Visiting the University of Toronto – Bracing the cold to progress waste scholarship

By Jordon Lazell @jlazell 

At the end of January/ start of February 2018, I was invited to visit the University of Toronto (UofT) in Canada by Tammara Soma, PhD student in Department for Geography and Planning in the School of Graduate studies. This blog shares some experiences of the trip.

Visiting Canada in winter I expected the weather to be cold, however on arriving at the airport I was surprised how warm it was. With no sign of snow on the ground I was rethinking the several layers of jumpers I bought in my hand luggage for when I arrived. However this did not last long, and as I learnt over the week the weather is very changeable. Monday, my first day visiting UofT was a cold but bright morning that turned into heavy snow and -10 degrees in the afternoon. This was the weather I was expecting. It even reached -14 one day which was getting to the point of being unbearable to walk around in.

Picture 1

This was a halls of residence, one of many historically ‘styled’ buildings

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Foodwastestudies session at the European Roundtable for Sustainable Consumption and Production

By Jordon Lazell @jlazell

The 18th occurrence of the European Roundtable on Sustainable Production and Consumption (ERSCP17) featured a session on ‘food and waste’ organised by the International Food Waste and Food Loss Studies Group, chaired by myself, Jordon Lazell, and Professor Piergiuseppe Morone (Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome). The conference took place in Skiathos, Greece from the 1st to the 5th of October with the special session scheduled for Monday the 1st. The food and waste special session was one of a number of sessions that covered areas such as the circular economy, waste management, eco design, innovation and efficiency, smart cities and business strategies for sustainable production and consumption.

Despite the submission of 8 abstracts, 3 speakers were present and gave presentations. This included myself, Piergiuseppe and Marie Hebrok, a PhD student from Consumption Research Norway (SIFO). The session produced up a number of interesting findings and follow up conversations. I first presented some of the findings of my PhD, showing how wider sets of practices, such as working and commuting practices, influence consumption and subsequent wastage of food. Piergiuseppe followed who presented his research in development that investigated which policy actions might modify the current unsustainable food consumption models in order to achieve a significant reduction in food waste. Marie Hebrok rounded off the session discussing her research on the underlying structural drivers of food waste by studying everyday practices related to food.


Marie discusses how consumers are tasked with negotiated a web of contextual measures, such as planning, health, diversity and thrift and how the performance or non-performance of these are causing food waste.


Piergiuseppe presents the findings of the fuzzy inference simulation which assessed the use of food waste reduction language, mapping of causal-effect relationships by experts and drivers to potentially discourage unsustainable consumer behaviour.

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Research insight – The new norms of food waste at the curb

New research by Dr. Sally Geislar explores household behaviours in the context of organic collection programmes

The paper raises a number of interesting questions around the rapid development and implementation of organic collection programmes. Improvements in the deployment of curbside carts, collection fleets and new technologies for processing facilities have increased the uptake and sustainability of curbside food waste collection however little attention has been focused on household behaviours.

Using norm communication, the paper shows how increased participation results from more supportive infrastructure and social innovations such as communication of social norms of separation.

The full paper can be found here:


More information about Sally and her research can be found here –

Opening the bin Waste conference – 27th- 29th April – Lund University, Helsingborg, Sweden

By Jordon Lazell @jlazell 

As one of the most seminal conferences I have taken part in, the ‘opening the bin’ workshop addressed the social and culture dynamics of waste.  The conference bought together academics and practitioners working in the area of waste to highlight the dynamic nature of research in social sciences and humanities being undertaken in this area. Papers presented concerned waste across a number of different areas and sectors from food waste to the circular economy, recycling and e-waste amongst other topics, presenting theoretical, empirical and methodological insights.

The conference was particularly important given its framing of waste management in the socio-material. The core theme of waste was approached in intriguing ways to give explanation to how waste shapes contemporary culture and society more broadly. The conference provided a stage for knowledge across disciplines to come together and discuss waste in various forms. In particular the various critiques of current policy and discourses were very thought-provoking, such as the rise of the circular economy and the relationship between recycling and consumption of goods.


The conference was held in Helsingborg, Sweden at Lund University. The town has small historic centre and is situated at Øresund straight, an important transport point into Denmark.

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Food Waste and the Circular Economy

By Lisa Ruetgers @Sustainsupport and Jordon Lazell @jlazell

Humanity is consuming the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb as waste (Global Footprint Network 2016) . Consequences of such over-consumption are resource depletion, climate change, air and water pollution, species extinction and loss of fertile soil amongst other environmental, social and economic degradation. The circular economy is increasing emerging as a means of continuing our highly resource dependant lifestyles whilst minimising and mitigating any negative implications alongside kick starting an economy based upon reuse and recycling. This has been defined as “an industrial economy that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013) involving elements of a closed loop of material flow to relinquish the highest value of products and their components.

