Food Waste and York Region’s SM4RT Living Plan

The issue of food waste has becoming an increasingly salient topic in the Toronto food scene (and around the globe). This is for a small handful of hugely important reasons. In this edition of Policy in Brief, we will pull out two main points that constitute the crux of the issue and some local answers to them.

  • We are in dire straits. Roughly 27 billion dollars in food produced and sold in Canada is wasted every year. This is a value greater than what Canadians spent on restaurant food in 2009; greater than the amount of money spent on all agricultural and agri-food imports in 2007; and greater than the combined GDP of the 32 poorest countries.
  • The problem of food waste is unique as far as environmental degradation and unsustainability go. Responsibility does not largely lie on the shoulders of big business. It is, in fact, in the consumers’ hands: if 40% of food produced in Canada is wasted (i.e., $27 billion worth), 51% of this waste happens at the consumer level.

The question then becomes not only how did our food value chain become so broken, but how do we fix it? We can look to York Region and their waste management policies for some answers.

As it stands, York Region has been implementing a very successful green bin program since 2007 with a diversion rate (amount of waste diverted from landfills) of about 82% in 2012. This is among one of the highest rates in North America. York Region is now looking to push this success further through their Integrated Waste Management Master Plan (the SM4RT Living Plan). The plan is extensive and in some ways resists summation. At its core, however, is the aim to not just to reuse, recycle, and recover waste, but crucially to reduce.

A hugely exciting aspect of this plan is that the Region plans to do so through community engagement and innovative programming in order to bring a change in consumer values, practices and attitudes as a means to tack away at that 51%. This will include building and improving their Sustainable Community Environmental Centre Network, and improving citizens’ ability to engage in alternatives to curbside collection programs. Alternatives are planned to include educational programming on backyard composting and “assessing the feasibility of new technologies such as counter-top composters for those without access to outdoor space, as well as workshops on how to repurpose goods and materials.

The SM4RT Living Plan will also take a concerted focus on multi-residential and mixed-use waste management; industrial, commercial, and institutional waste; construction and demolition waste; and extended producer responsibility through policy development plans.

What you can do:

  • Fall in love with “ugly” vegetables and fruits.
  • Learn the best “left overs” recipes.
  • Consider new techniques of food storage: i.e., use your freezer, taking produce out of plastic prorduce bags, get smart about which types of produce you store together and how they affect each other
  • Learn more about expiration and to begin to reflect on developing the knowledge to distinguish microbiologically dangerous expired food and mircrobiologically safe expired food:

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