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FOOD VALUE | Peter Cech leads Metro Vancouver’s campaign to reduce edible food waste by 10 per cent by 2018

A new program by Metro Vancouver hopes to change the way residents view food waste

Eighty thousand potatoes, 30,000 tomatoes, 70,000 cups of milk, 30,000 eggs: that’s just a sample of the food thrown out by Metro Vancouver households each day, according to Peter Cech, team lead for the region’s Love Food Hate Waste program. “People look at me and say, ‘Wow, that’s awful. But I don’t do that,’” says Cech. “One of the challenges is that this waste is happening in teeny tiny amounts, but when you add it up, it’s quite a bit.”

Some 100,000 tonnes of perfectly good food is wasted in Metro Vancouver annually, so two years ago, Cech and his team started looking for ways to get inside the heads of local consumers. They seized upon Love Food Hate Waste—a U.K. campaign, launched by a not-for-profit called WRAP in 2007, that’s credited with reducing avoidable household food waste across Great Britain and Northern Ireland by 21 per cent in its first five years.

The Metro Vancouver model of the same name began in the fall of 2014. Volunteers in 500 representational households were asked to keep kitchen diaries for one week, weighing and recording everything they discarded and noting whether it could have been eaten. During the same week, researchers tipped compost bins at another set of homes to see if people were underreporting wasted food in their kitchen diaries. (They were, and numbers were adjusted accordingly.)

The results in Metro Vancouver were consistent with other recent studies done in industrialized countries. About half of the discarded food could have been eaten, and the cost of those trashed groceries is about $700 a year. Why would we do this? Cech thinks people are just stuck in bad habits. “When we’re in the kitchen preparing food the same way all the time, the waste is not visible to you. We’re trying to point it out.”

Primarily using social media, Metro’s Love Food Hate Waste program aims for “small wins,” providing little tips to help people make change. The most important strategy in reducing waste, says Cech, is to check the fridge and make a shopping list before you go to the store.

Storage habits can also make a difference: don’t put apples next to bananas, for instance, as they emit ethylene (which makes the bananas go brown); and wrap leafy herbs such as cilantro in paper towel (it will stay fresh longer in the fridge). Metro’s overall goal is to reduce edible food waste across the region by 10 per cent by 2018.

While people love talking about saving food, changing behaviour is another matter. Cech says he’s hopeful that this new program encourages consumers to be more mindful of how they buy, keep and prepare food. “Pay attention to what you’re putting in the compost. If it could be eaten, ask yourself why it’s not.” 


Consumer waste EACH YEAR in Vancouver

Consumer waste EACH DAY in Vancouver

Consumer waste each year in Vancouver Consumer waste each day in Vancouver

 
Source: Love Food Hate Waste Metro Vancouver