5 Easy Ways You Can Lessen Food Waste in Your Home
In your zero waste journey, have you noticed how much food waste you throw away in a day? In a week? In a month?
You may not even be thinking about it as much. Truth is, food waste doesn’t get the same backlash as plastic.
After all, tossing those wilted greens and that sad piece of turkey won’t tug at your emotions as much as watching a sea turtle choke on a plastic soda ring.
But food waste is actually a big issue.
In the U.S., food waste is estimated at around 30-40% of the food supply. That’s from both retail and consumer sectors. The USDA’s Economic Research Service notes that that accounts for about 133 billion pounds of food, worth $161 billion even way back in 2010.
Read that again!
Why Do We Need to Lessen Food Waste?
Throwing away edible food doesn’t just waste money. Once they go into the landfills, food waste rots and releases a lot of methane gas, a greenhouse gas second only to C02.
In short, regularly tossing excess food contributes to climate change.
And since food is the single largest material placed in our municipal landfills, food waste really needs to be managed – both by businesses and households.
Aside from the emissions, food waste also wastes huge amounts of water. According to the World Resources Institute, around 45 trillion gallons (170 trillion liters) water is lost through food waste alone.
Now, these numbers are shocking. But sometimes, these reasons still feel like too much of a moral demand – the effects seem far away from us, right?
For instance, will I really impact the world when I decide to eat this crusty bread instead of tossing it in the bin?
But the financial impact on you as a consumer is quite real.
In rich countries like the US, Canada and UK, food waste happens further along the food distribution chain – in homes and restaurants. This is the opposite of what’s happening in developing countries, where farmers contend with food waste right at the agricultural stage.
FDA Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas, likens food waste to this scenario: if you shop at your favorite supermarket, and come out carrying 3 bags of goods, you toss one of those bags in the bin right before going home.
That’s essentially how wasteful food waste is.
5 Easy Ways You Can Lessen Food Waste At Home
Have you done a mental note of how much food waste you toss on average?
Whether you only toss a little or a lot of food, you could always put your zero waste skills in action. Here are ways you can do exactly that:
1. Plan Before You Shop
Okay, how many times have you gone to the supermarket on a whim, without a list and meal plans for the week? Yep, we’ve been there, done that. And it’s so easy to get out of control and grab everything in this case.
To be more systematic about it, here are some tips:
- Check your pantry and fridge first. You’ll know which ingredients; condiments, etc. are still available and won’t be included in your grocery list. Also, you’ll be able to plan which ingredients already need to be cooked.
- Don’t just write a grocery list. Design it around meals that your family regularly eats in a week.
- Take note of what ingredients you need, and their quantities (Do you really need 6 packs of salad greens or just 4? A kilo of baking powder or just half of it?) This helps you from oversupplying.
- Plan your bulk purchases – prioritize non-perishables, and only buy bulk if you could use the food before it spoils.
2. Pick Some Imperfect Produce
Are you that shopper who rummages through countless pieces of, say, pears until you find the perfect one?
Well try not to be, because that contributes to the food waste problem!
Consumer demand for picture-perfect produce leads to so much produce getting thrown out because of their appearance!
Farmers and suppliers already struggle with transporting food to consumers. And these so-called ugly produce – the ones with a bit of discoloration, dents, and blemish – get passed on and eventually trashed even though they are perfectly fine to eat.
Even major supermarkets like Walmart and Whole Foods have started offering these “ugly” produce at a discount just to curb the waste.
The best way to promote zero waste is to purchase straight from farmers. But if you don’t have direct access, try not to be too picky when you’re at the grocery. Give the imperfect ones a chance (they taste the same).
3. Check How You Store Produce
Who doesn’t want a full stock in their fridge and pantry?
It’s okay to stock up on your favorites, but you could avoid much of the food waste if you know how to store goods properly. For fresh produce in particular, a lot of us are unsure how to store these so they don’t go bad fast.
- Room temperature: potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic and onions
- Ethylene-producing food (speed up ripening and eventual spoilage of nearby food): bananas, pears, peaches, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes
- Ethylene-sensitive food (shouldn’t be stored next to the abovementioned): apples, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, berries, bell peppers
In the case of your condiments, always store in a cool, dry place in your cupboard. And use labels for them, will you? Unless you want a guessing game about that bottled brown stuff sitting in the fridge for years.
4. Freeze It, Jar It, Blend It, Stock It
Barring any specific diets, if you want to maximize your fresh produce, preserving them is a great way to make them last longer and reduce food waste.
We’re suckers for pickled anything – onions, cucumber, carrots, summer squash, even mangoes – just get a brine recipe (vinegar and water, sometimes sugar).
Not a fan of preserved foods?
Blend them. They say it’s best to eat your fruits and drink your veggies, but we say mix whatever’s available in your pantry and get all the nutrients in one smoothie. Add the stems of greens like kale, and blend in those not-so-perfect fruits.
You can also freeze an array of foods you may have thought you couldn’t. Berries, cooked past and rice, peeled bananas, grated cheese, cracked eggs, stock, and so much more. Bread is among the top five most wasted food, so stock those in your fridge to make them last longer.
While we’re mentioning homemade stock, it’s also another zero waste practice we find useful for your kitchen scraps. Another way to reduce your food waste!
5. Don’t Get Too Caught Up With Expiration Dates
Okay, get this: the government doesn’t actually require nor regulate those “best before”, “sell by”, and “expires on” labels on food we buy! Insane isn’t it?
In fact, the FDA says that it’s mostly the manufacturer’s discretion what date to place on their products. Basically, manufacturers are prohibited from placing misleading information (nutrition labels), but they do not need agency approval of labels pertaining to quality.
And since manufacturers are very cautious about keeping the desired quality and flavor of their products, they would choose to put expiration dates that will be earlier than any period of unsafe consumption.
Infant formula is the only exception. These are the only ones required to have a “Use By” date that the product has the confirmed amount of nutrients as per the label.
Long story short: foods that are past their expiration dates usually are still perfectly safe to eat.
If you have some canned goods a few weeks or months past its expiration date, you can still check the product if it is safe to eat. Don’t chuck it in the bin right away.
In our zero waste pursuit, there’s a lot of emphasis on reducing plastic use. But we shouldn’t neglect food waste, either.
By being more mindful about the food your household throws away, we can start practicing small changes to minimize what goes in the bin.
Even something as simple as reconfiguring the pantry and drinking more smoothies will already reduce your food waste!
With these simple tips, you get to save money, natural resources, and most importantly, you ease up on the demands we bring to our planet.