Yet this solution of having our cake and eating it too is not so simple. Scholars have raised the conundrum of the limitations of more sustainable production and consumption in that greener and more efficiently made products still lead to the consumption of resources and the creation of waste and pollution. Cases of ‘lock in’ have been described where despite efficiency gains across supply chains, manufacturing methods, recreational and commuting practices, the increased demand for consumption has meant resource use actually increases (Jackson and Papathanasopoulou, 2008). Furthermore with the European Commission, governments, universities and practitioner organisations embracing the circular economy, a question remains over how its implementation can actually address the problems caused by over-consumption whilst contributing towards more sustainable and equitable societal development.

Food is one resource that requires critical attention as up to a third of all food is estimated to be wasted each year (FAO, 2013). Reducing food waste has the potential to save resources, reduce pollution and increase food security, for example by feeding 12.5% of the world’s malnourished people (FAO, 2012). Developed regions, such as Europe, North America, and industrialised Asia waste more food than developing countries, with the loss happening at different levels in the supply chain.  In low-income countries poor infrastructure, especially for storage, inefficient technologies and climate conditions lead to wastage at post-harvest and processing stages, while in high-income countries most food waste is created by retail and end-consumers due to mismanagement and forecasting errors as well as the buying, preparing, and serving of too much food.   WRAP (2013) found that the UK retail sector creates 1.6 million tonnes of waste annually, the majority of which is made up of food. How therefore can the circular economy help with this problem?

Food waste features in the European Circular Economy package noting a series of measures such as prioritising the preventing of food going to waste over reduction and energy recovery, adoption of a common methodology to measure food waste across member states, dissemination of good practices in food waste prevention and clarification of EU legislation on food donation and date marking (European Commission, 2015).  Such actions aim to reduce the amount of waste existing beyond the consumer whilst ensuring as much surplus food as possible is directed towards human consumption rather than recovery or disposal actions.

Supermarkets play a key role in circular economy actions relating to food. These businesses have been accused to enabling food waste by overstocking shelves (often linked to consumer expectations) and wasting surplus food given procedures around best before labelling and re-stocking (Stenmarck, et al. 2011). In a circular economy resources are used on ways to extract maximum value, recovering, re-selling and materialising wherever possible. Innovative businesses models that are applying this strategy to food waste include:

  • Wefood in Copenhagen collects donated surplus food (edible food waste) from retailers and sells it at reduced prices in its stores.
  • Approved Food is a UK wholesaler that buys products that are close to or past their best before date from supermarkets and resells those at low cost in its online shop.
  • Asda and Waitrose sell misshapen vegetables at reduced prices
  • ‘Too good to go’ is an app allowing restaurants to sell their leftover food at the end of the working day to consumers, who order a portion during the day and can pick their cheap restaurant meal up 1h before closure

These business models are great examples for a circular economy in the retail and hospitality sector. Turning food waste into animal feed, incinerating it for energy generation or composting waste are a less valuable means of the most desirable use of food, i.e for consumption. This is superior to sending food waste to landfill given the production of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

Looking to the consumer’s role in the food waste problem, the concept of the circular economy has the potential to place greater responsibility on retailers and food sellers to ensure that those who purchase their products avoid throwing them away. The major supermarkets in the UK all engage the provision of advice and initiatives to prevent food going to waste, linking such efforts to saving money on the weekly shop. WRAP as a leader in disseminating such messages through their ‘love food hate waste’ campaign, note that the average family throws away £700 per year worth of food (WRAP, 2017a). However this is contradictory to the clever marketing campaigns and food fads that draw consumer’s to buy more than they require. The most recent WRAP food waste figures indicate that in spite of their efforts, from 2012 to 2015 there was a 4.4% increase in consumer food waste from 7 to 7.3 million tonnes (WRAP, 2017a). At the same time the amount of houses receiving a food waste collection increased (WRAP, 2017b), reducing the amount of food waste going to landfill and exercising the circular economy in diverting waste to anaerobic digestion plants. This then creates a puzzled picture where despite the overall amount of food waste from households increasing, the amount of food actually thrown away at landfill has potentially decreased.

The greater question here perhaps underpinning the momentum of the circular economy is whether such prevention, re-use, recycle, recovery and efficiency actions are sufficient to offset the increasing use of resources and furthermore the degradative impacts that result from this. The potential growth from ensuring that materials are used in the most sustainable and higher value way is considerable given the need for new and innovative business models to promote less extractive based economies. However at the same time, there is little narrative around lowering or reducing consumption of new products and usage of new materials in the first place. New initiatives to recirculate products, such as those based upon the sharing economy, can help in reducing the consumption of new goods, and initiatives around sharing food now exist to potentially achieve a scalable impact (see the app OLIO).

