Paying attention to food waste

By Chris Drost
How much food waste is your household generating? Have you ever thought why? Did you purchase too much food and it has gone bad? Did you end up not using those leftovers after all?
These are the questions that a new research project through the students of Fleming College’s Sustainable Waste Management program, facilitated by U-links Centre for Community-based Research, will try to answer for the Municipality of Dysart et al.
The Dysart et al environmental manager John Watson, reported to council on Jan. 25 that the municipality has typically provided funding of $1,500 for past projects with U-Links. He already set aside $1,500 in the 2022 Environmental Management budget for this purpose, which was subsequently approved by council.
“This project is about before you even get to composting. It is why food is being thrown out,” explains Watson. Sometimes it is about food literacy, such as understanding the difference between “best before” and expiry dates. It may also be about how to use food so that everything gets eaten up. Sometimes it is about making better choices in purchasing food.
“The students will be looking at rural areas, including how seasonal use of properties and hunting also generate food waste,” explains Watson.

In the fall, at close-up time, or after hunting, the municipality sees a lot of extra food waste coming into the landfill. The goal is to produce some strategies to minimize this problem.
There are three outcomes that the Food Waste Reduction Research project hopes to achieve. One is to produce a list of strategies to reduce food waste in the home. Second, the students will research best practices from other rural communities through literature review and interviews and then third, use all the findings to develop a public education campaign to reduce food waste.
Watson said this project will focus on residential waste, butthe students may do some preliminary investigation into strategies for reducing waste from restaurants, food stores, etc.
This is not the first time Dysart et al has partnered with Fleming College’s Sustainable Waste Management program and U-Links, which ensures proper research standards are used. In 2019 there was the Plastics Reduction Challenge, Plastic Waste – Litter Reduction in 2020 and Illegal Dumping in 2021. These previous projects have led directly to policy and operational changes in Dysart et al, such as the ban on the sale of bottled water on municipal property and online reporting of illegal dumping.
From a class of about 30 Fleming students, eight have been selected to be team leaders and a kick-off event was held in mid-January. Dysart et al will have a call with the students in four weeks and the final report is expected to be completed in 10 weeks and will include a full list of recommendations for the public education program.

Sadie Fischer, environmental program coordinator at U-Links said the role of U-Links is to assist community organizations in answering research questions. Part of that process is refining the research questions. Another is to provide suggestions on how to answer these questions. Alongside the faculty supervisors, they provide students with research approaches that best suit the project needs.
Part of the Dysart et al project includes a literature review of best practices in waste reduction. In this case, where the main approach is a comprehensive literature review, U-Links will review the  bibliography to ensure relevant and current sources are being used.
“If specific protocols are needed for field research, we can provide training or workshops. If the project requires a community survey, we can assist in developing the interview questions,” Fischer said.

A team with representatives from Dysart et al, Fleming College and U-Links, will work with the students to make sure they produce the best possible research for the community. Meetings will be held with the students throughout the project cycle for updates and to provide feedback where necessary.
“After our initial Kick-Off meeting, I am very excited to see what the students come up with,” adds Fischer.
This project is in support of the County of Haliburton Corporate Climate Change Mitigation Plan which focuses on communicating with residents and businesses how to reduce and divert waste, and supports and promotes backyard composting.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, most of the research will be conducted remotely. Municipalities, public health units, food security organizations and food waste reduction organizations will be surveyed by the students. This is all set to begin in late -January, with findings presented at U-Links Celebration of Research on March 22.
“If time permits, the results will also be shared through a delegation at the Dysart et al Committee of the Whole on April 12,” Watson said.

Meanwhile, the new research project is not the only thing the municipality is doing to help reduce waste that ends up in the land fill. Dysart et al has supported the composting of food waste in the past through the sale of backyard composters and digesters. It is also moving ahead this year with the FoodCycler Pilot Project, a 12-week long program for 100 households. The FoodCycler uses electricity to quickly compost food waste into a finished compost product.
Each participating household is required to pay for their FoodCycler and complete surveys upon initial pick-up, at the six-week mark of the pilot and at the end of the 12 weeks. Ideally, a follow-up survey will be conducted six months following the conclusion of the pilot project to help determine the long-term use and viability of the FoodCycler units.