Government and Wasting Food-who does what?

All levels of government can play a role in the development and implementation of food waste reduction policies. Most simply the federal government can set the national tone; provincial governments can define the approach (e.g. regulation) that best suits their jurisdiction; while municipalities can take the foregoing, and add the requisite detail that facilitates its implementation in their community.

As described in House of Lords (2011) there are a number of different policy tools that can be deployed (by governments) to effect behaviour change in the individual including: 1. Regulation, 2. Fiscal Measures and 3. Non-Regulatory and Non-Fiscal measures. The first two tools essentially compel or at the very least strongly financially incent individuals to comply with a desired behaviour. This rationalist approach to frame human behavior, has been challenged in recent years by a number of behavioural economists (Kahneman, 2011; Sunstein & Thaler, 2008; Thaler & Sunstein, 2009). This revised framing sees humans as “… less than perfect decision makers driven by cognitive short cuts and social norms and pressures.” (Moseley & Stoker, 2013, p. 5). Put another way it is prudent to move policy development toward facilitating System 1 behaviour, which “operates systematically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control” Kahneman (2011, pp. 20-21). Non regulatory and non-fiscal policies can be used to “nudge” volitional behaviour in the desired direction (Thaler & Sunstein, 2009). In the case of wasting food government policies will largely consist of non-regulatory and non-fiscal measures because it is impossible to enforce what individuals throw out. Because climate change is such an important issue for governments and because food waste contributes to greenhouse gas generation it is likely that any regulatory and fiscal policy measures will be tied to climate change and not food waste per se.

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau’s recent private member’s bill Fight Against Food Waste Act (C-231) (Government of Canada, 2015) is an example of how the federal government can enact policy ( This Bill, which took a non-rationalist approach, consisted of non-regulatory and non-fiscal measures designed to “raise public awareness of food waste through a national campaign” and the setting of the national tone by convening a conference within 6 months “with representatives of the provincial and territorial governments … and stakeholders from … industries in order to develop the national strategy.”.  The Bill, which was ultimately defeated (, could have pushed this issue into the public consciousness, where behavioral antecedents such as attitudes and social norms, described by  Ajzen (1991) could be influenced to effect a positive influence on intention and hopefully behaviour.

When food is wasted it is considered to be a waste by all levels of government. In Canada waste management is governed by the provinces. In Ontario the Waste Free Ontario Act (Act) was promulgated in November 2016 (Government of Ontario, 2016a) and one of its key purposes is “to promote the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste”. In support of this Act “Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building a Circular Economy” (Strategy) was released in December 2016, with a central tenet that the “produce-use-dispose” waste model is not sustainable and with an overarching vision “where waste is seen as a resource that can be recovered, reused and reintegrated into the economy to achieve a circular economy.” (Government of Ontario, 2016b). This Strategy includes a number of action items, such as the development of a Food and Organic Waste Action Plan. This Plan is inextricably tied to the Province’s Climate Change Action Plan, which envisions that at the very least 40% of organics diverted by 2025 and 60% by 2035, with the strategy going even further to suggesting its possible ban from landfill. To that end the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (Ministry) recently established a stakeholder working group to the develop of a Food and Organic Waste Framework. The Ministry appears to be considering a food and organic waste ban and possibly incorporating this into a policy framework. This is an example of the above noted regulation and fiscal measures. This really goes far beyond setting the tone and is more about sending the marketplace clear signals so that it can prepare itself.

At the municipal level food waste policy is sometimes integrated with food policy. For instance, the recently convened Middlesex-London Food Policy Council (Council) includes both politicians and various stakeholders (e.g. Health Unit, University, Municipal Staff, Experts). The Council’s mandate is ultimately to facilitate access to food and health and nutrition matters. Given that the Council has no legislative authority its policies are almost certain to be Non-Regulatory and Non-Fiscal measures. Its food waste recommendations will filter upwards to relevant municipal councils and they may choose to promulgate regulations and fiscal measures but quite frankly are as likely enact non-regulatory and non-fiscal measures. It is likely that these measures, whether they have the force of law or positively reinforced suggestion, will be more about removing barriers to desirable behaviors rather than imposing barriers (e.g. ban on food waste in landfill) contemplated by the Province.

To conclude all levels of government can play a role in developing food waste reduction policy. In Ontario, it is the province, if it so chooses, that has the power to set the overarching food waste reduction policy through regulation. It is municipalities then who develop facilitating policies to implement the provincial policy. In the case where the province does not act (i.e. green bin implementation) or are in the process of acting municipalities can take it upon themselves, in an ad hoc fashion, to act within their mandate. The Southern Ontario Food Collaborative, which comprises of a few Greater Toronto Area municipalities, is an example of this.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 50(2), 179-211.

Government of Canada. (2015). Fight Against Food Waste Act, Bill C-231.  Retrieved from

Government of Ontario. (2016a). Bill 151, Waste-Free Ontario Act, 2016.  Retrieved from

Government of Ontario. (2016b). Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario: Building a Circular Economy.  Retrieved from

House of Lords. (2011). Behaviour Change. Retrieved from

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Canada: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Moseley, A. and Stoker, G. (2013). Nudging citizens? Prospects and pitfalls confronting a new heuristic. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 79, 4-10.

Sunstein, C. and Thaler, R. (2008). Nudge. The politics of libertarian paternalism. New Haven.

Thaler, R. H. and Sunstein, C. R. (2009). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2nd ed.). United States of America: HeinOnline.


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