The business models highlighted here are innovative ways of detailing with surplus food but what about ensuring that there is not any surplus food in the first place? In a perfect world such businesses would not need to exist. The circular economy therefore has driven and will continue to drive great progress in dealing with the food waste problem but is it really getting to the heart of what is causing surpluses of food in the first place?

These and similar questions will be discussed at the Conference “The Circular Economy: Transitioning to Sustainability?” organised by the Coventry University Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) on 11th July 2017.

The authors of this blog dedicate their research to the reduction of food waste at the household and retail level.

Lisa Ruetgers has started her PhD at CBiS in September 2016 and is undertaking an exploratory case study to investigate innovative business models selling surplus food and the socio-cultural environment they operate in, to identify how selling surplus food really can create impact.

Jordon Lazell is a Research Assistant working within the Communities, Consumers and Sustainable Behaviour cluster in the Centre for Business in Society. Jordon’s research concerns wasteful behaviours and is currently undertaking a part time PhD focusing on how differing consumer habits and routines influence food consumption and subsequent food waste practices in everyday life. Jordon is also a co-founder of the International Food Loss and Food Waste Study Group.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation (2013) Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and Business Rationale for an accelerated transition. [online] Available from <;

European Commission, 2015. Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy, Com. Brussels.

FAO (2013) Food Wastage Footprint. Impacts on Natural Resources. Summary Report [online] available from <, p.6>

FAO (2012) The State of Food Insecurity in the World [online] Rome. available from <>

Jackson, T. and Papathanasopoulou, E. (2008) Luxury or ‘lock-in’? An exploration of unsustainable consumption in the UK: 1968 to 2000. Ecological Economics. 68, 80-95

Love Food Hate Waste (2017) Your Food Isn’t Rubbish. [online] Available from <;

Stenmarck, Å., Hanssen, O., Silvennoinen, K., Katajajuuri, J., Werge, M. (2011) ‘Initiatives on prevention of food waste in the retail and wholesale trades’. Nordic Council of Ministers. Copenhagen.

WRAP (2017a) Household Food Waste in the UK, 2015. [online] Available from <;

WRAP (2017b) Synthesis of Food Waste Compositional Data 2014 & 2015. [online] Available from <;

WRAP (2013) Estimates of Waste in the food and drink supply chain. [online] Available from <;


Dumpster Diving, Food Waste and the Rise of Freeganism

By Christabel Benoit – a devoted and highly concerned nature lover working for Fantastic Waste Removal

Dumpster diving, also known as skipping in the UK and skip dipping in Australia is the practice of unconventional waste salvage performed by ordinary people at their own will and expense. This particular method can be used for many types of containers including: commercial, residential, construction and industrial. One does not need a deep philosophical reason to bury their hands in the trash.

Today many consider dumpster dipping outrageous and unthinkable, while a new movement has emerged to which skip dipping is a way of life. How this particular movement came to be is no mystery. The UK economy alone produces about 15 million tons of food waste every year while another 41 millions of food are purchased for home use. Wasted food costs the government around £23 billion every year. Unemployment and immigration is also at its highest than it’s ever been, not to mention life becoming more expensive as well. With so many supermarkets throwing away food at the end of each work day and the constant shrinkage of the labour market, it’s no wonder why some people would try and look for alternative means of living. 

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It’s the Night After Christmas and Someone is Hungry

By Paul van der Werf @allfoodisfood

If you can get past the clutter you can find the beauty of this time of the year. Foisted upon us now, presumably to distract us from the impending doom of winter, the cacophony of Christmas is ubiquitous. Happy, bright faces are everywhere. The same endless loop of Christmas carols wafts through you, with North Korean enthusiasm, until they become nothing more than undulating white noise and unfortunate ear candy canes.

This time of the year reminds us of how much many of us have and the obverse, sadly equilibrating, paucity of others. It is the black and white Christmas tales of movies past, the ecstasy of delight as children open gifts around the blazing fireplace to the sad man trudging infinitely through the snow, going nowhere. There is something in those tales, even if it is just saccharine redemption, that tries to bring the joy and sadness together.

There is a goodness in people’s hearts that extends beyond their own families to the larger world family. I see it in the bell ringers with their kettles at the mall to Christmas meals served to whoever wants them by strangers happy to have enough that they can give some back. For one day people with plenty work to make those with less, whole.

Food is a big part of every celebration whether it is Christmas now, Eid, Chanukah. It is what binds us together as people. Eating is a simple biological necessity that transcends poverty and wealth and creates galvanizing bonds. The literal breaking of (clearly unsliced) bread is how we like to describe it. Can we find a way to extend the goodness in people’s hearts the day after Christmas?

