Reduced Food Waste

What is Reduced Food Waste?

Roughly a third of the world’s food is never eaten, which means land and resources used and greenhouse gases emitted in producing it were unnecessary. Interventions can reduce loss and waste, as food moves from farm to fork, thereby reducing overall demand.

Specific causes of waste are diverse. Appearance of produce, regulations to do with freshness and other quality concerns, logistical challenges, and human behaviour all impact the amount of food wasted.

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Solution Applications in Alberta

Until the past decade, individual Albertans generated most of our food waste, with commercial waste happening in foreign farms.  Increasingly, the growing number and size of both vegetable farms and intensive livestock operations, supporting a food processing industry, means Alberta now produces waste at more steps in the food chain.

The financial costs of the many incremental losses related to food waste in Alberta,  though individually small in themselves, are easily passed on to the next level of the food production chain. 

Geographically, agricultural food waste is concentrated in southern Alberta, which is where the preponderance of Alberta’s agrifood business is located. Many crops are grown under contract, and surplus is grown to ensure the contract can be met. The large majority of waste generated in the growing of food is organic waste such as manure, dead livestock and other farm materials. ((An Organic Waste Inventory for Alberta’s Agrifood Sector (2015) )

Subsector Tonnes per Year (Dry)
Livestock operation (manure)  2,560,000 
Livestock operation (on-farm dead) 70,000
Food-processing Waste 500,000
Grocery Store Waste 50,000
Yard Waste 200,000 
Total 3,380,000

Wholesale and retail distributors as well as institutional kitchens account for a substantial amount of waste organic materials. However, the centralized inventory across few locations allows, in many cases, for the efficient collection, re-distribution and processing of surplus material.

Food is wasted in households, both through poor purchasing and planning, and by placing a low value on “left-overs”. Some material is genuinely waste and cannot be avoided: coffee grounds, fruit peels. Significant collection challenges exists related to the investment needed to collect, transport and process organics from individual dwellings. 

Reducing Emissions

This Solution reduces emissions in two ways:

  1. By avoiding the production of uneaten food, this solution avoids the emission of greenhouse gases generated by every resource used in food production, including seeds, water, energy, land, labour, and capital.
  2. By avoiding the disposal of uneaten food, this solution avoids the emission of methane produced by waste decomposition, as well as the emissions produced by transporting and managing food waste.

Both require more careful and thoughtful handling and/or use of food at each step, reducing waste directly. Waste reduction involves many different approaches, each with varying degrees of value recovery. Making unused food available for other people to eat, either through redistribution or reprocessing, is a valuable reduction strategy. Then, in descending order of value, are its use as animal feed, feed for vermicomposting, disposal by anaerobic composting with the productive use of the resulting methane, and finally, by aerobic composting for soil amendment.

Other helpful approaches include using less-than-perfect food and to shorten the food chain. Having fewer middle-man will make food more personal, and less likely to be wasted. Direct purchasing of food from farmers through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and farmers markets also put higher value on agricultural products. New local farms may benefit from innovative financing or other support to get started.

Retail stores can put perishables on sale as they approach their “best before” date, rather than dumping them. Taking the time to sort waste (removing packing) will enable farmers to feed waste to animals like pigs or chickens while reducing tipping fees at the landfill.

Restaurants generate significant food waste. Health regulations prohibit any food that has been on a plate from being re-introduced to the food chain, even by composting. However, this still leaves substantial pre-consumer waste at these relatively few sites that could be collected and re-purposed.

Application Status in Alberta

In progress.

Emission Reduction Potential (MtCO2e)

In progress.

Economic Impact (Cost per MtCO2e)

In progress.

Life Cycle Emissions

In progress.


In progress.

Jobs and Training

In progress.

Partnerships & Organizations Working on Solution

Most urban centres have charities that use volunteers to redirect food to other people. Loop Resources, Second Helping Program and the Leftovers Foundation are some examples. 

Household composting is promoted informally as a way for individuals to improve their own soil, mainly for personal vegetable gardens.

Community gardens offer a way for people to grow their own food while creating a positive group with similar interests. Home-grown food is rarely wasted.

Indigenous Involvement

In progress.

Regulatory Status in Alberta

In progress.

Further Implementation

The waste of food evokes strong emotions in many people, so programs making better use of food should receive strong support. Food waste reduction offers a wide range of small and medium scale solutions. Community-level brainstorming sessions would likely result in locally appropriate actions. The creation and support of local food security and waste groups could initiate projects across Alberta.

Collection of compost material and transport to the processing site (farm, composting project) are the main activities that can assist with residential food waste and require more investment and logistical planning. 

Some methods of reducing food waste can be matched with ways to better use other organic materials. i.e. domestic food waste could be mixed with yard waste; greenhouse surplus production could be composted with used greenhouse growth media (coir).

Get Involved

In progress.

Overall Solution Priority for Drawdown Alberta

Very high

Last updated on August 12, 2022
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