • Allowing staff to take home food that is no longer saleable
  • Compost all organic material through our own composting bins
  • Recycling all containers that are recyclable (including biodegradable packing chips – we give these to a shipping company)

Other ways that Earth’s General Store has always reduced its waste contribution:

  • Composting all organic matter (transported by bicycle or backpack to my home composter)
  • Recycling all glass, metal, cardboard and paper. I used to transport all the material via my bicycle (well about 80% of the time and 20% by motor vehicle) but now our cardboard goes into a recycling bin in the alleyway.
  • Earth’s General Store’s largest percentage of garbage comes from waxed cardboard that is used for shipping wet greens. Ideally it would be great to find a company that does waste to energy since this product has significant energy potential.

Here is something to think about:

For Canada alone, the estimated annual cost of food waste is approximately $27 billion.  According to Statistics Canada (2010) estimates, in 2009, Canadian food waste at the retail and consumer level amounted to approximately 122 kg per person for total fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, 6 kg for dairy products, 10 kg of poultry (boneless) and 16 kg of red meats (boneless), and 18 kg of oils, fats, sugar and syrup.

How can you help reduce your contribution to food waste?

Do your part in storing your fresh food correcting. Check out the article at Vegetarian Times for more details though I do have a problem with their statement “so toss any spoiled produce immediately”. Quite often a bruised or slightly spoiled item is only partly done for. Cut off the offending spoilage and enjoy the rest.

Of course one of the best ways to avoid creating waste and ensuring that you are getting some of the best food available is to grow and make it yourself (from scratch).

Today, Michael Kalmanovitch, owner of Earth’s General Store will be on CTVs Prime Time news program talking about food waste. A link will be posted when it becomes available.

So if you want to save money (up to 30%) on your grocery bill buy smaller quantities, store everything properly (and rotate products), and eat leftovers.

- Posted February 5th, 2013