Zeroing in on food waste hotspots

Doug MacMillan
Doug MacMillan • 2 February 2022
sankey diagram

Where does the greatest amount of waste happen within our region’s food system? Our Food Future researchers set out to identify these waste “hotspots.” The Food Material Flow Study is the first of its kind in Canada, offering valuable insights to inform circular strategies. Click the link below to view the full image.

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More than 70 datasets were analysed to produce this Sankey diagram snapshot of food waste flows in the region.

In the first phase of this complex undertaking, researchers from Dillon Consulting, Metabolic, and the University of Guelph compiled more than 70 sets of national and local data. Next, they undertook a Material Flow Analysis of that data to understand what resources flow into the food system, where they end up and where waste occurs at each stage: growing and processing, distribution and packaging, and consumption in restaurants, institutions, and homes.

The findings — published in the June 2021 Food and Food Waste Flow report — revealed that 55 per cent of all food in Guelph-Wellington is thrown away. Almost half of this could be avoided. The analysis also identified specific areas that warrant deeper investigation, such as fruit losses before manufacturing and losses of cereals at the processing stage. Meanwhile, although the volume of wasted meat and milk isn’t as high as other food categories, it creates significant environmental impacts because of the energy required to produce these foods. 

Now, Our Food Future collaborators are exploring the most effective interventions to reduce these losses or find new value in the waste through living lab pilot projects.

“By reimagining food and food waste, we create opportunities to rescue food that would otherwise be wasted and create opportunities for new food businesses,” says Cameron Walsh, division manager, City of Guelph Solid Waste Services. “This study and data give us a better understanding of where to invest our resources.”