Diving into food waste in Revelstoke

Community Connections Food Recovery Program looking at ways to divert food waste from trash.

  • Aug. 2, 2016 12:00 p.m.
Rob Greenfield (bottom right) showcases the food he managed to find over two days in Madison

Rob Greenfield (bottom right) showcases the food he managed to find over two days in Madison

By Jenna Fraser, Food Security Strategy

Whether it’s personally or indirectly, many of us have known someone who tells stories of diving into the forbidden land of dumpster garbage, only to jump out with a bag full of delicious, perfectly edible food to enjoy with their friends and family.

Commonly referred to as dumpster diving, the growing popularity of turning to a local grocery store’s waste bin for perfectly usable food raises the question: why is food going to waste? And is recovering food not so much a dive, but rather something to dive into?

In Revelstoke alone, in a mere three months, more than 7,200 kilograms of food was redistributed to people in need through Community Connections’ Food Recovery Program. This article hopes to bring light to how our community is paving the way to better food usage practices, both locally and world-wide.

Too good to waste

Food waste is a term that encompasses all food loss throughout the food chain: agricultural production, processing, distribution, retail & final consumption. Food waste has become a consumer-fuelled problem, which affects not only food costs but the environment that we inhabit. The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA) says that 1.3 billion tons of food is being wasted every year and that waste occurs before it reaches consumers. Food Banks Canada says 222 million tons of food is wasted yearly at a consumer level, equating to $31 billion worth of food wasted in Canada. Of that, 47 per cent is wasted in consumers’ homes.

In Revelstoke, many partnerships are in place to address our food security, which is the ability for all community members to access safe, nutritious, affordable, sustainable food. Although the food bank has been a means of diverting food for years, there were limitations to the program including collection, storage, and a lack of alternative distribution systems.

Community Connections just completed a feasibility study into the development of an expanded food recovery program, funded by the Columbia Basin Trust. The program’s goals were to divert food from the landfill and instead into the hands of our vulnerable citizens. The recovered food is usually unfit for sale as per retail guidelines, but is fit for human consumption. Unfit food is given to farmers for animal feed.

Beginning March 2016, Community Connections partnered with Save-On-Foods, Tim Hortons, BA Sausages, and a few farmers market vendors to redirect unused food. Over 3.5 months, Community Connections diverted 7,583 kilograms of food from the landfill into the hands of our vulnerable individuals, families, youth, and seniors. If you apply Food Bank Canada’s rate of $5.51 per kilogram on the food, it equates to $41,795 worth of food recovered. Seeing the success of the food recovery program through the amount of food donated and number of program participants shows a demand to continue and grow the program in Revelstoke.

Food Security Coordinator Melissa Hemphill attempted to reach out to Revelstoke grocers, restaurants and food processors to invite them to donate to the program as it would help reduce the businesses’ negative impact on the environment and positively increase their impact on the community. Unfortunately, limited replies have been received.

Many of the retailers have expressed concerns about the liability of donating food and do not donate due to fear of accountability. Hemphill has partnered with a legal team to educate retailers on the Food Donor Encouragement Act, which states that a donor is protected by the BC Government from civil and criminal liabilities should the product later cause harm to its recipients. Debunking misconceptions about food waste is crucial to the Food Recovery program’s growth, and to protect our community.

Wasting our world

A major concern of food waste is the environmental effects it causes. Fruits and vegetables are still breathing even after they have been harvested. When you take an oxygenated product and cover it in a landfill, creating a non-oxygenated environment, methane emissions are produced. Methane emissions are greenhouse gases that trap more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, thus contributing to global warming.

About 20 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions are created in landfill sites. A solid waste management strategy conducted by the City of Revelstoke found 36.8 per cent of all garbage that gets put out to the curb consists of food waste destined for the landfill.

Greenhouse gases aren’t the only environmental concern we should have with food waste. What about all the resources used to grow, ship, and produce the food? The agricultural industry has a substantial impact on our water resources, using 2.2 billion cubic metres of water per year according to the Government of Canada’s Agri-Food Report. A report from the Canadian Program on Water Governance claims the agricultural industry is the number one consumer of water, with only 25 per cent of the water it withdraws returning to its source.

By making the best use of our foods, Revelstokians can help reduce their carbon footprint. In addition to refining our environmental habits, we also need to refine our shopping habits.

Redefine beauty, not taste

The biggest factor to reducing food waste lies in the shopping cart of the consumer. In North America, more than 30 per cent of fruits and vegetables are rejected by supermarkets because they aren’t attractive enough for consumers (Cut Waste, Grow Profit 2014 report). Consumers have been persuaded by food companies into thinking the most cosmetically appealing foods pack the most nutrition, so they shop looking for the brightest pepper, the roundest melon, and the biggest tomato.

This has consumers overlooking perfectly viable food options. As a result, good, nutritious food ends up in the dumpster, driving an increase in food waste and, subsequently, an increase in food costs.

With emerging news on food waste studies, there is a growing trend for consumers to purchase “ugly food” — food that would not normally pass from the agricultural system into the retail system, as they would not fit the bill of what consumers demand. Even though a crossed-legged carrot packs the same nutritional punch as a long, straight carrot, it would never make it to the store shelf as it is deemed visually unappealing.

Many grocery stores have begun to sell ugly food, usually at a lower cost, which has seen tremendous food recovery success as these foods are flying off the shelves.

Let’s Dive in

Recently, there was a power outage in Revelstoke, leaving Save-On–Foods bare of perishable foods. Many citizens expressed frustration that the food ended up in the garbage, including Facebook posts saying, “Someone please get me the keys to Save-On’s dumpster…” and “If only this food was donated, soooo sad.”

Patti Larson, the director of the Community Connections Food Bank says, “We will be working in collaboration with food retail stores to implement a future emergency plan to avoid such losses during unpredictable events.”

Community Connections’ Food Security Coordinator, Melissa Hemphill says, “This scale of food loss demonstrates Revelstoke’s food insecurity issues and highlights the work we must do as a community to avoid future loss.”

With a growing trend to live more environmentally conscious, to address societal hunger issues and to create less waste, we are left to ask, “How can we decrease our food waste?”

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District is engaged in some ground-breaking work including a pilot drop-off organic waste project. This project will help make headway for a curbside organic waste pickup and initiates the movement towards eliminating commercial food waste in 2017.

In the meantime, dive in to reducing your own food waste. Reduce your environmental impact by shopping smart, buying local, utilizing all purchased food, composting food scraps, and engaging with your community to join the movement to reduce food waste.

For current and planned programming with the CSRD, visit their website at www.csrd.bc.ca/areas/city-revelstoke. For more information on the Food Recovery Program, visit community-connections.ca/food-security, and to learn more food skills, visit www.revelstokelocalfood.com.