We Can Reduce Food Waste Together
Did you know that every year in the United States, approximately one-third (133 billion pounds!) of the overall food supply is wasted? From uneaten leftovers to misshapen produce, most people don't realize how much food we throw away every day. When food is tossed aside, so too are opportunities for improved food security, economic growth, and environmental prosperity.
An Origin Story
I was eating my sack lunch in my elementary school cafeteria at the specific moment that I became aware and concerned about food waste. While the portions my mom packed for me were sufficient, I longed for my tablemate’s untouched bites of cheese pizza and peas. I made a humble request: “are you gonna eat that?”
Strangely, my classmate smirked and said, “It’s mine to eat and mine to throw away,” as he dumped the uneaten tray contents into a trash can. My hunger wore off, but the moral indignation lingered. I only briefly held the belief that people who throw away food are cruel, but I never became comfortable with wasting food. As it turns out, food waste is a real problem with attainable solutions!
Food Waste Opportunities
Why is this a problem? Around 94% of the food we throw out ends up in landfills or other facilities. However, there are many benefits to sustainably managing and reducing our food waste.
- You can save money when you buy less food.
- Less food waste leads to more landfill space and less methane emissions.
- It conserves energy and resources by preventing pollution generated by the growing, transporting, and selling of food.
- Untouched food that would have otherwise been wasted can be donated to someone experiencing food insecurity.
Make a grocery list with weekly meals in mind to save money and time. It may even lead to eating healthier food. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and use it all.
- Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and buy only the things needed for those meals.
- Avoid overbuying by including quantities on your shopping list. For example: “Apples – Enough for five lunches.”
- Check your refrigerator and pantry before you shop to avoid buying food you already have.
Determine the best way to store the fruits and vegetables you enjoy. Some last longer inside your refrigerator, while others last longer at room temperature.
- Many fruits give off gases as they ripen, causing other nearby produce to spoil faster. Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes separately, and store fruits and vegetables in different containers.
- Berries mold quickly if washed too soon. To prevent mold, wait to wash berries until you’re ready to eat them.
- Thriftiness Tips
- Be mindful of ingredients and leftovers you already have that can be used. Keep a list in your phone or in a notebook, whichever is easier for you.
- Shop your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
- If you have produce that’s past its prime, it may still be fine for cooking. Think about making soups, smoothies, casseroles, and stir-fries.
- Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” and expiration dates. The USDA has an app that provides guidance on safe handling, preparation, and storage of hundreds of items. With the app, you can track storage times for different foods, learn cooking tips, and get safety recall alerts.
- Plan an “eat the leftovers” night each week.
- When at a restaurant, order only what you can finish. Ask about portion sizes and included side dishes to gauge how much food you’re getting. Try bringing your own take-home containers for leftovers and keep them for your next meal.
Buy Food in Bulk
Buying in bulk is often better for the environment in several ways:
- Bulk products mean less packaging that could become litter.
- Less packaging means less waste in landfills.
- Some retailers will allow you to eliminate packaging by filling your own container and subtracting the weight of the container from the cost total.
Compost Your Food Scraps
You’re bound to create some amount of food scraps. But instead of throwing them away, consider starting a compost pile. It’s a very easy way to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills.