I know that reducing food waste is an admirable goal for all of us; I just participated in the Hennepin County Stop Food Waste Challenge. But does reducing food waste in my own home make a difference when it comes to fighting climate change? Isn’t it just the big food companies and restaurants that have the impact?
Did you know that about 40% of food is wasted along the supply chain? That’s like stepping out of a grocery store with five bags of food and dropping two in the parking lot. You may not think you waste that much food at home, but the little bits here and there add up. The average person throws away about $500 in food each year. That’s money out of your pocket.
Tossing edible food doesn’t just waste money. Discarded food is sent to incinerators or landfills. Wasted food tends to be sloppy and wet, taking a lot of energy to burn in an incinerator (vs. producing energy). In a landfill, wasted food rots and produces methane gas, the second most common greenhouse gas. In other words, throwing out your food contributes to climate change.
Wasting food wastes a vast amount of water, too. According to the World Resources Institute, 24% of all the water used for agriculture is lost through food waste yearly. That’s 45 trillion gallons (about 170 trillion liters).
Our demand as consumers of food plays a role in reducing wasted food. Changing our habits at home may seem like just a drop in the bucket. Still, you are setting an example for those around you, voting with your dollars, and saving money simultaneously. So, here are some tips to help reduce your contribution to wasted food heading to the incinerator (in Minneapolis) or landfill.
Though buying in large, bulk quantities (think Costco and Sam’s Club sizes) may be convenient, research has shown that this shopping method leads to more food waste.
Consider how much of something you really need and will realistically eat before it goes to waste or you get bored of it. Make a point to use up all the food you purchased during your last market trip before buying more groceries.
Store Food Correctly
Improper storage leads to a massive amount of food waste. In fact, about two-thirds of household waste is due to food spoilage.
Separating foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that don’t is one great way to start reducing food spoilage in your kitchen. Ethylene promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage. While ripening, fruits that produce ethylene gas include bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, and green onions. To avoid premature spoilage, keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries, and peppers.
For a handy, interactive guide on how to keep all types of food fresh and tasty for as long as possible, not just your produce, visit savethefood.com/storage.
Learn to Preserve
Pickling, drying, canning, fermenting, freezing, and curing are all methods you can use to make food last longer, thus reducing waste.
Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Did you know that rummaging through a bin of apples until you find the most perfect-looking one contributes to food waste? The consumer demand for flawless fruits and vegetables has led major grocery chains to buy only picture-perfect produce from farmers. It reinforces the pulling of “imperfect” food from grocery store shelves and can lead to tons of perfectly good food going to waste.
Keep Your Fridge Clutter-Free
You’ve probably heard the saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” This rings especially true when it comes to food. While having a well-stocked fridge can be a good thing, an overly filled fridge can be bad when it comes to food waste. Help avoid food spoilage by keeping your fridge organized so you can clearly see foods and know when they were purchased.
Storing leftovers in a clear glass container rather than in an opaque container helps ensure you don’t forget the food. Designating a specific meal or day to use up any leftovers accumulated in the fridge is a great way to avoid throwing away food. What’s more, it saves you time and money!
Eat the Skin
People often remove the skins of fruits, veggies, and chicken when preparing meals. The outer layers of apples, potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, mangoes, kiwis, and eggplants are edible and nutritious.
Blend It Up
Blending up a nutrient-packed smoothie can be a delicious way to reduce food waste. In my house, we call it the “fridge clean out” or “garbage” smoothie!
While the stems, ends, and peels of produce may not be appetizing in their whole form, adding them to a smoothie is a way to reap their many benefits. The stems of greens like kale and chard are packed with fiber and nutrients, making them a great addition to smoothies. The tops of beets, strawberries, and carrots also make great add-ins.
Search for Recipes that Use Up What You Have
You can find pretty much anything on the internet. This includes recipes to use up specific ingredients in your fridge or pantry. Need inspiration for how to use up those broccoli stalks? Go online and search for “recipes that use broccoli stalks,” and you’ll be rewarded with pages of search results. Speaking of broccoli stalks, we hosted a New Tips for Cooking to Reduce Food Waste event online. One of the recipes shared by our expert, Chef Liz, was a Broccoli Stalk Salad. There’s a Quick Pickle recipe, too!
Make Homemade Stock
Whipping up a homemade stock is an easy way to use excess food. Sauté vegetable scraps like the tops, stalks, peels, and other leftover bits with olive oil or butter. Then, add water and let them simmer into an aromatic vegetable broth. Chicken carcasses or meat bones can also be simmered with veggies, herbs, and water for a delicious homemade stock.
Keep Your Serving Sizes in Check
While you may not think twice about scraping the leftover food on your plate into the trash, remember that food waste has a significant impact on the environment. Being more mindful of how hungry you are and practicing portion control are great ways to reduce food waste. Savethefood.com has a great Guest-imator tool that helps you plan how much to make in the first place.
Get Friendly With Your Freezer
Freezing food is one of the easiest ways to preserve it, and the types of food that take well to freezing are endless. For example, greens that are a bit too soft to be used in your favorite salad can be put in freezer-safe bags or containers and used later in smoothies and other recipes.
An excess of herbs can be combined with olive oil and chopped garlic, then frozen in ice cube trays for a handy and delicious addition to sautés and other dishes.
You can freeze leftovers from meals, excess produce from your favorite farm stand, and bulk meals like soups and chilis. It’s a great way to ensure you always have a healthy, home-cooked meal available.
Understand Expiration Dates
“Sell by” is used to inform retailers when the product should be sold or removed from the shelves. “Best by” is a suggested date by which consumers should use their products. Neither of these terms means that the product is unsafe to eat after the given date.
While many of these labels are ambiguous, “use by” is the best one for consumers to consider. This means that the food may not be at its best past the date listed. Even so, trust your senses. If it looks ok, smells ok, and tastes ok, then it’s probably ok to eat within a reasonable amount of time past the “use by” date.
Composting food scraps is a beneficial way of turning wasted food into energy for plants. For more information on organic composting, either in your yard or with curbside pick-up, check out the recording of this event on organics recycling that we hosted this past March and this resource list.
Don’t Toss the Grounds
If you have a green thumb, you will be delighted to know that coffee grounds make an excellent fertilizer for plants. The grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are nutrients that plants crave.
While this list of tips for reducing food waste at home isn’t exhaustive, I hope it compliments and reinforces what you already learned and put into practice during the Stop Food Waste Challenge. The collective action of reducing wasted food can make an impact–so lead by example. And, if you want to increase your impact, track how much money you save and use it to support an organization working to solve food and water waste locally, nationally, or globally.