Wasted Potential: A Food Waste Reduction Strategy for Toronto Restaurants

Madison Maguire, 2016
Vol. 22 No. 13 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)

Food waste occurs at every stage of the value chain (Lipinski et al., 2013). The issue of food waste within Canada has recently received more attention from policy makers, industry and consumers for its economic, environmental and social impacts (Abdulla et al., 2013; Gooch et al., 2010). Research and policy efforts though have focused predominantly on the household and how to reduce food waste in this location. Research is lacking on how to address food waste at the service industry level. This research study examines how restaurants in Toronto handle their waste, and in what way current policy encourages or discourages waste reduction by restaurants, in order to propose a waste reduction strategy for the future. Municipalities in Canada currently face serious issues regarding the management of their solid waste, with a general acceptance emerging of the unsustainability of landfills, and with decreasing space for them. Further, with food waste, it is not just the products themselves that are lost; it is the energy, water, packaging and human resources used in production, transportation and food service (Gooch et al, 2010). Finally, we operate within a culture of “disposability” (Evans, 2013) and so education initiatives are needed to gain support of both restaurant owners, workers and the consumer to commit to waste reduction. There exists a policy vacuum in Toronto, whereby restaurants send their food waste and its associated packaging to landfill, because the lowest cost option is to only pay for garbage pick-up. This research will attempt to answer how municipalities, restaurants, and consumers can collectively reduce the amount of food waste produced, and redirect what remains away from landfill. This research provides suggestions for education initiatives that could be quickly implemented by the city and restaurants to foster a commitment by restaurant staff and restaurant customers towards the goal of reducing the amount of food waste produced. This paper uses a mixed-method approach relying on document analysis and interviews with relevant actors in the restaurant industry. The paper begins by exploring issues in the industrial food system that result in the current levels of food waste. It then identifies the current context of restaurants in Toronto. The second part of the paper, using a transition framework, is devoted to offering a mix of policy, regulatory and educational suggestions for reducing food waste in the food service sector. These research findings demonstrate the vital role of the state in guiding industry waste practices, and indicate substantial regulatory changes are required to achieve substantial reductions in restaurant food waste.