Following on the Earth Day theme, today we’re talking about ways to reduce food waste. Food waste is basically post-harvest food that is not consumed. In the United States, there’s a heart-breaking number of people who don’t have access to healthy and fresh food and yet so much consumable food gets sent to the landfill.
There are a lot of complex reasons for this off-balance food system. But, there are also a lot of simple ways we can start working to get food into the hands that need it and to reduce our impact on the Earth.
Here are some reasons and ways to reduce food waste at home.
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Reasons to Reduce Food Waste
1) Save money
By limiting or rearranging your food purchases to food your family will consume, you will likely save money because you won’t be throwing out spoiled food.
2) Send less to the landfill
Studies show that food waste makes up 20-40% of general municipal solid waste. The amount of fuel, energy, time, and space used to handle and dispose of something that could have been eaten is a waste of resources.
“Up to 40 percent of the food in the United States is never eaten. But at the same time, one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food on the table.” (Source)
3) Less garbage costs
Some transfer stations or trash collection services require you to Pay As You Throw or PAYT. So, reducing your trash, you will pay less. Even if you don’t pay by bag, reducing your trash will reduce the number of plastic bags you use (check out my post on how to reduce plastic use) and lessen how much you need to take to collection. If you cut back on trash, you might even be able to share services with a neighbor, helping you both save money!
4) Food waste creates methane
When food breaks down in a landfill, it creates the greenhouse gas methane. Reducing waste, throughout all parts of the food system, will reduce how much gas is created.
Ways to Reduce Food Waste
1. Meal Plan
So the first plan of attack is finding a way to use all of the food you purchase. The best way to do that is to meal plan so you have a good idea of primary meals and supporting snacks. Think about how you can reuse a dinner entree for the next day, either for lunch or for the next dinner.
2. Use leftovers
As part of your meal plan or as part of a “fend for yourself night”, use up your leftovers. This is a huge way to avoid having waste. Check out my post on Ways to Use Leftover Ham. Check out my post on what to do with leftovers.
Or use this great cookbook by Joel Gamoran. “Cooking Scrappy” is specifically about using leftovers that might otherwise go to waste.
3. Purchase local food or better yet grow your own
One of the ways to improve your food quality and limit your purchases to what you’ll actually need is to purchase your food from local sources on a regular basis.
4. Put scraps back into the ground by composting
This may be one of the best strategies if you have a garden. Composting the food returns nutrients to the soil and help build your soil. I’ll have a post coming soon about composting. There are a whole bunch of cute tabletop or under the sink compost buckets.
5. Donate to a food bank or community center
This is what a lot of grocery stores due. They are supposed to remove bread that expires that day from the store shelves but they can still donate them to food banks, homeless shelters, and community service organizations since it hasn’t “gone bad”. Consider asking a farmer if they have animals like pigs that might want the food scraps.
6. Freeze your leftovers or even your new food
I keep a loaf of the bread I like in the freezer and just toast up pieces as necessary. You’d never know it was frozen. A lot of bread loafs at the store were actually frozen before they were put on the shelves. You can also freeze leftovers easily. This makes meal planning for small portions like lunch or breakfast a lot easier. Freeze packages of ham, onions, and peppers for a quick Western Omelette or single cups of brown rice to add to a lunch for work. Make smoothie packs with leftover greens and ripe bananas. (Expert tip: put the greens in last so they will go in the blender first and the greens will get chopped up well.)
The better you store the food, the longer it will keep. Don’t store dairy on your refrigerator door as the temperature fluctuates a lot. Don’t wash berries until you’re going to use them to avoid mold. Wrap greens in paper towels when you bring them home from the grocery store. If you think your food should be lasting longer, try a refrigerator thermometer to make sure that the temperature is correct.
8. Buy food with later food dates
Store follow a First In, First Out rule so when they are stocking the shelves, the put the newest food in the back to encourage people to buy what will expire sooner. I don’t bother with this for yogurt cups since I tend to eat those but we don’t drink as much milk in our house so I reach in the back for the longest expiration date for that.
9. Date your leftovers
This was almost one of my New Year’s resolutions. When you’re tired and hungry, it’s hard to think about if the little container of cranberry sauce is from last week or three weeks ago. You can use dissolvable labels like these or a simple piece of tape and a thin point Sharpie.
10. Host a pot-luck
Who needs an excuse for company, especially when the weather is nice? Ask everyone to bring a dish (encourage inventive leftovers), pick up some bubbly, and have fun!
Have you recently started composting? Do you love meal-planning? What’s your favorite freezer pack combo? Let me know if you’ve implemented any of these strategies!