Avoidable food waste costs households $600 per year

An average household in London throws out food almost daily, the equivalent of $600 per year, a new Western-based study shows.

And if that’s the case in a mid-sized city like London, it’s not a stretch to suggest similar avoidable waste costs are echoed in homes across Canada, the paper’s lead author says.

Canadian Geographer has recently published Food for Naught, an examination of how much food an average household throws out, and why – and what would motivate residents to stop.

In the survey of 1,300 London households, residents said they had discarded food on average 4.77 times the previous week for a total of 5.89 food portions. Most often, they said they’d bought or prepared more than they could eat before it spoiled.

“London is a mid-sized city with an ‘average’ population. Whether it’s Hamilton, Saskatoon, Vancouver or somewhere else – I think you’d find similar results across the country,” says lead author and researcher Paul van der Werf, an environmental consultant and a project advisor with Western’s Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL Lab).

And green-bin communities shouldn’t think they’re in the clear just because they compost food scraps, he says. “It’s better than going into the landfill. But most of it is still food that people could have eaten.”

So what might make people buy less, and consume more of what they buy? Not their best intentions, or a sense of waste’s environmental or social cost; it’s the cash.

“When people hear ‘Canadians waste $31 billion per year in food,’ they can’t relate. They’re not billionaires. But when I say to them, on average, households throw out $600 per year, that’s a lot of motivation,” he says.

Residents need to know they can save that money by making a few simple changes. “If we can manage our food provisioning, storage and preparation, then it would improve our sense of control over the situation.”

The study is co-authored by HEAL Lab director and professor Jason Gilliland and Brescia University College professor Jamie Seabrook of the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, and took place in co-operation with the City of London.

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