The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), Canada, released a comprehensive report on the state of food loss and waste in Canada, Mexico and the United States, developed through the CEC’s North American Initiative on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery.
The study, “Characterization and Management of Food Loss and Waste in North America,” documents adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts of food loss and waste, and actions that the industrial, commercial, institutional, government and non-governmental sectors can implement to mitigate these impacts.
Food loss and waste in North America
The report estimates that 168 million tons of food are wasted in North America each year, with Americans wasting 915 pounds per capita, Canadians 873 pounds per capita and Mexicans 549 pounds per capita. With notable differences between the three countries, the report finds that the largest share of food loss and waste in North America, 67 million ton per year, occurs at the consumer level. There are 52 million tons wasted in the industrial, commercial and institutional levels and 49 million tons at the pre-harvest level. These losses represent a huge waste of social, economic and natural resources.
The report also provides a closer examination of the primary causes and potential solutions to reduce the problem, focusing on over-production, product damage, lack of standardized date labeling practices, lack of cold chain infrastructure, rigid food-grading specifications and varying customer demand and market fluctuations. A key finding is that distributors, retailers, food rescue organizations and foodservice providers play a critical role to play in realizing solutions.
“As we build a greater understanding about the impact of food loss and waste on our economy and environment, we must also commit ourselves to take action on source reduction and food rescue and recovery, at all stages of the food supply chain,” says César Rafael Chávez, executive director of CEC. “Our aim with this report is to establish a baseline and identify an array of tools and strategies that will enable each sector of the food supply chain to make reducing these losses a reality."
Environmental and socio-economic impacts of food loss and waste
The report estimates that the annual environmental and socio-economic impacts of food loss and waste across North America are stark. They include:
- 193 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from the lifecycle of wasted food, from production to disposal (equal to the GHG emissions generated by 41 million cars driven continuously for a year).
- 17.6 billion cubic meters of water wasted.
- 55 million acres of cropland production wasted.
- 38.6 million cubic meters of landfill space used.
- $278 billion in market value of annual food production lost.
The report outlines several key areas of opportunity to address food loss and waste in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors:
- Source reduction. Reducing food waste at the source through inventory management and offering reduced portion sizes in foodservice to reduce plate waste, increasing the marketability of produce by accepting and integrating second-grade produce into retail settings (typically at a discount), storage and transportation improvements to maintain quality and collaboration between stakeholders to standardize date labels to be more clear and consistent to reduce confusion at all stages of the food supply chain.
- Rescue for human consumption. Encourage donation of safe and nutritious food that would otherwise be wasted through financial incentives for food donation, liability protection for food donors, online food rescue platforms, expanded funding to improve infrastructure and donation-tracking in food rescue and recovery systems.
To reduce GHG associated with food loss and waste, the report lists source reduction, food rescue and recovery as having the greatest potentials for savings and as preferable to recycling. Disposal is identified as the least preferable approach.