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Taking Action on Food Waste at ReFED's Annual Food Waste Summit

The plans are made at the Food Waste Summit – action happens all year round.

By: Ellen Cottee

Each year, Canada loses or wastes 35.5 million tonnes(1) of food—globally, that number reaches 1.3 billion tonnes.(2) Food waste leads to increases in greenhouse gas emissions, the waste of the natural resources used to produce it, and has a profoundly negative impact on the federal and global economies. However, these effects do not have to be an inevitability, thanks to organizations like the US-based ReFED and their annual Food Waste Summit.

A non-profit dedicated to guiding food waste reduction, ReFED launched in 2016 with a roadmap to reduce US food waste by 20 per cent. In early 2021, ReFED will launch a new roadmap to reducing global food waste by 50 per cent. This isn’t just an idea—these roadmaps highlight the best solutions for food waste reduction and the impacts of food waste on the environment, local economies, and people. Solving food waste can be complicated, but getting retailers, food producers, all levels of government, and individuals involved is the first step to making a change.

Running since 2016, the ReFED Food Waste Summit is a meeting of the minds who have the power to reverse food waste in global systems on a massive scale. With participants and speakers from big-name companies like The Kroger Co., General Mills, and Marriot International, as well as representatives from cities around the world, the Summit is a prime time to make strides on food waste reduction research and planning.

“It’s an opportunity for us to bring all those different stakeholders together in a room and actually have this conversation,” says Jackie Suggitt, director of stakeholder engagement with ReFED. In the working world, these groups, brands, and people often work in different areas. Getting these key players, or stakeholders, together in one room to see how they can make change is important.

During the 2019 Food Waste Summit, the focus shifted from awareness to action—challenging participants and organizations to come together and create “scalable action plans.”

In addition to sending high-profile attendees to the 2019 Food Waste Summit, including a representative of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Canada is also a member of the Pacific Coast Collaborative through the City of Vancouver’s participation alongside Washington, California, and Oregon. This group aims to improve environmental health in Canada and the US, in large part through improving food waste management.(3) Canada working with the US to reduce food waste is a great move forward, Suggitt says. “Food waste crosses borders,” she explains.

It can’t all be non-profits and big corporations making changes, however. Canadian food producers have a role to play as well.

“Within the agricultural sphere, that’s where a lot of these conversations start,” says Suggitt. “We’re now generations, in some cases, removed from what agriculture is, so there needs to be a reconnect with that beginning of the food chain.”

Food waste sometimes begins on the farm, with 13 per cent of fruits and vegetables grown in Canada discarded after harvest or left unharvested.(4) While there are many reasons this could happen—changes in demand, faulty planning, or inability to sell—there are some solutions. “Ugly produce,” for example, is now being sold in stores across Canada to reduce the amount that gets tossed away. Investments in farmers’ markets are another agricultural solution—the more places Canadian producers can sell their harvest, the less will be wasted.

Individuals, organizations, restaurants, and other food retailers are also a necessary part of change. If, as ReFED hopes, all these pillars can come together to effect changes, our country—and the world—will be a much better place. Come the next Food Waste Summit in 2021, action will be top of the agenda.

“The way we can do better is aligning our methods and actions,” Suggitt says. “We need to target, measure, and most importantly, act.”

For more information on food loss and waste explore our Nourishing Minds publications here.


2 UN Environment–Worldwide Food Waste

3 Pacific Coast Collaborative–Initiatives


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