By Raven Nyman
This October, 100 Mile House took a step towards becoming food waste free when a local grocery store, Save-On-Foods teamed up with the food bank to keep groceries out of the landfill and bring them to the tables of those in need.
The new zero-waste initiative would not have been possible without the help of Loop Resource, a food rescue facilitation service that works with grocery stores to relocate previously discarded food to local charities and small farms.
“At the end of the program, we have less than one per cent compost. The rest is going to feed animals,” explained Loop’s start-up project manager, Jaime White. “What we want to do is make sure all the food is made accessible to feed people first.”
White arrived in the community on Thursday, Oct. 10 to oversee the initiative’s first official day, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the food bank and Save-On-Foods had already nailed down their new routine.
“Our main function here is to connect dots where they need to be connected and provide the liability insurance,” he said.
Since last Friday, Oct. 4, the 100 Mile House Food Bank Society has brought their van down to Save-On-Foods each morning, where it has been filled with hundreds of pounds of different food products every day.
This interaction might not seem unusual until one considers that just a week ago, all of those food products were considered garbage and ended up not on plates or in compost, but in the local landfill.
Now, in just six days of collaboration between Save-On, Loop, and the local food bank, the community has already saved about 5,000 pounds of goods from being discarded. Instead, that food will be utilized by local families and farms.
“Save-On-Foods is a brand that said, ‘We don’t believe food should be in the garbage’ and we as a brand are in the business of feeding people,” White explained. “So the goal is to take everything that would not be suitable for sale, for various reasons, and make sure first [that] it’s made available to food banks for feeding people, and then if it’s not suitable for that, that we feed local farm animals or produce more food locally with that waste.”
Loops works a bit differently in each community, but in 100 Mile House, the food bank collaborates with the farms that have supported it for years.
After each morning’s collection, volunteers review all donated products for condition and check over their best before dates to ensure that the goods are safe for consumption. Once sorting is complete, any goods that aren’t fit for public distribution go to feed local farm animals.
“We’re turning food waste into bacon and eggs,” said White with a smile. “We just want to see it happen. Food doesn’t belong in the garbage.”
Daily pick-ups will take place at Save-On all year, with the exception of Christmas day. The store’s manager, Fred Masales confirmed that everything at Save-On-Foods is now being utilized rather than discarded, even the trimmings.
“We can almost get rid of our organic waste container because we’re not using it,” he said.
Before Loop got involved, Save-On was still supporting the food bank with “the good stuff”, but everything the grocery store couldn’t salvage headed straight for the landfill.
The food bank’s society president Bob Hicks noted that lots of the products they’re now receiving weren’t previously available through the food bank, so it’s been wonderful to offer the community an additional variety of fresh produce, prepared meals, meat, bread, and even treats.
On Oct. 9, the food bank collected 941 pounds of food from Save-On. About 200 pounds of that day’s haul went to feed local farm animals. On Oct. 10 the food bank collected a “small load” of almost 400 pounds.
Loop is already set up in Williams Lake and Quesnel, but White said the program runs in 68 communities and works with over 100 grocers: “We move between 1.3 and 2 million kilograms of what would have been food waste to support charities and farms.”
Examining the immense amount of food that our society discards resulted in the development of Loop, White explained.
He recalls seeing a grocery store’s food waste for the first time himself and thinking, “We’ve got to be more responsible with this, we’ve got to take care of our communities better.”
“We can’t put this in the landfill with a clean conscience when there’s hungry families,” he said. “We shouldn’t morally put this in the landfill when we know we can raise chickens on it, we can raise pigs on this. We can produce food locally. It doesn’t have to travel. It’s supporting a local family and we’re doing it by reducing our environmental impact. There’s no loser in this scenario. That’s been the fun thing.”
Food waste is a huge problem at the consumer and grocer levels, said White, in every grocery store, every day in North America, on every day of the year.
He noted that the economy has been “rough” for most of Central B.C. in recent years and said that local food banks can become a lifeline when someone is in need.
“We, as small communities, can’t afford to lose good people. We need these families here,” said White. “The food bank is a lifeline to support and help them get back on their feet. That’s what we want to see.”
Reflecting on recent mill closures and job losses in the South Cariboo, volunteers at the food bank indicated that this new initiative seems to be needed now more than ever, and they’re grateful.
The 100 Mile House Food Bank also shares portions of their goods with the Clinton Food Bank, a satellite branch of their own location, as well as the 70 Mile House soup kitchen. Both locations will benefit from Loop’s involvement.