Launch of Canada’s first Social Innovation Lab aims to tackle food waste

By Tammara Soma @TammaraSoma

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On Thursday November 24th 2016, the Department of Geography and Planning was the site of a historic event, the launch of Canada’s first social innovation lab on food waste and food insecurity funded by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and developed by PhD Candidate in Planning and Trudeau Scholar Tammara Soma and Belinda Li of GOAL 12 and Engineers Without Borders. University of Toronto’s President Meric Gertler was present to officially launch the event.

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Co-founder of the foodwastestudies group Tammara Soma introducing President Meric Gertler of the University of Toronto

In recent years, food waste has become a hot topic, garnering attention in mainstream media internationally. Globally, about one-third of all food produced is wasted. In Canada, this amount is closer to 40%, of which nearly half is from consumers. High levels of food waste negatively impact the environment, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient loss, and the inefficient use of resources for food production. Based on single-family waste audit data from 2015/2016, the average Toronto household throws away about 223 kg of food per year at home, of which about 62% could have been eaten. About half of edible food waste is fruits and vegetables.

 In September 2015, the United Nations announced a target of halving global food waste per capita by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, which almost all countries in the world, including Canada, have committed to. With such an ambitious target, all levels of government, industry associations, businesses, non-profit organizations and citizens are talking about the issue and looking for solutions to reduce food waste.

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In this frenzy of activity, it is easy to develop solutions in a hurry without careful consideration of root causes or all of the stakeholders that are affected, especially marginalized groups. Without a systems approach to addressing food waste, deeply held assumptions may not be challenged, critical features of the broader system may go unnoticed, and opportunities for innovation and collaboration may be missed. The Food Systems Lab is a one-year project which will be piloted in the City of Toronto. It has the potential to be replicated in other municipalities across Canada. Please visit foodsystemslab.ca for more information.