Almost 60% of food produced in Canada is wasted, contributing 56.5 M M tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions in Canada per year. Retail supermarkets are a huge contributor of that waste, throwing out tonnes of perfectly good, edible food surplus every day. We are asking the big 3 Canadian supermarkets (Metro, Loblaws and affiliates and Sobey and affiliates) to commit to diverting their edible food surplus to people, not landfill.
What is this ‘food surplus’ that supermarkets throw out? If it is good, edible food, why would they throw it out? Surely they only throw out spoilt food?
The supermarkets’ business model guarantees they can supply everything you need at premium freshness all the time. To meet this guarantee, supermarkets must be constantly OVER-supplied to ensure freshness and demand, which creates a massive waste margin of perfectly good, edible food. This is what we call ‘food surplus’. Every time a new delivery of fresh produce comes in, all that food surplus is thrown out to make room for the new delivery. If you want an idea of how big the waste margin is, think about how often you’ve seen a supermarket fresh produce section even close to empty – almost never, right? That’s because the waste margin has to be big enough to cover the greatest predictable sales. Therefore, food is not trashed because it’s spoilt, it is trashed because it is surplus. Most food we’ve seen thrown out is well within ‘best before’ date.
Are there laws which prevent businesses from donating food? If someone gets sick from eating donated food, are the businesses liable?
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no liability or legal barriers which prevents supermarkets from donating food. The Food Donations Act absolves liability from food donors.
“While the legislation varies province to province, generally speaking, across Canada it is completely acceptable to donate and distribute food to another person without being held responsible for injuries, illness or death unless the food is rotten or unfit for consumption or is somehow unsafe to consume. If donors, which could include grocery stores, are acting in good faith and donating food that is safe for human consumption, there should be no issues with donating leftover food products.”- Priyanka Vittal, Legal Counsel of Greenpeace Canada
You can check out the provincial bylaws on page 4 of this document: http://www.nzwc.ca/Documents/FoodDonation-LiabilityDoc.pdf#search=food%20donations
This is already being done – in Australia (Woolworths), UK (Tesco’s), and USA (Wholefoods and Traders Joes) just to name a few examples. These countries have similar trade practices and economies to Canada, so there’s no reason why it can’t also happen here. Furthermore, these companies took it upon themselves to go zero waste with no public pressure or mandates from the government. They simply realised that the customer loyalty they could buy by becoming a more ethical business was worth it.
Yes! 1 in 8 households in Canada are currently food insecure. There are countless charities and NGOs who will gladly receive food donations to help feed these people, some may even pick up directly from the supermarkets, making donating food easy.
Isn’t this the government’s problem to fix? Shouldn’t they legislate food waste illegal like they did in France?
Considering all the problems government is currently dealing with (pandemic, climate change, healthcare, economy), we don’t have a lot of faith they’ll act quickly. Supermarket CEOs, on the other hand, are fully capable of making changes within their companies without oversight from the government. By passing the Food Donations Act, the government has already removed a major hurdle, empowering supermarkets to fix this problem themselves. Furthermore, governments are unlikely to legislate food waste illegal until there is a working model for food diversion – therefore, supermarkets first need to prove this is feasible before the government takes action.
Not at all. There will always be a market for the convenience that a supermarket provides, the ability to choose what you want, when you want it. The nature of food surplus is extremely inconvenient – you can’t guarantee how much there will be, or choose what items you’ll get, or exactly when a product will be culled and pulled from the shelves. Most people with busy lives are unlikely to put up with this kind of inconvenience, even if the food is free, which is why food surplus will likely supply the more ‘in need’ population, who may not even be current customers of supermarket chains and therefore will not represent a ‘lost customer’ if the supermarket donates the food rather than selling it.