“Waste Not… Want Not” Benjamin Franklin
When one in six Americans struggles with food-insecurity, can it be true that food makes up the single largest type of waste going into the nation’s landfills and incinerators? True it is. In fact, more than 34 million tons of food is discarded every year. And, in landfills food waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It’s difficult to believe, but according to the EPA, as a nation we throw away up to 40 percent of our food, much of which is actually surplus, wholesome and edible food that could have been used to feed those in need.
The wasted food we discard amounts to almost $165 billion lost each year.
As you can imagine, much of the food that is wasted comes from commercial or institutional sources such as grocery stores, restaurants, schools and universities, hospitals and stadiums. But households and individuals also make significant contributions of the food that makes its way to our dumpsters and garbage cans. Imagine this – the average family throws away 14 percent of the food they buy, or about $600 a year for the average family of four! Now imagine that much of the food that is thrown away is still edible and could have been recovered and passed on for use by food banks or soup kitchens. Food waste that is not fit for human consumption could haven been composted and reinvented as nutrient rich organic material to enrich the soil, or donated to livestock farmers or zoos to feed the animals. All are better solutions than feeding our ever-growing municipal landfills.
Action Plan to Reduce Food Waste
Here are just a few of the ways you can reduce the amount of food you waste each year. Follow these simple tips and you’ll see your food and your food budget go a little further, and your food waste footprint grow a little smaller.
Plan ahead. One of the best ways to reduce family food waste is to plan meals ahead. Make a list of the meals for the week and a comprehensive grocery list for the ingredients you’ll need, so you can shop more efficiently (and economically). Use up the ingredients you have on hand, and plan for how leftovers may be used in subsequent meals. Don’t over buy. Limit your purchases to what you can actually use in the week.
Save the leftovers! Brown-bag them for work or school for a free packed lunch. If you don’t want to eat leftovers the day after they’re cooked, freeze and save them for later (remember to note when you froze them so you can use them up in a timely fashion).
Rotate time-sensitive foods in the fridge and pantry. A cluttered refrigerator can lead to waste because fresh foods can get overlooked when preparing upcoming meals. Keep a close eye on the expiration (best if used by or best if purchased by) dates of refrigerated foods such as milk, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc., and include them in your meal planning so you will use them before they expire. Check your cabinets and pantry regularly and bring foods that will expire soon to the front to encourage family members to eat them, or to use as ingredients in the next meal you cook.
Watch refrigerator settings. Be sure to maintain the fridge’s proper level of coldness for optimum food storage. You probably have its manual filed away or you can email the manufacturer to ascertain the best settings. Look for tight seals, proper temperature. Also use temperature appropriate storage bags and containers to retain maximum freshness.
Preserve produce. Produce doesn’t have to be tossed just because it’s reaching the end of its peak. Soft fruit can be used in smoothies or muffins; wilting vegetables can be used in soups, etc. And both wilting fruits and veggies can be turned into delicious, nutritious juice.
Donate what you won’t use. Never going to eat that can of beans? Donate it to a food bank before it expires so it can be consumed by someone who needs it. Visit www.feadingamerica.org to find a food bank near you.
Compost! Hate potato skins? Don’t feel like turning wilted vegetables into soup stock? No worries; food scraps still don’t need to be tossed. Just start a compost pile or bin in the backyard, and convert food waste into a useful resource.
The amount of food waste produced globally each year is more than enough to feed the nearly 1 billion hungry people in the world.
Benefits of Reducing Wasted Food
• Saves money from buying less food.
• Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
• Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).
• Supports your community by providing donated untouched food that would have otherwise gone to waste to those who might not have a steady food supply.