Winnipeg's waste stream is 44% food, but citywide composting could cut its climate impact: report
Avoidable food waste costs average Canadian household more than $1,100 per year
While grocery bills rise, food is still being wasted in Winnipeg — and a new report says nearly half of that greenhouse gas-producing waste is avoidable.
Food waste from single-family households made up about 44 per cent of Winnipeg's waste stream, according to 2019 measurements in the inaugural Winnipeg Food System Snapshot report being presented at city hall this week.
"Food that is wasted ... a lot of that is edible," said Jeanette Sivilay.
Sivilay is co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Food Council, a citizen advisory committee made up of volunteer experts from across the food system. The council looked at food waste as part of the report.
The council estimated that avoidable food waste costs the average Canadian household more than $1,100 per year.
For many Winnipeggers looking to rein in their growing grocery costs, that's a tough number to swallow.
WATCH | Food waste in Winnipeg:
"It's scary," Janine Laforte said. "It's not good for the environment, but it's also not good for our budget. I'm a big believer in kind of using up everything that you have and and not wasting things."
Laforte is a Winnipeg-based registered dietitian and mom of three teenagers. She also teaches workshops on how to do meal prep and get the most out of what you have.
"So you can imagine my grocery bill is through the roof," she said.
"I do everything I can to not waste food because you're right, it's like throwing money in the garbage."
The food snapshot report found that while many cities, like Winnipeg, have analyzed the types of materials that end up in the waste stream, few have done comprehensive food waste assessments.
"This lack of information is a barrier to developing strategies to reduce food loss and waste," the report stated.
The Food Council also works on education and teaching residents how to get more out of their food, including "fun in the kitchen, food literacy in the kitchen, while also making your dollar stretch further," Sivilay said.
Wasted food means wasted resources used to grow, produce and distribute that food to consumers.
However, not everything can be saved from being thrown out and ending up in the landfill.
Sivilay said it's in that area where Winnipeggers need to improve, because food waste isn't just wasted money and resources — there's an environmental impact as well. Once food is thrown out, it creates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, the report said.
That's why the council is pushing for Winnipeg to move to a citywide residential food waste collection system.
"Our food system is really important, and also finding ways that we can mitigate the impacts of climate change so that we have a more reliable and secure food system is also really important," Sivilay said.
In 2019, the city managed 275,200 tonnes of waste, the last average year for which a tonnage was reported.
The City of Winnipeg began tracking residential organic waste as part of the residential food waste collection pilot project which started in 2020.
The project offered curbside organic waste collection to nearly 4,000 households in five areas: Daniel McIntyre, Inkster Gardens, Linden Woods and Linden Ridge, Mission Gardens and St. George.
After just one year of the pilot project, the city previously said it helped turn 440,000 kilograms of food waste into high-quality compost. It said the diverted food waste represented a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to a car driving 412,550 kilometres — the same as driving across Canada 48 times.
While the pilot project wrapped up in fall of 2022, the city said it has yet to issue a final report on the findings of the project or whether it plans to implement it across Winnipeg.
However, the Food Council said time is another thing we can't afford to waste.
"The costs of not doing it, the cost of inaction is sometimes hard to wrap your head around, but it is definitely very high," Sivilay said.
"Methane produced even by organics that are in our landfill already is going to continue to be produced for years, even decades."