Food recovery: A step towards a circular economy - Retail Council of Canada
Food & Grocery | Sustainability

Food recovery: A step towards a circular economy

September 25, 2020
Food recovery: A step towards a circular economy

Over the last few years, circular economy principles have been increasingly integrated into various aspects of the retail industry along with government legislation. As part of this, there has been growing interest among consumers, companies and government to reduce food loss and waste. For many grocers, the balance of keeping shelves stocked while limiting food waste can be a challenge but there are many economic, social and environmental benefits associated with improved recovery rates.

Problems and opportunities

When surplus food is sent to landfills, it represents a missed opportunity to support local charities and reduce environmental impacts. Meanwhile, companies are left with disposal and spoilage fees while food waste breaks down in landfills producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas emission. It is also important to recognize that a significant amount of time, energy and resources have already gone into growing, manufacturing and transporting this food. Food loss is a wasted opportunity for everyone involved.

According to Second Harvest, a Canadian food rescue organization, approximately 35.5 million metric tonnes of food produced in Canada is lost and wasted annually. This food waste amounts to approximately $49.46 billion representing a huge economic and environmental opportunity to reduce costs and emissions while supporting local communities. With food recovery programs, companies can report on reductions and charity contributions in annual reports and marketing campaigns, helping to contribute to positive consumer and shareholder perceptions.  

Corporate commitments

In recent years, many companies have made a commitment to reduce food loss and waste as part of their corporate social responsibility plans. Examples of commitments include a 50% reduction of food waste in operations by 2025, relative to 2016 levels.

For many of these commitments, the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC) is identified as a key partner for resources and support. The NZWC is a leadership initiative founded and supported by Metro Vancouver that works to advance waste prevention in Canada by bringing businesses, governments, and non-government organizations together.

When setting commitments, it is important to ensure a common understanding of what is being measured to ensure an efficient monitoring and reporting process. One of the most effective standard practices is to ensure staff is familiar with categories such as edible, inedible and the types of food in each of these categories.

There are also opportunities to go beyond food recovery and look for ways to reduce upstream food waste. This can be accomplished by working with others in the supply chain, including food processors, to re-evaluate procurement protocols.

Who you can work with

When looking to reduce your company’s food loss and waste, there are opportunities to partner with various organizations including Second Harvest, FoodMesh and Provision Coalition. Organizations like these can help you set up food recovery programs and provide logistical support while contributing to a good cause.

Second Harvest

Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization working with partners across the supply chain to reduce food waste. Since it was founded in 1985, Second Harvest has “rescued and delivered more than 155 million pounds of food, preventing over 192 million pounds of greenhouse gas equivalents from entering the atmosphere.” In addition to picking up surplus food and redistributing it to social service agencies, Second Harvest produces technical reports and provides local education and training programs.


Since its launch in 2017, Foodmesh has been working to connect companies with surplus food to charities supporting people, and to farmers for animal feed to help reduce the amount of food going to landfill. FoodMesh provides a variety of services, including coordinating the donation or sale of surplus food while providing metrics for corporate reports.

Provision Coalition

Provision Coalition is a food industry advisory service that helps to elevate brands, increase revenues and reduce costs. With a vision of developing a circular food system in Canada, their team of food and beverage sustainability experts works with manufacturers to make food more sustainable. Businesses can receive support in five key areas: People, Business Strategy, Operations, Supply Chains, Data & Storytelling.

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