Food waste has a domino effect of negative impact, other than just a trash can full of food scraps leading to pesky fruit flies (although, we do have a solution for that). In the United States, the EPA estimates that more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in our everyday trash, about 21 percent of the waste stream. Reducing food waste will help the United States address climate change, as 20 percent of total U.S. methane emissions come from landfills.
From an economic perspective food waste is costing consumers a lot of money. According to our Agriculture Secretary, an average family of four leaves about $1500 worth of food uneaten each year. This amount grows exponentially when considering food waste from retailers, restaurants, and other food based businesses. Food waste adds up to about 31% of the overall food supply, equaling about 133 billion pounds of food each year!
How can you help make a change?
1. Take inventory.
Plan your shopping trip. Most of us already do this, writing a lovely list we forget to bring to the store. Next time you plan your trip shift your focus on building a list and shopping minimally, being sure to take inventory of what is in your fridge and cabinets and thinking about what you truly need. Joining a local CSA is a great way to get an allotment of produce without overbuying. The produce will also be in season, therefore minimizing the risk of buying bruised fruit (and there’s a good chance local farmers grow organically).
2. Proper storage.
Storing your produce properly is somewhat of an art form. Did you know root vegetables stay firm longer if you cut the top off? We didn’t. Here is a reference sheet for storing those fruits and veggies to get the most out of them. Get crafty with salvaging what your can. Bananas getting overripe? Make banana bread! Blueberries shriveling? I’d love a muffin. And as my grandmother often says, “Just freeze it.” Properly frozen foods can last months.
There will always be food scraps, egg shells, and other parts of veggies or fruits that we just can’t eat. Having a compost bin for food scraps greatly cuts down the amount that will end up in the landfill. It is also a great way to improve soil to use in your garden or yard. Some cities also offer curbside compost bins pickup if you do not have anywhere to dispose of it. We recommend doing your research before you begin composting as you want to make sure it is done safely and effectively.
If you find yourself having too much of a dish or food you know you will not eat, find a local food bank or pantry and see if you can donate it. With 42.2 million Americans living in food insecure households, every donation helps! FeedingAmerica.org has a search tool to find a local food bank in your area.
Life gets busy and sometimes we forget little things really can eventually add up to something larger. Be mindful about finishing off leftovers from a restaurant. Take time to recycle and salvage what food you can. Having it top of mind can influence your behaviors and turn good practice into long term habits that will help reduce food waste for years to come.