It is food and its access that sets us apart as a society. When people are in the position and have to make existential choices between buying food or shelter or heat we know we are not where we need to be. Solutions to the complexities of poverty can be hard to come by.

On the food front there are some potentially easy and game changing wins that put money in people’s pockets and food in other people’s stomachs. Without trying to be overly dramatic there is an epidemic of wasting food in this country (and most other developed countries by the way). Every week the average Canadian household throws out 5 pounds of food that could have been eaten at one point. This is worth $12 or about $600 per year. On top of that these same households throw out another 3 pounds of unavoidable food waste such as bones, coffee grounds and egg shells. These estimates don’t even start to count things like food waste that occur at restaurants and grocery stores.

There are clearly enough food resources available for all. We don’t do a great job at its equitable distribution. It begs the simple question though. If you threw out less food would you contribute some of your savings to those who do not have enough food? If you reduced your household’s food waste by just ½ would you donate $100 to an agency that works to solve food security issues? A bit of dream maybe but it is not asking for anything more but just sharing the reclaimed value of what is currently being thrown away.

The path to reducing the amount of food that becomes waste are pretty simple and involve improving food literacy. Some simple tips include:

  • Carefully plan ahead before grocery shopping so that you buy what you need
  • If you can buy every couple of days rather than just once a week
  • Understand that “Best Before” does not mean “Worst After” and our vision and sense of smell are our best tools
  • Plan how much you are going to make before you start so make best use of your ingredients
  • Plan for leftovers ahead of time and whether to freeze them for another day or eat them later in the week

Could this be the makings of an original New Year’s resolution?

Waste? Not!

By Alissa Hamilton (Author of Squeezed and Got Milked?)  – Writer in Residence, Food Systems Lab


Photo: Heather Kaiser (Corn Silk)

Every so often we hear news of the latest updates to the Oxford English Dictionary.  Mostly they include additions.  “Binge-watch” and “vape” are a couple of new activities that have become so popular that the OED editors have deemed them deserving of word recognition. But on one late summer walk, Canadian born Wayne Roberts and Indonesian born Tammara Soma put their birth-languages together to arrive at what they believe should be a deletion: “waste” as a noun, and therefore “food waste” as a term.  Over tea a few days later, Tammara explained to me that while Indonesians talk of wasting food, food waste isn’t a thing in Indonesian.  That’s the way it should be in English too.

In “Waste-Soma,” Wayne’s newsletter entry about his walk with Tammara, Wayne—who, as the former and longtime chair of Toronto’s Food Policy Council, is the man largely responsible for putting food on Toronto City Council’s agenda—outlines the global problem that he and Tammara met to discuss:  the massive amounts of food that humans waste each day, week and year.  The crux of the problem is easy to illustrate: every apple we don’t eat is all the wasted energy used to grow, harvest, package and ship it, plus all the global warming gases emitted as the apple rots in landfills.  The solution isn’t so easy to picture. Composting plays a familiar, if limited role. It mitigates the problem, but only marginally because it doesn’t make up for all the energy it took to get the apple to you in the first place. Recognizing that preventing so many truckloads of food from being wasted demands a diverse set of interventions, innovations, and perspectives from stakeholders ranging from indigenous communities to for-profit businesses, Tammara has launched the Food Systems lab.  Wayne is so enthused by Tammara’s vision to take a comprehensive approach toward identifying ways to reduce the amount of food we as a society waste that he has agreed to become a Special Advisor to the lab.  First off the waste-busters want to put an end to food waste literally. As Wayne writes, “’food waste’ has to be renamed ‘wasted food,’ because waste is a verb, not a noun.”

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

By Tammara Soma @TammaraSoma


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.


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

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“Fight Against Food Waste Act” falls, embers remain

By Paul van der Werf @allfoodisfood

Bill C-231 “The Fight Against Food Waste Act” was defeated on 5 October. Brought forward by NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the bill sought a National Fight Against Food Waste Day and a number of measures that would help better quantify the actual amount; further facilitate food donations and set a target for its reduction. I suppose the bill’s failure shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given the snowball’s chance private member’s bills are given.

Still for a government so bent on changing the face of Canada’s climate change policy they clearly seem to be unaware of the climate change impact of wasted food. If greenhouse gas generation from food waste were a country it would be number three, right behind the total GHG generation of the United States and China. If that isn’t a big enough problem, then consider the 8% of Canadians that are food insecure during at least part of the year. I know it will seem strange to say it this way, but, we are making a choice between feeding people and feeding the microorganisms that create the potent greenhouse gas methane, while munching away in our landfills. If that is not a big enough problem, then consider the $600 plus dollars the average Canadian family rolls up into a ball and throws into the garbage each year- just from their household food waste.

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