Canada may be one of the best countries in the world when it comes to quality of life, but it remains among the worst when it comes to wasting food.
A recent study done by the Second Harvest Food Rescue shows that more than $49 billion of products are wasted annually, for a total of 35.5 million metric tonnes. Of that number, more than 30 per cent could be used to feed people.
“The truth is Canadians are throwing out more food than they realize – food that could, at one point, have been eaten” said Joanne Gauci, the senior policy advisor at the National Zero Waste Council.
The problem is well known, but it is proving to be a challenge for both policy-makers and waste-reduction advocates.
That’s where David Schein comes in. He decided to tackle the problem head-on in 2017.
“I watched a film about food waste called Just Eat It: A food waste story, and I explored the whole waste system all along food chain. I was just thinking about something to do and reduce food waste,” said Schein
Schein came up with the idea for the Food Stash Foundation. The concept is simple: find a way to gather up food that would otherwise be wasted and share it with those in need.
It’s similar to The Food Runners, a program that the Greater Vancouver Food Bank used to operate, where volunteers would collect excess food from restaurants, hotels and other venues and share it with charities. That program ended in 2017.
“It seemed like a win-win situation and opportunity to help both people and the environment. Providing quality food to individuals and families in Vancouver, a very expensive city, with a lot of people struggling, so that is a win for me,” said Schein. He gets his money from donations, grants and fundraisers, her said.
It looks like a simple concept, but it was surprisingly challenging to get businesses to sign up. There are many logistical considerations including storage, scheduling, and food safety. Schein was persistent and he now has 30 local businesses contributing excess food, including Nesters Food Market.
“We had products that needed to go, and no one got them. So instead of throwing it away, David came by and offered his services, so we said yes,” said Nesters Market’s lead hand, Kevin Prahauser.
“It’s kind of the culture of the store. We are a smaller store, more community-based one, and we have different values than larger markets. We try to reduce waste as much as possible.”
At one store alone, they are already donating more than six to seven boxes full of everything from milk to meat to vegetables every week.
Schein now works with 17 different charities around the city, including the Kettle Society, Directions Youth Services, and the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society.
Schein says once he’s able to describe the process, he’s usually able to convince people to get involved.
“Sometimes it depends who the manager is. It is resistance to change, and initially it will be a little bit more work for the manager and staff to figure out new systems and have to do things they are not used to do. It is resistance to potential extra work,” said Schein.
Schein now operates two separate programs. One collects food from more than 30 local businesses and delivers it directly to charities. The other is part of a food-box program where food is packaged and collected directly by families in need.
“We started with only nine families and our goal is to reach to 50 families by the end of this year.” said Vanessa Sabourin, the program co-ordinator.
Volunteers pack boxes every Sunday and Monday for pickup.
Andrea Zimmering started helping out last year.
“There is so much that could be done. It’s not a waste of time trying to handle food waste, it’s a good use of time trying to support communities and the environment,” said Zimmering.
While organizations like Food Stash are creating solutions for one of the levels in food chain, food waste coming from households remains a even larger problem.
“For the average Canadian thinking about their role, being mindful of your food-waste footprint and trying to waste less food at home is one of the biggest things you can do for the planet and climate change,” said Gauci.
Almost half of the food wasted in Canada, 47 per cent, is thrown out by individual households.
The David Suzuki Foundation has a webpage with suggestions to help Canadians reduce food waste.
Schein knows the larger challenge remains, but he determined to do what he can to get food that should be consumed back in to the food chain.
“It just doesn’t make sense to throw it out,” said Schein.