food-waste

Report Examines the State of Food Loss and Waste in North America

A recent report by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation advocates for source reduction, food rescue and food recovery.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has released a new report through its North American Initiative on Food Waste Reduction and Recovery titled “Characterization and Management of Food Loss and Waste in North America,” outlining the state of food loss and waste (FLW) in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

To compile the report, researchers at the CEC analyzed data and literature from nonprofits and other governmental organizations and conducted hundreds of interviews with industry experts. A companion report describing the state of organic waste in North America was also released.

"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," said César Rafael Chávez, executive director for CEC, in a statement. "Our aim with this report is to establish a baseline and to identify an array of tools and strategies that will enable each sector of the food supply chain to make reducing these losses a reality."

The CEC examined FLW across the food supply chain, looking at consumers and suppliers as well as the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector. David Donaldson, program manager for Green Growth at the CEC, said the biggest challenge of putting both reports together was finding enough data and information.

“There are differences in the definitions and scope of data collection programs in each of the three [North American] countries. The biggest challenge was accessing comparable data that could be relied on to accurately characterize organic and food waste in North America,” says Donaldson. “We supplemented existing information sources by conducting interviews, hosting multistakeholder workshops in all three North American countries and conferring with leading experts. While we worked hard to close data gaps, they remain a limitation of our research and are acknowledged in the report.”

The report identifies several primary causes of FLW, including overproduction, product damage, lack of cold chain infrastructure, rigid food-grading specifications, varying customer demand and market fluctuations.

The report also offers several solutions for how to fight the problem of food waste. The solutions fall into three categories: source reduction, food rescue for human consumption and food recovery for animals.

Other key takeaways include:

  • Food loss refers to food that is intended for human consumption but is reduced in quantity or quality due to inefficiencies in the food supply chain.
  • Food waste refers to food for human consumption that is thrown away due to intentional behaviors.
  • There is 168 million metric tonnes of FLW in North America each year. Of that amount, Americans waste 415 kilograms per capita, Canadians waste 396 kilograms per capita and Mexicans waste 249 kilograms per capita.

  • Canadians and Americans waste almost twice as much food per capita as Mexicans do.
  • 67 million tonnes of FLW per year occurs at the consumer level, 51 million tonnes occurs in the ICI levels and 49 million tonnes occurs at the pre-harvest level.
  • Distributors, retailers, food rescue organizations and foodservice providers have a critical role to play in realizing solutions.
  • The top three foods produced in Canada are wheat and wheat products, canola and mustard seed and maize.
  • The top three foods produced in Mexico are maize, milk and sorghum.
  • The top three foods produced in the U.S. are maize, soybeans and milk.
  • 193 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions result from the lifecycle of wasted food, from production to disposal.
  • Among other wasted resources due to food waste are 6 billion cubic meters of water, 22.1 million hectares of cropland production, 38.6 million cubic meters of landfill space and $278 billion in market value of annual food production.
  • The report states that FLW presents North American governments and organizations with opportunities to develop FLW policies, foster multistakeholder collaboration, create voluntary ICI FLW initiatives and strengthen regional collaboration.
  • The report’s preferred solution for reducing the impact of FLW is source reduction, which can be achieved through reducing portion sizes, improving transportation and storage, increasing the marketability of second-grade produce and standardizing date labels.
  • If source reduction isn’t possible, the report advocates for what it calls food rescue, which can be achieved through donation of safe and nutritious food that would otherwise be wasted, financial incentives for food donation, liability protection for food donors and online food rescue platforms.
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