Ugly Tomato - ©

COVID-19 Experience: Food Wastage Soaring!

One issue that has enjoyed an awareness (media) pass during the COVID-19 pandemic is Food Waste. It’s a major problem that costs our society billions of dollars and billions of tonnes of lost food every year and a new study says the coronaviris crisis is just making things worse…

Wasted Food Dump - © thehansindia.comBillions of tonnes of food is wasted, even before it leaves the farm gate, every
year. Now, it appears that the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating waste.

You’d thing that, with the food shortage scare news stories and actual shortages of some food due to processing plant closures back near the start of the COVID-19 crisis, that we’d all be more sensitive to the issue of food waste and less likely to contribute to the problem by now. But it appears the opposite is the case – to an alarming extent.

A new survey reveals all

The latest survey on food wastage in Canada (and, by association, the U.S. and the UK) shows that we’re trashing perfectly good food at unprecedented levels.

A team from Dahousie University has discovered that a number of interacting issues appears to be triggering accelerated waste.

What they did

According to an abstract of the study report: “Since most of our lives have changed and most Canadians have been spending more time at home since March, many [were] wondering if Canadians are generating food waste at home. The present investigation on home organic food waste looks at how much Canadians may be wasting food compared to before the pandemic. We also look[ed] at COVID-related and other factors which could lead to more food waste at home.”

A total of 8,272 Canadians was surveyed between August 21-23, 2020.

What they found

Before the pandemic, and based estimates, respondents conveyed that their household was generating about 2.03 kg per week [average] of organic food waste (avoidable and unavoidable). This number is below the numbers we can find in most food waste studies, but the present report wanted to look at differences between pre-COVID and current perceptions. Our survey suggests that the average Canadian household is now generating 2.30 kg of organic food waste (avoidable and unavoidable), which is an increase of 13.5%.

“This is consistent with […] early data released by some municipalities in the country. Based on our modeling evaluations, Canadian households could potentially be generating between 20 to 24 million kilos of additional organic waste a month, since the start of the pandemic. According to a recent study on domestic food waste, about 2.16 billion kilos of food, or more than $20 billion worth, is lost. This equals an annual cost of avoidable food loss and waste in Canada equaling $1,766 per household. With COVID-19, costs may have increased by $238 per household, or $2.95 billion for the entire country”

The takeaway

It is unclear why food wastage has increased during the COVID-19 lock down. But the survey showed the following were the most serious self-reported causes:

  • Household members did not finish their meals. (30.4%)
  • Food is left in the fridge or freezer too long. (31.3%)
  • Not consuming food before the best before or use by dates. (15.0%)
  • Preferring the freshest possible food. (12.8%)

Researchers say the above survey responses indicate that many Canadians have not been practicing good meal planning and grocery shopping habits.

My take

I’d like to see the figures on extra food purchased specifically to donate to Food Banks (which should not be counted as wasted), the figures from restaurant operators who have likely been buying less food from the wholesale supply chain, and other parallel issues which, if factored into the survey results, might produce a more accurate result.

I’m also troubled by a survey report side note that an average across all provinces and territories of 10 percent of Canadians reported they had thrown out perfectly good food they believed had been contaminated by COVID-19 virus. I thought that the message had been been received by all, by how, that transmission of COVID-19 via food is highly unlikely!

Get the big picture

Visit this page to get all the details on the Dalhousie survey study…

~ Maggie J.