How ‘ugly produce’ sellers fight food waste

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This week:

  • How ‘ugly produce’ sellers fight food waste
  • The U.S. is chasing China on electric-vehicle adoption
  • Why don’t we talk about acid rain and the ozone hole anymore?

How ‘ugly produce’ sellers fight food waste


Twisty carrots, lopsided apples and eggplants with interesting scars aren’t something you normally see at your local supermarket. But you can get them delivered straight to your door thanks to businesses across Canada dedicated to fighting food waste — and its greenhouse gas emissions.

The bonus? Amid rising food prices, eating “ugly produce” could save you money.

Supermarkets have strict cosmetic standards for fruits and vegetables — they need to be relatively uniform in size and shape, without blemishes such as scarring. Produce that doesn’t meet those standards is hard to sell and can end up in landfills.

A number of Canadian online grocers are now offering farmers a chance to sell that produce at a deep discount compared to similar fruits and veggies at the supermarket.

“As long as you can cut out a little blemish, you’re paying half the price for a 95 per cent usable product,” said Micky Tkac, senior director of produce for online grocer, which has customers in Calgary, Edmonton and B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Thompson Okanagan regions.

Tkac started to offer “imperfect produce” alongside’s other groceries in 2016, after being struck by the near-perfect appearance of fruits and vegetables in Canadian supermarkets, which was so different from what he saw growing up in Slovakia.

Companies that offer only imperfect and “surplus” produce say they’ve seen a lot of growth lately amid rising food prices. In fact, some say a key goal is making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to all.

“It’s been really nice to see that people are able to actually afford eating nutritious, whole foods,” said Divyansh Ojha, founder and CEO of London, Ont.-based FoodFund, which serves southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area.

They also say they’ve had a big impact on food waste. Thibaut Martelain started Montreal-based Marché Second Life in 2015 after being inspired by France’s efforts to fight food waste, and says the company has rescued 1,500 tonnes of food since then. 

Both Marché Second Life and FoodFund have expanded beyond produce to offer products like cheese and packaged foods that can’t be sold due to problems such as errors on their packaging or that were somehow produced in surplus.

Some companies also have other ways to reduce waste besides selling to customers. donates what it doesn’t sell to charities. Ojha said his company has managed to divert about 4,500 tonnes of food, by not just serving customers but also connecting food producers with food processors who might not otherwise find each other.

Some may wonder: why isn’t all imperfect produce processed into things like juices, sauces and canned soups? Martelain said there are more manufacturers that want to process certain items, such as oranges, compared to others, such as cauliflowers and eggplants, and the quantity needed may not match what’s available. 

Ojha added that large processors may not care about the appearance of the tomatoes or apples they use, but may not be able to get the steady and reliable supply they need if they specifically target lower-grade ingredients. For all these reasons, relying on food processors isn’t a complete solution to food waste.

For the same reasons, customers who choose to buy only imperfect and surplus produce will get more of some types of fruits and vegetables (such as apples, beets and yams) than others (berries). This may require a different approach to meal planning, Odja acknowledges.

That said, most of the produce that these companies sell is surplus and may not be “ugly” at all. Ojha said that’s one of his customers’ most common “complaints” when they get their first delivery.

While these efforts are diverting a lot of food waste, some suboptimal produce is still being missed.

Sang Le, co-founder of Peko Produce in Vancouver, noted that because misshapen produce is hard to sell, a lot of it actually gets left at the farm and is never harvested. 

“So, that’s something that we’ve been thinking about how to tackle.”

— Emily Chung

Reader feedback

Jenny Morrow:

“So great to see Emily Chung back on the beat! Your wonderful Climate-Friendly Supermarkets article sent me scurrying to my local grocery store where I played climate hero by taking pictures of as many refrigerant labels as I could find, which I promptly sent to the Climate-Friendly Supermarkets project. I had read several years ago in Project Drawdown that refrigerants were one of the worst climate culprits, and I had been pondering how to get involved beyond just personal choices. 

“This project was perfect, and I thank Emily Chung for your article and for all your environmental and climate change reporting.”

Shea Sealey-Nelson:

“I’m sure it’s old news, but in this piece you have a picture of a person walking past a freezer. An open-style freezer. [Ed.: It’s technically a fridge.]This article made no mention of the shift by some supermarkets to use closed display cases. The amount of energy used by the open style should also be taken into account, or at least mentioned.”

Tony Hendriks of Ottawa, who worked in the grocery business before retiring, wrote in to suggest that some supermarkets might be changing to greener refrigerants without updating the stickers on their fridges (and that the stickers might suggest a bigger climate impact than is actually the case).

He contacted a friend who now works for a refrigeration company changing supermarket refrigerants in the Ottawa region from R404A (with a GWP of 3922) to R449A (with a GWP of 1397).

“He confirmed for me they do not change the information on the stickers in the retail cases, only on the rooftop units.”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here

CBC News has a dedicated climate page, which can be found here.

Also, check out our radio show and podcast. This week, remote communities in northern Canada say they don’t have adequate weather forecasting. We hear why that’s a problem for hunting, health and preparing for climate change. What On Earth airs on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.

