Substitution (Food Waste)


Edible food for direct human consumption at minimum resource expenditure

Animal Feed

Human and animal inedibles directed to compost and industrial applications


Protocols for resource efficient production

At this stage, the efficiency level proposals for new resource efficient protocols are already implemented (see Goal 5, Sustainable Food) and this sets the stage for many of the other strategies presented here.

Edible food for direct human consumption at minimum resource expenditure

Grading changes

Grades were originally created and regulated to help stream products to different end uses, based on the “quality” parameters identified by the grade. However, over time, the grade structures have been changed and simplified. In many foods, different varieties are now grown under contract for specific end uses, that is, the grade becomes less meaningful for determining end use designation. As discussed earlier, retailers impose their own quality standards that exceed regulated grades. However, the consequence is that the cosmetic perfection imposed by retailers results in higher levels of waste.

The removal of grading standards for fresh market fruits and vegetables (excluding potatoes) by OMAFRA (revoking Reg. 378 of the Farm Products Sales and Grades Act) presents a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between grading standards and food waste. Earlier studies postulated that grading standards caused food waste by preventing producers from selling subgrade produce to secondary processing markets. Our interviews suggest, however, that the removal of grade standards has not changed supply chain behaviour because retailer standards are higher than state ones.

Instead of having government regulate a floor standard for food quality, it should instead impose a ceiling standard that retailers cannot surpass. The standard should be designed explicitly to balance quality against waste minimization. For instance, cucumbers that are more than “moderately curved” and are longer than four inches should be included in Canada grade No. 2 cucumbers, while under the previous approach (prior to grade elimination in 2011) they would have been excluded because of the curvature. Such changes would help producers either enter the existing market or create a niche market for those foods that are misshapen and discoloured but taste just as good if not better and are high in quality despite the way they may look. Producers can find innovative ways to market the different kinds of products. There are consumers interested in buying foods that do not fit the typical perfectly displayed appearances and actually look for good taste. There is evidence that regular exposure to foods of different shapes will reducing consumer expectations of perfection (Hingston and Noseworthy, 2020). Retailers in France, Québec, Ontario, Alberta and the U.S. have already cottoned on to consumer interest and are marketing “ugly” and “misfit” produce (Cliff, 2014; Galliot, 2014). Loblaw’s is slowly taking its new program national (Liu, 2016). Although popular with many consumers, not all these programs are well designed to reduce waste, in that some divert food from processing to the fresh market that is not actually unsellable grade-outs coming directly from farmers (Perreault, 2015). Consequently, in the Ontario case, to assure substantive waste reduction, new grade standards for fruits and vegetables will need to be introduced under the Farm Product Sales and Grades Act to replace the earlier Regulation 378 that was revoked.

Growing one's on food may also reduce expectations of cosmetic perfection (Hingston and Noseworthy, 2020).  See Goal 1, Self-provisioning.

Regulating varieties for processing

The choice of variety can have a significant impact on waste generation. Perhaps the most emblematic example is the Russet Burbank potato, long used in French fries by the fast food industry. It is a long season variety and historically very demanding of moisture and nutrients, resulting often in significant irrigation, pesticide and fertilizer use. Only about 50% of the potato is used during French fry production due to the imposed standards of the industry and there can also be significant field culling. All these realities have encouraged the fast food industry to explore other varietal options (Escober, 2010). Under the Ontario Farm Products Sales and Grades Act and the Potato Regulations under the Farm Products Marketing Act (clause 19, Ontario Regulation 247/99), it would appear that the authority exists to determine what varieties can be processed and under what conditions. A set of varietal regulations should be developed that favours those with lower resource requirements and waste factors.

Can current legislation forbid other contract provisions that contribute to food waste? The Farm Products Marketing Act appears to offer such a possibility. The Act provides “for the control and regulation in any or all aspects of the producing and marketing within Ontario of farm products including the prohibition of such producing or marketing in whole or in part.” With suitable supporting regulations, the Commission created by the Act could govern contracts in this way.

Requiring sustainable procurement

Although many firms have sustainability goals, these are often disconnected from food buying practices. There are a number of reasons for this related to internal firm dynamics (Cooke, Stanley, Carter, & Whitehead, 2014), but one part of the problem is the lack of authentication of sustainability claims. Typically, procurement programmes need robust authentication to assure buyers and consumers (see for example, Stahlbrand, 2017). As part of resource efficient production protocols (see Goal 5), it would also be desirable to establish waste minimization certification programmes, with elements of the protocol designed to alter supply chain behaviour. There are examples of solid waste certification programmes offered on a voluntary basis for commercial and institutional properties (e.g., the Recycling Council of Ontario’s 3R Certified) that could be adapted. A certification mark under the federal Trade-marks Act (see Buckingham, 2014) could be established to support the branding of the project. Ideally, such measures would also be supported by provinces for goods traded within their province, perhaps similar to the programme of the Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants (CARTV) in Québec. As part of this, increased supplier-retailer collaboration can be a significant benefit. A WRAP U.K. project found noticeable waste reductions in all eight case studies as a result of increasing supplier-retailer collaboration (Tupper & Whitehead, 2011). Such collaborations help firms meet their targets under the Courthauld Commitment, a U.K. grocery sector voluntary plan to reduce waste in the food supply chain.

