Agricultural Food Surplus: The Solution is Circular

By Karen Lloyd
Published: April 6, 2023 | Last updated: April 6, 2023 08:06:55
Key Takeaways

Growing food and then letting it go to waste is a huge emitter of unnecessary greenhouse gasses. Fortunately, there are people working to ensure that unused or unwanted food ultimately gets consumed.

From using gasoline-powered machinery to hazardous fertilizers, many farming practices are major contributors to the buildup of global greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Before reaching our homes, food must be stored, processed, packaged, and shipped. At every stage, food provisioning emits toxins into the atmosphere — roughly 25 percent of the world’s total GHGs. But did you know that one of the industry’s biggest problems affecting the environment is food surplus?


Agricultural Food Surplus: Too Much of a Good Thing

An agricultural food surplus may sound like a good thing in a world where too many people are starving, but it leads to an enormous waste of resources if not managed properly. Today in the U.S. most surplus ends up in the landfill.

According to ReFed, a national nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste in the U.S., farming generates 16.7 million tons of surplus produce and next to none of it is considered marketable. Likewise, in 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other item of trash.

The situation is no better in Canada. Recent research conducted on behalf of the federal government shows that 11 million tonnes of all the food produced each year becomes landfilled, incinerated, or managed as organic waste.

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Five Startups Diverting Agricultural Food Surplus

Between 1965 and 2010, GHG emissions related to agricultural food surplus increased more than 300 percent from 130 Mt CO2eq/yr to 530 Mt CO2eq/yr.

At first, it might be natural to blame agricultural food surplus on poor planning by farmers, but food loss and waste occur in various stages of the food supply chain, including our own grocery stores. Since most farmers grow to meet their contracts with big grocery outlets, it’s the buying preferences of these outlets that shape what and how much they’re growing. Here are a few other culprits:

  • Seasonal fluctuations in supply and demand
  • Inadequate demand forecasting
  • Insufficient number of employees to harvest and handle produce
  • Inadequate storage, handling, and transportation infrastructure
  • Order cancellation
  • Overproduction to ensure contractual obligations are met
  • Economics of market price versus cost to harvest

Fortunately, there are folks out there working to solve the problem of agricultural food surplus. Whether they’ve connected with community groups or have developed food tracking apps, here are five standout startups doing their part to tackle food waste and combat climate change.

  1. A food upcycling business in Toronto call Bruized specializes in turning imperfect produce into healthy food. Their product line includes granola made with juice pulp, and cookies made with fruit that would otherwise go to waste.
  2. Wisely Foods Inc. is a pizza crust processor in Montreal that reduces food surplus by transforming unaesthetic sweet potatoes into delicious and nutritious pizza crusts. This decreases the amount of waste and creates new value from it.
  3. Goodr, a U.S.-based startup, has developed a platform that tracks an organization’s surplus food from pickup to donation, delivering real-time social and environmental impact reporting analytics. The platform enables businesses and organizations to track, account for, and manage their surplus food and organic waste, reducing greenhouse emissions, and helping underprivileged members of the local community.
  4. An agriculture input provider in Mississauga, Ont., called Nurture Growth Fertilizer rescues and upcycles food destined for landfills and transforms it into an eco-friendly fertilizer that builds healthy soils and promotes vigorous plants.
  5. Loop Mission in Montreal saves fruits and veggies rejected because they don’t have the proper shape, size, or shelf-life necessary to survive distribution and makes them into cold-pressed juices. They also have beers brewed with day-old bread, a gin distilled from potato cuttings from a potato chip factory, and hand-crafted soaps made with rejected cooking oil.

Overproduction of food adds to the already-high levels of pollution and toxic gasses that contribute to global warming. While the environment suffers, many individuals continue to go hungry because of poor agricultural surplus management policies at both a macro- and micro-level.


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Written by Karen Lloyd | Freelance Writer, Digital Marketing Expert

Profile Picture of Karen Lloyd

Karen Lloyd is a freelance writer, digital marketing expert and hippy at heart in the city with a small studio, spacious deck and enormous passion for all things cannabis, urban gardening and food equity in Toronto.

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