A mountain of ripe mandarin oranges. In her 30 years going to the North Vancouver dump, gardener Sonia Rivest had never seen anything like it.
Three days later, she returned to find another mountain, and then another on her next visit. And then another.
Rivest assumed there must be something wrong with the oranges – either they were rotten, were infected with listeria or had some other defect. Eventually, she tried one.
“They were delicious,” she said. “They’re completely edible … they look fantastic.”
And Rivest wasn’t the only one who thought so. Other gardeners had made a habit of filling their bags with oranges when a new shipment arrived.
She started to ask around about why the fruit was being dumped, and was told by a transfer station employee that they had ripened too early for the holiday season, so the food broker was getting rid of them, Rivest said.
As for how many oranges were being dumped, the employee told her that at least one dump truck load had been coming every day for two months, Rivest said.
Metro Vancouver, which operates the North Shore Recycling and Waste Centre, said it’s aware of large quantities of fruit being dropped off as organic waste at the station.
“While it’s unfortunate to see food go to waste, there are no rules against accepting edible items,” said Paul Henderson, general manager of solid waste services for Metro.
Diverting avoidable food waste is a priority for the regional district, he added, supported through organizations like Food Mesh and the National Zero Waste Council.
“Staff from the solid waste services team are actively working on contacting the company responsible for the orange loads in hopes of connecting them with food recovery resources,” Henderson said.
But the distribution company behind the dumped produce, Fresh Direct Produce, said the mandarin oranges were of a “sub-standard” quality.
“As with all fresh fruit and vegetables that arrive at our facilities, these oranges were carefully inspected by our trained staff and were determined to not meet the standards required for distribution to our retail customers,” Fresh Direct said in an emailed statement. “Food safety is our highest priority, and we do not compromise on our standards in this regard.”
The company said it takes food waste “extremely seriously” and has long-standing relationships with food banks and other non-profits where it regularly sends produce whenever it’s safe to do so.
“In this instance, the quantity and condition of the oranges did not make this possible,” Fresh Direct said.
When asked what was wrong with these oranges specifically, the company said mandarins are examined for compliance with Canadian Inspection Agency specifications and grocery retailer requirements.
“These specifications are numerous and include colour, firmness, decay, surface defects and bruising,” the company said.
'If food is fashion, we have a huge problem'
Rivest said she’s yet to experience any adverse effects from eating the dumped fruit.
“I’m confused as to why Metro is accepting it to begin with,” she said, pointing to France, where there are laws banning large grocers from sending food to the landfill.
“If we have people that can’t eat, we have people in this country who don’t have access to food on a regular basis, then it should be absolutely illegal to throw any kind of perishable food away, especially if you’re in a huge corporation,” Rivest said.
Large amounts of wasted food is evidence that society is running on pure, unadulterated capitalism, Rivest said.
“If food is fashion, we have a huge problem,” she said. “[It] means that if it’s not fashionable, it is not to be eaten. If it’s too unfashionable to even sell, food is no longer a necessity. It’s a commodity.”
“The whole thing is insanity,” Rivest said.