Design standards for waste minimization

Some Canadian cities have now instituted green standards for residential and non-residential building siting, commissioning, design and construction. Toronto adopted such a standard in 2009.

The Green Standard is a set of performance measures that promote sustainable development.... The Toronto Green Standard is a key element of the City’s Climate Change Action Plan, an aggressive environmental framework aimed at reducing Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050...[its authority flows from].... Official Plan Amendment 66 that enables the City to address sustainable design elements on the exterior of a building as provided for with new powers for Site Plan Control in the City of Toronto Act.[1]

The standards do not currently contain explicit reference to building design to minimize waste generation, however, the energy efficiency measures are pertinent to this discussion (e.g., efficient heating and cooling processes). The solid waste dimensions of the standard can be modified to include:

  • facilities for depacking loads and recuperating useable foods
  • kitchens that permit use of soon to expire fresh foods in preparation of deli foods
  • facilities for chilling foods that cannot be sold for human consumption but could be donated to pig producers or diverted for industrial purposes
  • restaurant designs that permit easy source separation collection and storage (Maguire, 2016)

In Toronto’s case, the green standard has mandatory (tier 1) and voluntary (tier 2) provisions. Such measures proposed here could start as tier 2 measures and later, once tested and refined, become tier 1 measures.

A further step would be to regulate the actual design of store shelves and display areas. Store designs encourage waste in 2 specific ways (see Ontario Public Interest Research Group, 1990). First, they encourage shoppers to buy more than they intended (70% of purchases for the average shopper are impulse buys). Second, the typical store is set up so that fresh fruits and vegetables are the first items to be purchased. This conveys abundance and encourages more purchasing, but it also means the most perishable items have to be continuously shifted in the shopping cart to avoid damage. This reduces their refrigerator life and generates more waste. From a waste reduction perspective, it makes much more sense if the produce section is the last stop before the checkout. It also makes sense from a healthy purchasing perspective as there is evidence that putting healthy products near the checkout will enhance purchasing (see Goal 1 Equitable access to food retail).  It is unlikely that stores will voluntary change the flow of customers, so this should be regulated by municipalities as part of green design standards.

Animal feed

Plate waste regulatory changes

There is a significant requirement to build strategic infrastructure that links plate waste to swine producers. Hogs are by nature scavenger animals (Honeyman, 2005), but the centralized nature of much swine production, including the feeding regimes, makes it unlikely that large hog operations will be interested in plate waste. The challenge then is to find small-to-medium sized operators who will find plate waste a viable feed. The best opportunities may lie with marketing co-operatives and private aggregators. Similarly, it makes sense to aggregate plate waste suppliers, focusing on large institutional food service in a single or clustered location. Ideally, providers and users are in proximity which suggests the need to focus on large institutional food service in centres adjacent to pig production areas. However, this will not likely be feasible until rules restricting meat plate waste are relaxed. Then, it would be possible to establish collection systems without segregation. Refrigeration of waste is a critical feature as is steaming, but the latter could be carried out by intermediaries if it was not feasible for the co-op or aggregator to establish such a facility. To test the viability of such systems, provincial governments could provide support with capital grants for the establishment of suitable facilities.

Edible food for direct human consumption at minimum resource expenditure

Banning organic waste from landfills (adapted from Meikle, 2018)

In Ontario in 2015, almost 3.7 million tonnes of food waste were generated (including foods that could have been eaten and unavoidable waste such as vegetable peels)  and about 60 per cent of this waste went to landfill (MOECC, 2018a). Landfill is often the most affordable option to  stakeholders across Canada due to current legislation, which makes it “too easy and too cheap to dump, and too difficult to do otherwise” (Gooch et al., 2010, p.7).  Even the agri-food industry, often reluctant to embrace regulatory solutions, has identified that  legislation that prevents organic waste from entering landfill can help reduce food waste (Uzea, et al., 2014).

Managing waste has historically been a responsibility of local governments.  But with initiatives such as organics disposal bans, “the fiscal constraints and limited mandates of local governments means that, acting alone, they cannot achieve the scale of food waste reductions required… other orders of government must be involved with policies that shift Canada towards a more resource efficient food system” (National Zero Waste Council, 2017, p. 4).

