Macleans magazine had an article earlier this month about tea bag food waste in Britain. Having recently developed a tea habit on that fair island, and being generally concerned with food and waste and composting, I’ve got a vested interest in this.
Britain’s 62 million residents drink 165 million cups of tea per day. (Fun fact! That’s 2 ⅔ cups per person.) This is a lot of tea, and it produces a lot of waste: tea bags add 370 000 tonnes of waste to landfills per year. Wrap, a government-funded organisation that works to reduce waste, encourage recycling, and to create a market for recycled products, estimates that tea bags are now the single largest food waste contributor in the UK. Now, tea-drinkers are being encouraged to compost their used tea bags instead of throwing them out.
Amy wondered if there is some kind of Canadian equivalent. While my admittedly cursory search did not turn up any one food item equivalent, a 2011 article in the Toronto Star about food waste caught my attention, and is an interesting complement to Amy’s post regarding the locavore/locally-sourced food movement. According to a study entitled Food Waste in Canada by the Value Chain Management Centre, Canadians manage to waste $27 billion worth of food per year. This food goes to landfill and, yes, some goes to compost … but it’s still going to waste. In fact, the green bin compost-collection programs in some cities may be acting as a psychological ameliorative: people feel ok wasting food because they are composting it.
What is interesting is that food miles (how many miles food travels — and therefore how much fuel burned and greenhouse gases produced — to get to consumers) are seen as a kind of environmental big bad. In particular, food miles are what locavores/people who eat only/mostly local food aim to do away with. However, food miles are responsible for only 3 percent of food waste, compared to the 51% contributed by consumers who throw out food at home. (I’m unsurprised to find that Desrochers & Shimizu, authors of the new book Amy has mentioned previously, ‘The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of a 10,000-Mile Diet‘ are referenced in the report.)
I’m interested the idea that eating local isn’t the be-all-end-all, perfect solution for food sustainability that some folks might like it to be. This doesn’t mean I’m about to give up on shopping at the lovely Kamloops farmers’ market, or start buying mangoes or avocados as anything other than occasional treats, but it is definitely food for thought. More evidence that there is not necessarily a simple, one-size-fits-all solution for sustainable lifestyles and diets, and all the more reason to keep on experimenting with and learning about food, and strive for zero food waste.