Each year while people throughout the world go hungry, tons of edible food goes unsold and is discarded at landfills. Quebec has created a tested solution to collect, transport and distribute that available food to food banks across the province.
Why Feed People with Supermarket Leftovers?
Reliance on food banks across Canada has increased in recent years, up 35 percent since 2008, with a third of those in need being children. The province of Quebec consolidated resources to fill the need of those 1.7 million people in need of food assistance each month. Quebec’s particular system is precedent setting in Canada.
“The idea behind it is: ‘Hey, we’ve got enough food in Quebec to feed everybody, let’s not be throwing things out,’” Sam Watts, CEO of Montreal’s Welcome Hall Mission, told Global News. “Let’s be recuperating what we can recuperate and let’s make sure we get it to people who need it.”
Watts further explained, “The idea is that we will be able to do it quickly while the food is still fresh.” He added, “Where frozen food is required, it will maintain the cold chain of being frozen.”
In addition to addressing the population’s hunger needs, discarded food that reaches landfills creates carbon dioxide and methane gas, which is even 25 times more environmentally toxic than carbon dioxide. By reducing the amount of discarded food, you reduce that negative impact on the environment.
The Organization of the Quebec Food Bank Program
To address these issues, the Food Banks of Quebec (FBQ)—which oversees the 30 food banks within the province—helped organize the Supermarket Recovery Program (SRP) to implement the food re-use program. In 2015, SRP began a two-year pilot program. The pilot saved a total of 2.5 million kilograms (kg) of food worth Can$20 million from 177 participating grocery stores, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases by 2000 tons of carbon dioxide.
Based on the success of the pilot, at full capacity, SRP expects to recover 8000 kg of food per year and reduce 7000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions—the same effect as removing 1500 automobiles from the roads. With that food, SRP plans to feed 400,000 people per year who rely on food assistance programs, including 150,000 children.
The province-wide program is supported by a Can$395,000 grant, from Recyc-Quebec and other collaborating grocers. (FBQ) is searching for other partners and donations to continue their advancement of the program.
How the Quebec Program Solved Logistics
Prior to the pilot program, practical concerns plagued the ability of individual supermarkets to transfer their unused food to families in need.
“Supermarkets couldn’t accommodate individual food banks coming to them one by one by one,” said Watts. Under the Quebec model, SRP took over the storage, transportation and distribution, gathering food to a central location and then delivering it to food banks.
Amy McElroy is a contributing editor and writer for Rewire Me. She has written for print, radio, and online publications such as The Bold Italic, The Billfold, Noodle, Cosmopolitan, BlogHer, and others. Her website, amyjmcelroy.net, lists her editorial services. She’s on twitter at @amyjmcelroy. Amy balances her work at the computer by teaching yoga and fitness.