In 1989, the Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) created a national target for waste diversion.  Each province had the goal of diverting 50 per cent of their municipal solid waste (MSW) by 2000, yet only one province achieved the national target: Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia diverted more than 320,689 tonnes from disposal sites in 2000 and decreased their disposal rate from 743 kg/person/year in 1990 to 401 kg/person/year in 2010 (Wagner & Arnold, 2006; Province of Nova Scotia, 2011). Key to its success was Nova Scotia’s dedicated Solid Waste Management Strategy; the first of its kind in Canada. As part of the Strategy, Nova Scotia passed a ban on organics entering landfills in June 1997 (implemented in November 1998), which built on previous legislation in June 1996 that banned leaf and yard waste, becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement a province-wide food waste ban. More specifically, Schedule “B” of the SWRM Regulations, made under Section 102 of the Environment Act (1994-95) mandates that, “compostable organic material” is a designated material “banned from destruction or disposal in landfills, incinerators and thermal treatment facilities” (n.p). As a result of the ban and other initiatives, Nova Scotia’s composting rate is almost 200 per cent higher than the Canadian average. 100 per cent of Nova Scotia’s residents have access to recyclable curbside collection programmes, and 90 per cent have access to organic curbside pick up programs (Province of Nova Scotia, 2015).  Those municipalities that do not have curbside pickup programmes in place, largely due to their size and remote location, are required to implement extensive backyard composting programs.  Fifty three of 55 municipalities offer centralized composting to the business sector (Wagner & Arnold, 2008). Many disposal sites  that did not meet environment performance requirements have been closed and new composting facilities opened. Residential organic waste diversion programmes are primarily  payed for through municipal taxes, while the ICI sector often pays themselves to divert their waste. Although there is some imprecision in the analysis, the net costs of the ban are lower than the gross costs and their are employment and environmental benefits.  The ban has not successfully eliminated all organic waste from landfill (1/4 of waste is still organic), and the lack of attention paid to waste prevention is part of the reason why, but their program design remains the most successful provincial model in Canada.

Ontario announced in 2017 the Waste-Free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy strategy. This Strategy builds on and utilizes legislation passed in late 2016, including the Waste Free Ontario Act and the Waste Diversion Transition Act, in addition to the Climate Change Action Plan, to tackle Ontario’s waste generation and disposal problems.  As part of this strategy, the province seeks to phase-in a food and organic waste ban by 2022 (MOECC, 2018b). In designing a disposal ban, which would be regulated under the Environmental Protection Act, the province has identified that numerous factors will be considered, in addition to the development of timelines and a scope that are reasonable given the time required to build capacity.  Some things that will be considered include identifying the disposal sites that may be impacted by the requirements and how; the time required for implementation and the necessary steps towards building appropriate infrastructure; the threshold for compliance; allowances and exceptions; and phased-in timelines and geographic application.  Requirements could be phased-in over a long period of time for rural, remote and Northern areas of Ontario to enable capacity building.

Vancouver created the Zero Waste 2040 Strategic Plan  in 2011 as part of the Greenest City Action Plan to help Vancouver become a zero waste city by 2040. The plan has three interconnected priorities: to build a zero waste community; to value resources; and to support the circular economy. The first of these priorities focuses on fostering behavioural and cultural shifts to ultimately build resilient communities that share and engage with one another to reduce waste, and find inherent value in their possessions (City of Vancouver, 2018). This  challenges systems of waste production and seeks to change behavioural patterns at the household and ICI level. The first step towards eliminating the food waste issue is to adopt sustainable production and consumption methods and tackle food wastage from farm to fork (Papargyropoulou et al., 2014). Metro Vancouver emphasizes food waste prevention and has also implemented a food scraps recycling ban.

Using a phase-in approach, Metro Vancouver’s organic disposal ban came into effect January 1st, 2015. From January to June 2015, the organics disposal ban was enforced through education, and no penalties were put in place for non-compliance. During this phase of the ban, all business and residential buildings were encouraged to create and introduce food scraps recycling programs. When loads of waste were delivered to a regional disposal facility that contained over 25 per cent organic waste, the hauler was provided with information around the new regulations and the rationale for them.  The educational phase was an important part of Metro Vancouver’s waste ban.  Monetary penalties were implemented on July 1st 2015 and to the end of the year, waste loads containing more than 25 per cent of visible food waste were surcharged at 50 per cent of the cost of disposal.  From January 1st 2017 on, the allowable limit for food scraps in garbage was lowered to 5 per cent. By the time that the threshold was lowered, both ICI and residential sectors had built the capacity and knowledge needed to reduce and divert food waste, allowing the stricter threshold to be implemented without significant backlash.  All this was implemented in concert with the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

In the first year of Metro Vancouver’s waste ban, 60,000 more tonnes of organic waste were diverted from landfills. The garbage stream went down from 34 per cent organic waste to 27 per cent (Metro Vancouver Waste Composition Monitoring Report 2016).  Before the ban was in place, one quarter of restaurants diverted organic waste, but with its implementation now three quarters divert.  Back yard composters are also subsidized and private composting firms have increased production and sales relative to the pre-ban period.

Every province should implement a ban on organic waste in landfill, building on the models of NS and Metro Vancouver.  Key enhancements include organic collection systems without plastics to improve compost quality and improved systems for compost distribution for horticultural and food production.


[1] Appendix D of Urban Design standards for mid-rise buildings in Toronto,