Revelstoke food recovery initiative discussed on Parliament Hill

Learn why Revelstoke's efforts to divert food from the landfill to the table are being discussed on Parliament Hill this week.

Kootenay–Columbia MP Wayne Stetski. Photo: Revelstoke Mountaineer file photo

A Revelstoke food recovery program hosted by Community Connections earned a mention in the House of Parliament on Oct. 4.

Kootenay–Columbia MP Wayne Stetski referred to the Revelstoke food recovery program and other regional programs designed to divert food waste from the landfill during a discussion of Bill C-231, a private member’s bill which sought to create a National Food Waste Awareness Day in Canada set for Oct. 16.

Stetski mentioned the success of the program in Revelstoke. Read his comments below.

The bill, which was sponsored by NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau from the Quebec riding of Berthier — Maskinongé, was actually defeated in second reading on Oct. 5. Private member’s bills are usually brought forward by opposition MPs, and often go down in defeat.

Here is a slightly abridged version of the comments Stetski made on Oct. 4:

Fight Against Food Waste Act

Mr. Speaker, the lack of food security is an important issue facing many Canadians. Today I am pleased to speak in support of a bill related to food security, Bill C-231, the fight against food waste.

This legislation aims to provide for the development of a national strategy to reduce food waste in Canada and establish a national food waste awareness day on October 16 of each year, which is also World Food Day.

Members in the House will recall in the spring when I introduced a private member’s bill to celebrate local food day on the last Friday before Thanksgiving. I would encourage all members to think about that this Friday and celebrate their local food producers.

We, as members of Parliament, have an opportunity to be leaders in this area and implement tools so that all stakeholders in the supply chain, from farmers to consumers, can reduce their food waste.

Food waste is everyone’s business because it has both social and environmental impacts. At the same time that we know food waste is a problem in Canada, more than 850,000 people struggle to feed themselves each month, and 36% of them are children. Since 2008, food bank use in Canada has climbed to more than 26% of the population actually having to use food banks at least occasionally. That is simply unacceptable in a country like ours. Reducing food waste is an important part of the solution.

It is important to note that food waste is not the same as food loss. Food that has become unsuitable for consumption due to natural hazards would be considered loss. However, safe food that is thrown away voluntarily, or because it is not commercially viable, or because there is a lack of awareness of what it could have been used for to feed people or even animals, is considered waste.

To truly understand the magnitude of food waste, it is important to consider the numbers. It is estimated that $31 billion worth of food ended up in landfills or composting sites in 2014. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg when we factor in wasted energy, labour costs, transportation, and capital investments in infrastructure and inventory. Added all together, the true cost of food waste is $107 billion.

According to Statistics Canada, every Canadian wastes 183 kilograms, or just over 403 pounds of food a year. This represents the equivalent of throwing $771 per year per consumer right into the garbage. In other words, over 15% of a person’s grocery cart ends up in the trash without being consumed, which costs about $50 per week per family.

With regard to the environmental impact, landfills and avoidable food waste are disastrous. The decomposition of organic matter creates methane, a seriously harmful greenhouse gas, and overwhelms composting facilities and landfills. The carbon footprint of food waste is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes, making food waste the third top emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China. One tonne of food waste emits 5.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

It is easy to see this problem as very daunting, but taking concrete steps to reduce food waste across the supply chain is doable. Other countries, provinces, and communities are doing just that, and I would like to highlight a few examples of each to show how positive change is possible.

Food waste is an issue worldwide. To date, France has led the charge and was the first country to legislate against food waste. The law, which was passed by its parliament this past February, bans supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, and establishes a hierarchy of actions to fight food waste. The law fines retailers who voluntarily destroy edible food, and amends the legal framework to remove liability in order to facilitate the donation of name-brand products directly by factories. Lastly, it includes an education program about food waste in schools and businesses. There is now a movement to expand the law across the European Union.

In the U.S., the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed in 1996. It encourages citizens to donate food and reduce waste. In Italy, Last Minute Market was created in 1998 to help shops and retailers recover and redistribute their unsold food to various organizations.

In Canada there are important examples of communities, provinces and organizations taking action on food waste reduction. In Quebec, waste reduction week is held every October, and two petition with more than 29,000 signatures have been presented to the national assembly requesting that the government facilitates donations of unsold food by food retailers.

In Ontario, the Ontario Association of Food Banks and Second Harvest work in partnership to reduce waste and combat food insecurity.

In the prairies, groups such as Alberta Care, Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council and Dig In Manitoba work to raise awareness among elected officials, consumers and retailers about food waste.

In B.C., the legislative assembly passed the Food Donor Encouragement Act which provides that people or businesses donating food are not liable for damage caused to consumers under certain conditions. B.C.’s Ministry of Environment is also working with the US Environmental Protection Agency to develop a toolkit to help consumers reduce food waste.

From my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, I am proud to share outstanding examples of community action to reduce food waste, which will hopefully inspire my colleagues in the House with what is possible and what can be achieved.

My first example comes from the city of Nelson, the Nelson Food Cupboard, with its long-standing commitment to providing its clients with healthy fresh foods. It runs a number of great food security programs including: the harvest rescue program, which allows local gardeners and fruit growers to share excess produce with volunteers and with the Food Cupboard; the Grow a Row and fresh produce donations, which encourages gardeners to drop off surplus garden produce to the Food Cupboard; and the food recovery partnership, a partnership with Nelson’s historic Hume Hotel, where it receives excess food from the hotel kitchen, repackages it and hands it out to the Food Cupboard’s clients, which include families with hungry children.

On a personal note, when I was mayor of Cranbrook and we had food left over at a city function, I would personally package it up and take it to Street Angels, a truly innovative organization under the leadership of the Ktunaxa First Nation. It serves a very important role in helping out homeless people of all cultural backgrounds, and I encourage all members to Google Cranbrook Street Angels to learn more about this amazing model of community support.

In the community of Revelstoke, a population of over 7,100 people, food security has been identified as a community priority. In 2014, the city of Revelstoke commissioned the development of a food security strategy. This strategy included in its goals to increase access to local and regional food that was sustainably and ethically produced through personal, business and municipal government actions, and further set as an objective to reduce food waste whereby organic waste products were used as valuable agricultural inputs and/or products that were still edible were recovered and redistributed.

Community Connections in Revelstoke collected surplus food and redistributed it by engaging local food producers and distributors, including a major grocery store. It developed and provided an affordable, reliable system for the donations of surplus food and helped donors feel more comfortable about liability concerns by educating them. It ensured the food recovery program met all food safety regulations.

It picked up donations at the weekly farmer’s market. The food recovery program in August had its biggest day with over 800 pounds of food donated in one day. Over the three month period, 16,718 pounds of food were recovered, worth almost $42,000, and it was redistributed to families in need.

Comment boards were posted in the local food distribution area to capture the feedback of those receiving the food. This is what one client said, “Thank you so much. My husband and I were having a hard time making ends meet and this helped us so much. We were able to feed our son AND pay rent this month. This community has been a helping hand when we had no one else. Please keep up the program and great work. Every bit helps.” That really captures it: every bit helps.

It is time for the federal government to show leadership on this important file by building on to the momentum that is happening in communities, in provinces across the country and around the world.

The government says that it is concerned about food security, the environment and social inequity. This bill provides a clear way to take concrete action on food waste, which touches on each of these important areas.

I encourage every member of Parliament to support Bill C-231 and to support the reduction of food waste in their communities. Working together we can build a better Canada.