Food Waste in Canada: BFH Panel Discussion and Personal Research

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Author: Jenn Kucharczyk

Posted: December 17, 2015

Categories: GoodFoodBites / Municipal Regional Food Policy Network / News from Sustain Ontario

We are pleased to introduce Shannon Coulter-Low who has been interning at Sustain Ontario since October. We are happy to have her on board to support the writing and research of the second of three policy toolkits on improving local food systems in Ontario, and to help us in the development of our online resource-sharing platform. Shannon attended the Bring Food Home conference in November and is excited to share with you what she learnt from researchers at Guelph University, as well as her upcoming research on food waste. Take it away, Shannon!


During last month’s Bring Food Home conference, I heard from Kelly Hodgins, Shannon Millar and Alexis Van Bemmel, students and researchers from the Guelph Food Waste Research Project.  During their panel  “Lifting the cloak of invisibility: the changing context of the food waste conversation in Canada“, they presented the growing issue of food waste, specifically household waste and the difficulties of conserving food along the value chain. At home, an average of 4.5 kg of food is wasted per week — this is half of Canada’s total food waste! One of the topics raised by the audience was concern over “best before” dates. It was suggested that an adjusted labelling system could reduce the amount of edible food items thrown out and encourage more consumer awareness around food storage and preparation without compromising food safety. Kelly Hodgins, a research assistant at the University of Guelph, emphasized the importance of studying the behaviours, customs and cultural understandings of residents in order to understand their food waste habits, as currently there is little existing research on the topic. Further, she pointed out that shaping policy and education initiatives to motivate individuals should vary depending on the location, as behaviour can differ from region to region.

Image courtesy of szczel via flickr

Image courtesy of szczel via flickr

As a Master’s Geography student at the University of Toronto, my research looks at how the social and regulatory pressures of a “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) program in Beaconsfield, Quebec have affected composting perceptions and behaviours among residents. PAYT is a policy wherein households are taxed according to the volume or weight of their curbside waste. The Beaconsfield waste reduction program is unique to Canada, as it combines a backyard composting education program with the PAYT policy so as to incentivize organic waste reduction at the curb. This is an alternative to curbside organic waste pick-up, such as Toronto’s green bin program. Raising awareness about food going to landfill has been a key mandate for the municipality, as they are emphasizing direct contact among community members by engaging volunteers to teach other residents about backyard composting. My research will look at how this community approach has put social pressures onto residents to regulate their waste reduction behaviour. I will study how backyard composting practices are contingent on cultural values or on pre-existing habits, as well as whether the tax incentive has changed residents’ food purchasing and eating habits. I hope to contribute to the ongoing food waste discussion by providing evidence for effective future waste mitigation policies.
For more information on Beaconsfield’s PAYT program, check out this link.