So much of daily life is centered around food. Buying food at the grocery store, going out to eat, preparing food and sometimes throwing food away that has gone bad before it had a chance to be eaten. Food waste is a major problem that tends to sneak under the radar of our consciousness, but it has negative implications for not only our wallets, but also the environment. According to Healthline’s article, 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste, roughly a third of all food produced worldwide ends up being discarded or wasted for a myriad of reasons. The amount of food wasted annually equals about 1.3 billion tons.
Besides its economic impact, uneaten food ends up in landfills where it rots and emits methane gas, the second most common greenhouse gas. So every time that half-eaten salad ends up in the bin, that contributes to climate change. It also wastes significant amounts of water. The World Resources Institute attributes 24% of the water used in agriculture to be wasted through food waste annually, which amounts to 45 trillion gallons.
So how can you help? Here are some uncomplicated ways to avoid food waste and be kinder to your wallet and your earth.
- Smart shopping- It’s common to buy more food than you need. As the cliché goes, the eyes are often bigger than the stomach. Yes, buying in bulk is convenient but studies have shown that it often contributes to more food wasted. So, if it is possible, try making more frequent trips to the grocery store instead of big bulk shopping trips once a week. Make an effort to use as much of the food you purchased on your last trip before buying more items. It also helps to make a list of items you need and stick to that list so you can reduce impulse buying.
- Proper food storage- Not knowing where to store food properly often leads to premature ripening, rotten produce and inevitable food waste. For example, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and onions are not meant to be refrigerated but instead kept at room temperature.A bit of scientific knowledge about the makeup of our food goes a long way to making the best use of it. Some foods produce larger amounts of ethylene gas, which promotes ripening in food and can speed up spoilage. Produce that gives off ethylene gas while ripening includes bananas, tomatoes, avocados, cantaloupes, pears, peaches and green onions. Make a point to separate these foods from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, leafy greens, berries and peppers.
- Learn to love “ugly” fruits and veggies- We all want that picture-perfect bright red unblemished apple, but the consumer demand for flawless fruits and vegetables means that tons of edible, delicious and nutritionally identical food gets passed over both in-store and out as grocery chains often only want to stock picture-perfect product. Many stores and delivery programs have begun to promote “ugly” fruits and vegetables at a discount to address the issue. So next time you are at the store, pick a slightly imperfect banana or pear.
- Organize your fridge- You want to be able to see everything clearly in your fridge so you know what you have and how long you have had them. It is also helpful to keep the FIFO method in mind, which stands for “first in, first out.” So if you buy a new bag of grapes for example, place the older package in front of the newer one so that you will eat the older food first and avoid wasting it.
- More to love with leftovers- Store leftovers in clear glass containers so you can see the food and be less likely to forget about it. If you are someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen and ends up with more leftovers, pick a day of the week dedicated to using up your leftovers.
- Blend it up- Yummy smoothies are a great way to get your fruit and veggies into your diet, as well as avoid food waste. Some fruits and vegetables that might not be appealing in their whole form can easily be incorporated into a smoothie.
- Watch your serving sizes- It’s a good thing to be part of the clean plate club. Be mindful of your portion sizes to avoid scraping leftover food on your plate into the trash or garbage disposal. If you are unsure, start off with a small portion and go back for more if you are still hungry.
- A critical eye on expiration dates- The U.S. government does not currently actually regulate expiration date terms. This task is usually left up to food sellers to decide. In reality, food that has just passed its expiration date is typically still safe to eat.“Sell By” tells a retailer when a product should be sold or otherwise removed from the shelf. “Best by” is a suggested date for the consumer to use their products by. Yet neither of these distinctions means that the product is unsafe after that date. “Use by” is probably the most accurate, which indicates the food may not be at its best quality after the listed date. Interested groups are petitioning to make food expiration labeling clearer, but until then, use your best judgment if the food in your fridge is still good.
- Bring lunch from home- Save money and reduce food waste by bringing a lunch from home. This is a simple way to use up leftovers.
- Freeze! Freezing foods can help you keep food longer. Freeze bulk foods like soups and chilis to ensure you always have a healthy, home-cooked meal at the ready.