Driving Efficiencies Through Co-operative Collection of Food and Food Waste: Durham Region

Project Summary

A curbside waste audit in the Greater Toronto Area discovered that 40 per cent of the food waste that residents throw out is avoidable; approximately half (53 per cent) is leftovers that could have been eaten, with the remaining waste (47 per cent) is untouched food. In all, it is estimated that individuals and households across Canada waste more than $14 billion worth of food annually. When taking into consideration retailers, restaurants, and the supply chain, the value of wasted food increases to more than $30 billion. Expanding that chain to include infrastructure, machinery, transport, etc., estimates peg the value of waste food at more than $100 billion annually.

While the economic costs of food waste are staggering, we must also consider the environmental costs. When organic material is sent to landfill to decompose it releases methane into the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and is the single largest waste stream found in landfills.

Most importantly, the social aspect of food waste also ties into economic and environmental considerations. The rate of food insecurity across Canada hovers at around 12 per cent, which means approximately four million Canadians do not have reliable access to adequate amounts of safe, good-quality, nutritious food.

Many Canadian municipalities have established comprehensive curbside organics programs, which leverages collection efficiencies from door-to-door services and in-home source separation built on continuous public education and outreach. However, the non-residential generators (e.g., retailers, stores, hospitals, food courts, etc.) generally have a different collection process whereby organic materials are managed independently by the generator on a facility-by- facility basis, which eliminates opportunity to leverage collection efficiencies or standardized services experienced by the residential sector. This is the result of a lack of co-ordination by the generators and their independent service providers.

That’s why, in 2017, as Recycling Council of Ontario we first piloted a unique project that identifies and trials collaboration between the various types of non-residential generators that manage organic materials and their waste/recycling service provider to co-ordinate collection, transport, and consolidation.

In doing so, we tested a method and model to better manage edible food so it maintains and maximizes highest value, and optimize organics recycling and food recovery in a system that can be scaled and replicated in cities and towns across Canada.

Pilot Funder

In July 2017 the Walmart Foundation invited eligible non-profit organizations working to reduce food waste in Canada to submit proposals for funding. On April 19, 2018  the Walmart Foundation announced the recipients and initiatives to reduce food waste in Canada, including $273,700 USD to Recycling Council of Ontario for this food waste pilot.

The Walmart Foundation is excited to support Recycling Council of Ontario’s new and innovative approach to fighting food waste and supporting food recovery, says Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and chief sustainability officer for Walmart. For over ten years, through philanthropic and business initiatives, Walmart has been working to reduce food waste and strengthen charitable programs to accelerate food recovery and get food to those who need it most.  Today we commit to accelerating progress in Canada. We hope this grant, combined with additional grants we are making to other leading non-profits, will catalyze collective action to reduce food waste all along the food chain, from farm to fork.

Advisory committee

PIlot Observations

  • Over a four-month period between July–November 2018 13.5 tonnes of source separated organics was collected and composted; and 908 kg (2,008 lb.) of food was rescued and redistributed, which is equivalent to approximately 2,000 meals.
  • More than 50 per cent of generators typically produced between 50 – 150 kg (110 – 330 lb.) of organic waste per week despite the wide diversity of ‘type’ of generator (e.g., florist, golf course, day care).
  • Participating generators were keen to change their management approach, and were able to source separate materials successfully with minimal change in operations and staff effort.
  • Based on financial information provided by generators, diverting organics from the waste stream could result in reductions to disposal costs by as much as 60 per cent.
  • Despite the significant amounts of materials diverted to composting, participants would fall under the threshold of current IC&I regulations in Ontario (300 kg / 661 lb. weekly).
  • Contamination rates of participating generators’ material were low with minimal education.
  • Identifying and recruiting participants required time and co-ordination but almost all approached were keen to participate.
  • The bulk of rescued food had a short shelf life and, therefore, needed to be consumed within 12 hours of being collected.
  • Generators expressed a willingness to pay more for a separate organics service if costs are reasonable.
  • Front-line staff of generators were generally cognizant and willing to support their organization’s participation.
  • Local waste collection service provider was able to service a new route with minimal barriers.
  • Service distances did not warrant a separate consolidation site.
  • Local Business Improvement Area (BIA) proved to be an important and valuable partner to recruit pilot participants.



Stay Connected

Receive selected updates of our activities happening across Canada and the World:


Become a Member

We offer collaborative opportunity and inspiration to redefine value in communities across Canada through showcase opportunities and putting circular economy concepts into action.