Food waste costs Canadian economy $49 billion a year

Trimmings from celery, cauliflower and broccoli are often wasted, but the cauliflower core can be grated to make cauliflower rice or added to a salad, and the broccoli stems can be peeled and used in stir-fries.  |  Betty Ann Deobald photo

As Canadian farmers and gardeners, think of the effort that is put into producing food for the world and for our families.

Then consider that as a nation, 58 percent of the food produced in Canada is wasted or lost each year. This is a yearly cost of $49 billion to the Canadian economy.

These numbers are from a study conducted by Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International and are found on the Waste Reduction Week Canada website at

According to this research, about 4.82 million tonnes of food, or nearly $21 billion worth, is lost or wasted during processing and manufacturing. Some of this is unavoidable waste, such as when inedible food byproducts, like animal bones, are discarded.

Other examples are when food is trimmed to fit packaging, such as lettuce and celery, or carrots are peeled and sized to sell as peeled baby carrots.

An avoidable loss is when produce makes it to market but is not purchased. These products could be reduced in price for a quick sale or sent to food kitchens to be made into nutritious meals.

At the consumer level, about 2.38 million tonnes of food, or more than $10 billion worth, is lost. This equals an annual cost of avoidable food loss and waste in Canada equaling $1,766 per household. Vegetable trimmings that are thrown away are some of this food waste. Instead, the trimmings could be creatively used in soups, stews and pesto or composted.

Each year, food waste in Canada creates about 56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions.

Food in landfills also creates methane gas, which is 25 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

When food is wasted, all of the inputs that go into producing that food, including the soil, water, energy, fertilizer, and labour, are also wasted.

There are numerous “root causes” of avoidable food loss and waste.

At the farm level, produce may be left to rot in the field due to labour shortages, low prices, cancelled orders or trimming of the food when picked.

Celery is a prime example of leaves and stems being cut off in the field to size the product for packaging.

Anglers often catch fish that can’t be marketed and these may be tossed back into the water to die.

Restaurants serve oversized portions that patrons can’t eat.

Consumers and retailers throw out food near or past its best-before date, despite the fact product-dating practices “have no correlation to food safety” and the food can often still be eaten.

Consumers sometimes buy too much when items are on sale and then some of the surplus may be thrown away later.

Small purposeful steps can make a large difference in reducing food waste. Restaurants can reduce waste and save money by offering smaller sized meals, or substituting foods that the patron won’t eat for items they will, such as replacing fries with a salad. A proactive step is asking if the patron wants a dinner roll with her meal rather than just placing it on the table and it being wasted later.

Home food waste

Avoiding food waste in the home starts with a grocery list and a menu plan. Stock the basics and then buy only what is needed for the meal plan. Sticking to the list and avoiding impulse buying will save money and reduce waste.

It is estimated that in Canada about 10 percent of the fresh produce that consumers buy is thrown out. Some of this are peels, stems and trimmings that could be used to make vegetable broths; the rest should be composted rather than put in the garbage.

If fruits or vegetables are not going to be used before they spoil, chop the vegetables and freeze them for use in stir-fries or soups. For fruit, freeze it for use in smoothies or baking.

When making meals, cook only what can be eaten or have a plan for the leftovers. These “planned-overs” make great lunches or frozen for a future quick meal. The leftover food can also be made into a new creation like a stir-fry or blended vegetable soup.

Keep food fresh longer with proper storage. Potatoes are a prime example. They need to be in a cool, dark place but not the refrigerator. A lower cupboard or closet on an outside wall may be good. Store in a brown paper bag rather than clear plastic because exposure to light causes the potatoes to green on the inside and develop a bitter taste.

Tomatoes do best if not refrigerated.

Check the temperature of your refrigerator to be sure it is at 3C for optimum food storage.

A rubber spatula is a useful aid for reducing waste. Use it to clean out jars and cans before they are rinsed and disposed of; the last bit of peanut butter and jam could cover one more piece of toast.

Also use the spatula to clean out bowls when baking or the last of a soup or sauce. The good food is enjoyed and it keeps the food waste out of the household pipes and sewer system.

Vegetable trimming pesto

This is a tasty use for vegetable tops and trimmings. Yield: One cup of pesto

  • 2 c. (total) of leftover fresh celery tops, radish tops, turnip tops, fennel fronds, carrot tops, cauliflower leaves or a mixture of all 500 mL
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves 30 mL (optional)
  • 4 tbsp. rescued olive or vegetable oil (ideally from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts) 60 mL
  • 2 garlic cloves,rough chopped
  • 1/4 c. peanut butter 60 mL
  • 3 tbsp. leftover hard cheese (parmiggiano reggiano, aged gouda), grated 45 mL
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender. Blend. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of water to facilitate the blending process.

Toss with hot cooked pasta and serve. Adapted from

Betty Ann’s Vegetable Broth

  • celery leaves and trimmings
  • cauliflower leaves and trimmings
  • pepper seedsand membranes
  • carrot peels and trimmings
  • broccoli stem peels
  • potato peels
  • onion skims and trimmings
  • other vegetable trimmings that would have been discarded

Save up in a plastic bag in the freezer and when the bag is full, simmer in a pot of water for one hour. Strain, compost the vegetable pieces. Freeze the broth in one or two cup containers for use in soups, sauces or for cooking rice.

Sources: Waste Reduction Week Canada at, Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council at,

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact:

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