According to the EPA, Americans generated an estimated 63.1 million tons of food waste in 2018, with roughly 68% of that ending up in landfills. I used to think that food waste wasn't a big deal because it breaks down relatively quickly, but this week, I learned how wrong I was. Wasted food means wasting all of the valuable resources it took to produce and transport it. Not to mention, food that ends up in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas 86% more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential.
Beyond its impact on the environment, food waste can really drain our wallets. According to the NRDC, the average family of four throws away nearly $2000 worth of food every year. I don't know about you, but that is way too much to ignore.
So, in order to help the environment and keep my bank account happy, I'm implementing the following rules to reduce my food waste:
Start meal planning
Planning out the week's menu ahead of time makes it easier to work with food you already have at home and reduces the chances that it will spoil before you get to it. It can also keep you from overbuying at the grocery store.
Plan to eat leftovers
Including leftovers on your weekly meal plan will prevent get them eaten before mold takes over.
Take advantage of your freezer
Extend the lifespan of your leftovers and produce by popping them into the freezer. If you only need half of an onion for dinner, freeze the other half so it doesn't go bad in your refrigerator.
Cook with food scraps
Instead of throwing away your kitchen scraps, cook with them! For instance, use chicken bones and vegetable peels to make a stock, or try out a carrot top pesto. Check out my next post for 10 ways to use those food scraps.
Learn how to properly store your produce
Maximize the lifespan of your fruits and vegetables by storing them correctly. Check out this post from Sweet Frugal Life to learn a few tips like which veggies require refrigeration vs room temp storage.
Keep food in clear containers
I am ashamed to admit how often perfectly good food spoils in my refrigerator because it was out of sight and out of mind. Using clear tupperware allows you to see exactly what is available and needs to be eaten.
Organize your pantry and refrigerator
Following the motto "A place for everything and everything in its place" can help you keep tabs on the what you have vs what you need.
Buy the ugly produce
Misshapen fruits and vegetables are often passed over and left to rot, even though they taste exactly the same as their picturesque counterparts.
Keep a list of food you already have
Having a list of perishables can keep you from overbuying food that will go bad before you have the opportunity to use it.
Learn the difference between sell-by, use-buy, and expiration dates
- Sell-by: This date is geared toward retailers and allows the purchaser time to consume the product before it spoils. The amount of time depends on the product, for instance, milk is good for about a week after the sell-by date, while eggs can keep for 3-5 weeks longer.
- Use-by: This date suggests when the product will be at its best quality. Usually, foods a few days past their use-by date are still edible, but you may notice a slight decline in freshness.
- Expiration: This date is absolute, and foods past their expiration date should not be consumed.
Buy locally grown produce
Hit up the local farmers market for locally grown fruits and vegetables. Not only will they be fresher, but they won't have required transport from the other side of the country, or another country entirely.
Only buy bulk products with a long shelf life
That bargain bag of apples might be tempting, but will you actually be able to eat all of them before they rot? Stick to buying bulk products that will allow ample time to get through, like flour and sugar.
Bring home leftovers
If you end up with leftovers after eating out, take them home to munch on at a later date, so they don't immediately end up in a garbage can. It's also helpful to write a date on them, so you don't have to question your purchase date later on.
Pro tip: Keep a tupperware or jar in your bag so you don't end up taking home a styrofoam or plastic takeout container.
Give away or donate extra food
I get it, those brussel sprouts were intriguing at the grocery store, but now that you're home, they're the last thing you want to eat. Instead of letting them go bad, see if you have a neighbor or family member that might enjoy them. You can even check with a nearby shelter to see if they'll accept donated produce.
At the end of the day, you're likely to have some food waste, even if it is minimal. That's when composting is the best way to keep food waste from going to a landfill, where it will release methane as it breaks down. If you're knew to composting, check out Week 38 to read about its benefits as well as how to get started.