According to the USDA, the United States wastes between 30-40 percent of the food produced a year. Food is lost at all levels, from the grower to the consumer, and creates a large problem for our wallets and the environment. Every time we throw out food, we are also throwing out money, resources, and energy that went into growing, packaging, processing and transporting the food. We could save a lot of money by using the food we buy to fill our bellies instead of a landfill.
Here are 10 ways to reduce food waste at home that lower your personal carbon footprint and save you money:
Create a food log – By logging what we are buying and how much of it gets thrown away, we can become more aware of what we tend to over-buy and what we don't use at all. This can lead to more conscious and intentional purchasing at the grocery store, and reduce our tendency to impulse shop and over-buy.
Plan your meals – Shopping becomes easier when we plan our meals beforehand. This sets an intention for our purchases. We are more likely to use what we buy when we have a plan.
Buy funny looking produce – Much of the food grown and produced in the USA doesn't even make it to the grocery store because it does not fit aesthetic retail standards. We as a society are accustomed to only buy the "pretty produce." We can help reduce food waste by buying the "ugly" produce that other people might not.
Understand expiration dates – Expiration dates are not required by the FDA. "Sell by," "use by," and "best buy" dates are at the discretion of the manufacturer. Food is often good for days, weeks, months, or even years past the printed date. Expiration dates can be a useful guide, but it is important to understand that these dates are a manufacturer's estimation of peak quality. There are several smart phone apps that provide a guide for how long products are good for past the printed date. Most likely, if the food looks and smells fine, it is fine to eat.
Eat your leftovers! – It is easy to make too much of something and then forget about the leftovers in the refrigerator. A simple solution for this is to organize your fridge by designating a specific corner for leftovers. Those should be eaten or used in other dishes before shopping again or moving onto the fresher items. This can save you a lot of money!
Preserve – Canning and freezing are great ways to preserve produce that you won't be able to use before it goes bad. Freezing vegetables is typically as easy as blanching for a few minutes and then sticking them into a freezer bag. If you own a dehydrator, drying is a great way to preserve fruits, vegetables, meats and herbs. Canning is also a simple process, but requires a few more materials. Here's a
beginner's guide to canning.
Compost – According to the EPA, 20-30 percent of our trash is made up of food and yard waste. In a landfill, these materials break down and release methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Food and yard scraps can be put to good use by composting. Composting reduces methane emissions and also provides nutrient rich soil to use in gardens. Check to see if your city has curbside composting that picks up your scraps right from your curb. Also, if you have friends with pigs, goats or chickens, check with them to see if they want your food scraps to feed their animals.
Grow your own food – A great way to reduce over-buying produce and herbs are to grow your own. Starting a garden can save you money, reduce food waste, and increase your popularity among your friends who love garden fresh produce! Windowsill gardens are great for in the winter and for those who don't have a yard.
Use it all – When possible, use all of the food you are cooking with. It is not always necessary to peel your fruits and vegetables. The skin can provide extra nutrients, and eating it reduces our waste. Things such as the stalk of broccoli can be used along with the florets. The scraps from meats and vegetables can be used to make homemade stocks.
Donate – If you bought too much food, then check with the local food bank, homeless shelter, or soup kitchen to donate the food if it may go bad before you can use it or if you simply don't want it. Food insecurity is a big issue in the United States, and we should be aware of our waste when there are so many people who struggle to feed themselves and their families.