Ten Ways to Stop Wasting Food (and Why You Should)
Food waste has been a concern in Europe for quite some time, but recently the movement is gaining steam here in the United States. Sure, everyone instinctively knows that it’s ridiculous to waste perfectly good, nutritious food when it could go into the mouths of the hungry, but just recently, the cost of this senseless waste was quantified by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
According to the NRDC, we are losing an estimated $165 billion a year in food waste. Furthermore, every single bit of the 33 million tons of food we don’t eat contributes more than just the waste itself. In fact, transporting food from the farm to our table uses 10% of the United States’ energy budget. It also uses 50% of US farmland and 80% of all fresh water in our country. It probably doesn’t cross your mind when you toss a half-eaten sandwich in the trash, but rotting food in landfills accounts for a majority of the methane emissions. Sit down for this one: United States food waste has increased by 50% since 1970.
These numbers are pretty staggering and it’s easy to tune out because we all feel too small to tackle the problem. So, let’s talk about where exactly this food is being wasted along the way, so you can try to figure out where you can make a difference.
Approximately 7% of produce grown in the United States simply gets stranded on the field each year.
Post-harvest and packing
The aesthetic standards for food eliminate a large portion of edible produce. Americans have grown to walk past a crooked carrot, and only pick up perfectly straight ones when the crooked carrot is perfectly edible. Many farms estimate losing 50% of their produce to aesthetic standards.
Processing and distribution
Quite a bit of food is trimmed in the manufacturing stage, though much of it is inedible anyway. However, technical malfunctions such as processing or refrigeration are big factors causing unnecessary spoilage. Stores often reject shipments and it is difficult for distributors to find other takers so the food often spoils.
Grocery and retail stores
The USDA recently estimated that supermarket toss-out is worth $15 billion in unsold fruits and veggies each year. Stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out excess than look empty. There is also the issue of “sell by” dates. The USDA reports that each supermarket throws out on average $2,300 worth of produce every single day, yet most of this food is edible. In many states, it is perfectly legal to sell food past its expiration date but stores would prefer not to. Most stores actually pull items two to three days before the sell by date.
Food service and restaurants
On average, diners leave about 17% of their food uneaten when eating out. Portion sizes are a big reason for this, as they have ballooned in the past 40 years. Also, restaurants don’t want to run out of menu items, so they often stock more produce than they need. Fast food restaurants often have inflexible rules causing food to be tossed. McDonald’s for example, requires fries to be thrown out after seven minutes. It is estimated that 1/10 of fast food is tossed because of these rules.
This one is the biggie! American families throw out between 14 and 25% of the food and drinks they purchase. This can cost an average family in the United States between $1,360 to $2,300 per year. The NRDC reports that most of this is due to the fact that our food has become so cheap and readily available so we begin to think “what’s the big deal if some of it gets tossed?” There’s also a lot of confusion around “sell by” and expiration date labels.
Only 3% of food in the United States is composted. Most end in landfills, and as previously mentioned, release large amounts of methane—a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas. 23% of the methane emission in the United States comes from landfill food.
What can you do?
This all may seem overwhelming, but there is much you can do in your daily life to help reduce food waste. If we all do our part, the results could be life-changing not just for your family but also for the planet. Below are ten tips for helping reduce your family’s food waste.
1. Meal plan
Menu plan for your week ahead. Proactively check your fridge and cupboards, then write a list only for the extra ingredients you need.
2. Stick to your shopping list
Once you write your list, stick with it at the store. Don’t be tempted by sales or offers and certainly don’t shop when you’re hungry.
3. Keep a healthy refrigerator
Regularly check that the seals on your fridge are in good condition, and check the temperature as well. Your food should be stored between 37 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum freshness and longevity.
4. Don’t automatically throw it away
Fruits and veggies that are going soft can be made into smoothies or fruit pies. Brown bananas are perfect for quick breads.
5. Use your leftovers
Why dump out leftovers from tonight’s dinner when you could use it for lunch tomorrow instead? Just one tablespoon of cooked veggies can make an excellent base for a slow cooker meal. ¼ cup of leftover chicken can boost a simple pasta dish tomorrow.
6. Serve smaller amounts family style
Children rarely successfully estimate the amount of food they should eat. Serving family style teaches children (and adults) to clue into their feeling of hunger and satisfaction. They can go for second servings if they are still hungry. Any leftovers should be cooled and properly stores for a meal another day.
7. Buy only what you need
Make an effort to purchase loose fruits and veggies (as opposed to large, bagged options) and select slides meats or cheeses from the deli counter instead of pre-packaged ones. That way, you can purchase exactly what you need for your meals.
When purchasing new food from the store, bring all the older items in your fridge and cupboards to the front. Place the new food in the back and you’re much less likely to find something moldy there.
9. Your freezer is your friend
Prepare meals ahead and freeze them. Dishes like lasagna, enchiladas and casseroles can easily be frozen and reheated as needed. Prevent bread from spoiling by freezing half of the loaf and only take out a few slices at a time as needed. Allow them one to two hours to thaw and you’re all set.
10. Take it to the garden
Some food waste is simply unavoidable, so why not set up a compost in your backyard? In a few months, you’ll end up with rich, valuable compost soil for your plants. If you don’t have a backyard, local green markets often have community compost drop off stations. The compost is then re-purposed as soil for community gardens.
How will you do your part to reduce food waste? Tell us in the comments section below!