The Big Picture: U.S. chases China on electric-vehicle adoption

People charge an electric car in China. (STR/AFP)

Watching the world’s two biggest economies approach the problem of car-related CO2 emissions in recent years has been a study in contrasts. While the U.S. has lurched toward a coherent strategy, China has spent more than a decade carrying out a nationwide plan.

The issue seemed to be of little interest to U.S. president Donald Trump, although his administration did sue California for trying to raise the standards for tailpipe emissions. President Joe Biden has been far more proactive about reducing road emissions, most notably by providing tax credits to entice Americans to buy more electric vehicles (EVs). He has also been actively promoting American-made EVs; earlier this week, he was seen smiling for the cameras at the wheel of an electric Hummer.

China actually started providing subsidies to EV buyers back in 2010, which helped develop consumer demand and a domestic industry — in September, China’s BYD actually overtook Tesla as the world’s biggest EV manufacturer. Last year, four million EVs were purchased in China; the U.S. managed a quarter of that. 

This isn’t totally surprising given that China has four times the U.S. population. Where the Chinese have really flourished is in building public charging stations, a key pillar in convincing a populace that buying an EV is a safe choice. In a decade, China went from 30,000 public charging stations to 1.8 million. The U.S. currently only has about 140,000, although Biden has pledged to raise that to 500,000 by 2030. China’s 2030 target? Three million.

There are some extenuating factors to consider, including the fact that roughly 80 per cent of China’s electricity is generated with fossil fuel sources, compared to 60 per cent in the U.S. But as this analysis shows, an EV charged on a so-called dirty grid still produces fewer emissions than any other kind of car.

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

Why don’t we talk about acid rain and the ozone hole anymore? Scientists debunk misinformation

A female scientist is standing in a red parka in the Arctic. (Submitted by Susan Solomon)

If you’re over 30, you likely remember a time when there was a lot of hand-wringing over the ozone hole and skin cancer, or the threat of acid rain destroying ecosystems.

Those global environmental crises created buzz and grabbed headlines in the 1980s and ’90s, but in the decades that followed, the world turned its attention to another threat: climate change.

Yet the stories of how those threats were successfully tackled — through the co-operation of scientists, policy-makers and the public — are often overlooked, if not outright denied.

A barrage of misinformation on social media claims those issues were never real in the first place. This conspiracy theory takes various shapes, but the common thread is the false claim that climate change is just the latest in a series of hoaxes invented by governments to control the public.

One TikTok video (reminder: this is misinformation) with more than three million views dismisses several global threats as “politics,” listing off a series of examples: “In the ’80s, it was ‘acid rain will destroy all the crops in 10 years’; in the ’90s it was ‘the ozone layer will be destroyed in 10 years’; in the 2000s it was ‘the glaciers will all melt in 10 years’…” The video claims it was all “fear-mongering nonsense” that never came true.

Atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon knows this attitude well.

“I’ve heard that kind of assertion in the past,” said Solomon, a professor in the department of Earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s a little bit like saying, ‘I had a heart attack and my doctor put a stent in. They told me I had to exercise and now I feel great. So I think [the stent] was all just nonsense to make money for the medical establishment.'”

It was Solomon’s research in the 1980s that helped establish the cause of the thinning ozone: refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. Her work contributed to the growing body of evidence that ultimately led to the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, phasing out these harmful refrigerants.

That treaty is working, according to a recent international report, which said the ozone is expected to recover by 2066.

“The fact that we have actually done the right things and fixed certain problems is a cause for celebration. It’s not a cause for pretending that those problems never existed,” Solomon said.

The reason acid rain doesn’t grab headlines anymore is another case of governments responding to the scientific community’s alarm bells with regulations, which worked.

“The acid rain story [and] the ozone story show that we are capable of dealing with environmental problems and that we can make significant progress,” said Mike Paterson, a senior research scientist at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario.

Paterson wrote his master’s thesis on acid rain in the 1980s, and recalls the very real impacts at the time, such as declining fish populations in North America and northern Europe. Scientists established the cause —  sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced by burning fossil fuels — and North America eventually took action with a series of policy reforms in the 1990s that successfully curbed emissions and reduced the acidity of rain.

The fact that the global threat of climate change is happening in a digital age rampant with misinformation adds a novel layer of complexity to solving the crisis.

A government-funded report published this week by the Council of Canadian Academies — a non-profit that gathers experts to examine evidence on scientific topics — says “targeted misinformation campaigns have played a documented role in creating opposition to policies addressing climate change.”

The study warns of the threat that misinformation poses to dealing with future crises by eroding trust in science and making people more susceptible to falling down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories.

“Exposure to misinformation about climate change leads people to take it less seriously and to be less willing to support policy actions,” said Stephan Lewandowsky, the chair of cognitive psychology at the University of Bristol in England and a contributor to the report.

Even if there is a strong scientific consensus on global warming, a steady stream of misinformation makes it difficult for people to sift through it all and sort fact from fiction, he said.

“If people are exposed to this blizzard of false information about climate change, then their right to be informed about risks is being undermined.”

— Jaela Bernstien

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

Originally Appeared Here

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