Kitchener-Waterloo

Guelph, Wellington county's food waste work now part of international study

Guelph and Wellington county are already looking at the problems of food waste in the region, and now, that work will now be part of an international study looking at the circular food economy.

'We'll need to feed more people with less resources': County of Wellington's Jana Burns

Guelph and Wellington county will be part of an international study looking at the circular food economy and how food waste could be used for good. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Buy it, make it, then throw some of it away — that's a pretty common story in many homes when it comes to food.

Guelph and Wellington county are looking at the circular food economy and how that food waste could be put to good use.

The two municipalities have already joined together on a bid for the federal government's Smart Cities Challenge that centres on how to use technology to improve food security and food waste issues.

Earlier this month, they learned their joint application is among 10 finalist communities competing in the $10 million category with money going toward researching and implementing solutions.

Now, more good news for the two municipalities: they've been chosen to partner with the U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation as part of an international study on the same topic.

Little known about local consumer habits

The study runs until October. The next month or so will be spent collecting data for the study, including mapping the community, understanding what's grown, where it's grown, how much of it is consumed locally and who is priced out of buying local produce and products.

"I think it's really ironic that for such a rich growing, researching region, we don't really know how much local food is actually consumed locally and that's unfortunate," said Jana Burns, director of economic development with the County of Wellington.

After collecting the data, the communities and the foundation will work on a strategy that will take three to five years to implement to tackle the issue.

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie said people understand food is being wasted. They also see people who don't always have enough to eat, and it's that imbalance they're hoping to address.

It's really ironic that for such a rich growing, researching region, we don't really know how much local food is actually consumed locally and that's unfortunate. - Jana Burns, director of economic development, County of Wellington

Food is "just something that's reality to everybody everyday," Guthrie said, adding people understand the problem of food waste because they see what they're throwing into the green bin after meals or when they clean out the fridge.

"Our issue at the heart of this is … we take our food from the ground, we make it and then we throw it away at the end, and it's that throwing away part — the waste that comes from our using food, that really we are trying to create solutions to that specific challenge," he said.

"It gives a lot of credibility to the challenge that Guelph is stepping up to face and find the solutions for when you have somebody like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation also say yes, we want to partner with you on this and be a part of finding those solutions."

'Solving food problems for the world'

Guelph and Wellington county will be among just a handful of communities around the world taking part in the foundation's circular economy for food study.

"We could come up with solving food problems for the world, maybe offering opportunities for other areas of the world that might have a similar situation to ours to replicate some of the things that we come up, so it made sense," said Burns.

Barb Swartzentruber, executive director of strategy, innovation and intergovernmental services for the City of Guelph, said they reached out to a number of experts while drafting their Smart Cities application. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was one of them.

"Once they read our Smart Cities application, they knew that Guelph would be an excellent partner because of how bold our vision is and how comprehensive it is," she said.

Working with Guelph on the larger issue of food security and food waste just made sense, Burns said, given the number of agricultural producers in the rural area and the researchers and tech innovators in the city.

Burns said local producers have been very interested in taking part.

"Everyone did have consensus that we're soon going to be facing a situation where we'll need to feed more people with less resources and we'll need to do it more efficiently," she said.

Food is a reality to everybody, Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie says, and people know food waste is a problem. (Simone Cazabon)