Food waste is a growing problem in our modern society.
In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40 percent of the food supply. In 2017 alone, almost 41 million tons of food waste were generated, with only 6.3% used for composting from landfills and combustion for energy recovery1.
Why You Should Care about Reducing Food Waste:
- Saves money from buying less food.
- Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
- Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).
I know there’s a larger problem at hand than just me and you. I know there’s large corporations and companies that are responsible for a large chunk of food waste in the U.S.. I’m not here to talk about them (not yet anyway). Today, I want to address how you and I can start making a change in our own homes. As the CEO of the company work for always says, “You cannot control what goes on outside these four walls, but you can always control what happens inside.” (…or something like that).
I also know that there’s an overwhelming amount of information out there telling you how to reduce food waste in your home (and here I am adding to the mix with this post), and you may be curious and want to start applying some tips, but you don’t know where to start. Or you may be a creature of habit and hearing about “100 ways to reduce food waste” just seems daunting. I totally get it – which is why I want to share just a handful of tips that have personally helped me make lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes is key here. What I don’t want to happen is that you practice these things and it feels good for now, then forget about it two weeks later when things get inconvenient (yikes, this is what happened to me at first)! You should start to become more conscious about food waste and hopefully these are simple enough tips to get you started.
3 Simple Ways to Start Reducing Your Food Waste
Meal Plan. This is the biggest tip that has helped me reduce my food waste significantly. By this, I don’t mean that you need to cook for the whole week in 1 day. What I mean by “meal planning” is to think about what meals you will be preparing (or eating out) for the following week (or at least 4-5 days) and then write down a grocery list before going to the store. Also, make sure to check your fridge to see what items you already have so that you can either plan your meal around that or you don’t double purchase.
Below is a photo of my simple meal planning list on a good ol’ sticky note (I don’t eat breakfast (only coffee), which is why I only have lunch & dinner listed). It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re going to eat every single day for every single meal. I find that even just a little bit of planning helps me buy less (grocery store & eating out). Even if I don’t plan on eating a home-cooked meal for a specific day, I still like to write down where I’m going to potentially pick-up food (e.g. Sweetgreen for Thursday lunch) – it puts less stress on me that day. Also, don’t forget to plug in your leftovers when meal planning!
Proper Food Storage. Great. You’ve planned your meals and went to the grocery store without buying anything extra… now what?! How do you keep your groceries fresh for the next week so that you’re not throwing away spoiled food?! Luckily for you, I’ve already done some research. I wrote a post about two years ago on How to Store Herbs, Vegetables, and Fruits to Maximize Freshness (these are more common produce items). For meats, I like to chuck them in the freezer if I’m not going to be cooking them 2-3 days after purchasing. In general, freezing food is the best way to keep them from spoiling until you’re ready to eat them.
Another important thing to learn about food storage is knowing the different “best by”, “sell by”, “use by”, “freeze by” dates on food packaging. Apparently, confusion over these labels accounts for about 20% of food waste in American homes and this equates to about one-third of all food produced in the U.S. being wasted or lost2. Just imagine if you’re walking out of the grocery store with three bags of food… and then you toss one bag straight into the trash can. This is ridiculous and it makes me mad that there are millions of people that are starving everyday and we (the fortunate ones) are throwing away so much food.
Anyway. Most date labels are about quality, not necessarily safety, and leads us to toss away food that’s perfectly safe to eat (of course there are things like infant formula, etc. that have very strict discard dates). For me, the best way to figure out if food has indeed gone bad is checking smell (does it smell like your feet after a running outside on a summer day?), physical signs of mold and discoloring (are your avocados black instead of green? make sure to also check the bottom of glass jars/tupperware for mold!), and texture (are your veggies and deli turkey feeling slimy? or maybe your milk has gone from silky smooth to chunky? toss out that bad boy!).
Pro Tip: If you’re ever unsure of how long different items can be stored in the fridge/freezer, use this FoodKeeper App and/or Is My Food Safe App! Available for both Android and iOS devices. Also, here are 5 easy ways to tell if your food has gone bad.
Keep Track of Your Food Waste. This one is simple. Keep a “food waste journal” and jot down what you toss out each week. This way, you can easily see what you are throwing away on a regular basis so you can reduce or eliminate that item from your shopping list. Maybe it’s half a loaf of bread each week? If you buy fresh bread, perhaps you can ask your bakery if you can purchase half a loaf. Maybe you can make bread crumbs! Or my favorite, make a “pizza toast” – add some chopped tomatoes, herbs, and grated cheese on top of your sliced bread and put it in a toaster oven for a few minutes!
But before tossing out your food, you can also donate what you won’t use! Never going to eat those canned beans or soup? Give it to a food bank! Click here to locate a food bank near you.
Lastly, if you do end up with food waste, please dispose of it properly. If you live in an apartment, I wrote a post on how you can easily compost. Even if you don’t live in an apartment, you can still perhaps learn a thing or two!
I truly hope you learned something! And honestly, even if just one person takes something from this post and starts making a lifestyle, I’ll be happy.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” -George Bernard Shaw
1 Source: Food Loss and Waste | FDA
2 Source: To Reduce Food Waste… | NPR