There is an overwhelming amount of waste that we go through every day that adds up to quite the devastating price tag when it all gets added up. Much of this waste comes from leftovers from the meals we cook for our family’s lunches and dinners that remain untouched in the fridge for days after the initial meal. Another huge portion of household waste comes from the produce that spoils when it sits in your fridge or on the counter for too long.
All the knowledge we have about food waste is obtained through assorted studies that are used to collect estimates on how much food is being lost or thrown away. As diverse as these studies are, so too is the definition of exactly what counts as “food waste”. While it is difficult to gather exact numbers on how much food is wasted, the information we do have cannot be discounted and is rather overwhelming when you get right down to it.
Per a study performed by the EPA in 2014, in America alone, more than 38 million tons of food are wasted every year. This astounding number is the exact weight of 104 Empire State Buildings, with waste to spare! This is quite devastating considering how many men, women, and children are suffering from hunger and starvation every day. Reducing the amount of food waste around the world will not only save you money, but you can effectively help to reduce energy costs and resources. Below we will dive into the diverse ways you can become a part of the solution instead of the problem.
1) Check Before You Shop
One of the biggest mistakes we as consumers make is heading to the store in a rush without going over your current inventory. Going through and taking stock of what you have and what you do not have is going to make all the difference when you hit the grocery store. All too often after making a list and getting to the store we see things that are on sale, or notice items that we might have missed when taking inventory, so we end up stocking up on sale items simply for the price, or spending money on foods because we cannot remember if have them at home or not.
Of course, we do not make these purchases with the intention of wasting food. Nobody wants to spend the money on groceries just to throw out food, and essentially, throw away money. While pantry items are not generally an issue, finding out that you have doubled up on spinach or lettuce could lead to potential waste. Do smart grocery shopping for meal planning and using your ingredients is a great way to avoid being more wasteful than ever.
Meal planning can go a long way to ensure that you buy ingredients that you have plans for. Not only does this go a long way to keep you organized and prepared for each meal, but it will also save you both time and money. Whether you shop for two weeks or a month at a time, making a list of meals and buying the ingredients you will need for said meals gives you a leg up on your shopping trip and your wallet will not take such a hit.
2) Only Buy What You are Certain You Will Need/Use
It might be surprising to learn, but a little over one-third of us go shopping without even making a list first. Planning your meals ahead of time can be of great assistance so you are not left with a bunch of ingredients that you are unsure of what to do with. I cannot tell you how many times I have ended up with nothing but random ingredients that I could never harmonize no matter how hard I tried. We need to move toward the habit of buying only what we need.
It is not uncommon today for consumers to have memberships to places like Costco or Sam’s Club because the idea of being able to buy in bulk gives us the idea that we will save time and money, not having to run to the store quite as frequently. Again, while this is typically ok for pantry items, even food like those can soup we all have lying around have an expiration date and buying more items like this than we immediately need can lead to copious amounts of waste. Before you make the decision to buy anything in bulk, make sure it is something you will use up in an appropriate amount of time.
Instead of buying in bulk, we as consumers should try connecting with our food by growing some of our own fruits and vegetables; you can even grow your own herbs ultimately saving A LOT of money. Another helpful tip is to make more trips to the grocery store if possible, only buying what we need in lesser amounts.
3) Learn to Cook Smarter and Enjoy Your Leftovers
We have already discussed the prospect of making a solid meal plan every week, two weeks, or by the month, and how beneficial this will be toward cutting down on food waste. Now that you understand this concept, you no longer must stress out about buying unnecessary or excess ingredients. When it comes to the actual food prep and execution of your dishes, there are some things you can learn that will further assist in cutting down on that dreaded waste.
When you are following a recipe make sure you only chop or measure out exactly what the recipe calls for. Additionally, always use every piece of food you are utilizing for the meal if you are serving your family or a group of guests, make sure to use appropriate portions instead of overserving. One way to ensure you are not serving oversized portions is by using smaller plates. With smaller plates, there is less space to fill, and if you are looking to eat less, this will also help with any diet plans you or your friends might have.
If you are an American citizen, you have undoubtedly noticed that the portion sizes in restaurants and other public food spaces are quite large more often than not. These portions are highly unnecessary, and they are the cause of the large masses of Styrofoam boxes that get dispersed, ultimately ending up in dumps creating more waste. When cooking and serving food at home, learn to love your leftovers. Use them for lunch the next day at work, or even repurpose them into a whole new meal!
4) Make Sure to Store Your Foods Appropriately
When it comes to storing your foods, there are different methods that work better for different food items. For example, should you find a good sale on fruits and vegetables there is no reason to keep them in your fridge until they inevitably go bad before they all get eaten? And let’s be honest, during the summer season it is hard to pass up those three for five deals on fresh berries, or ten for ten those delicious yellow ears of corn. The good news is, you do not need to pass up on these deals with proper storage procedures in place.
With fresh fruit and vegetables, you can easily bag up anything you know will not get eaten in the immediate future in freezer bags, and store them in the freezer for weeks to months. Not only does this make for an excellent storage option, but you can also put the frozen fruit directly into the blender for a delicious smoothie. With things like spinach and lettuce, place them in an airtight container with a paper towel to keep them fresh longer.
Bread is best stored in a bread box, on a wooden board, or in a paper bag to keep your bread from drying out and getting hard. For practically everything else you keep in your home like rice, cookies, cereal, spices, sugar, and flour, there are appropriate canisters to keep your kitchen staples fresh and ready to use.
Follow FIFO – First In, First Out – food storage method to arrange supplies so the oldest items are in front, let you see and use them first.
5) Keep Track of When Food is Purchased and Stored to Avoid Expiration and Waste
Tossing some leftovers here, or some rotten bananas there does not seem like much when you are doing it. However, it does add up, trust me. One way to see this first hand is by keeping a list and adding to it each time something gets thrown away. Write down what it is, how much did not get eaten, and why it is being thrown out in the first place. This will give you some idea of what you could buy less of on each shopping trip, ultimately save you money and prevent unnecessary waste. By practicing this simple technique, not only can you track your waste, but you can teach it to your children as well, so they learn early how to prevent the unnecessary waste of the foods our farmers work so hard to produce for us.
Additionally, the proper placement of food within your freezer, fridge, and pantry can be a huge help. By organizing your food according to when it was bought, newest to oldest will ultimately ensure that your food gets eaten in the order it was bought as to prevent the consumption of expired goods or again, any unnecessary food waste. A lot of people think pantry items will last forever, and while some pantry items will last for years, this is not true of all pantry goods. Organization and efficiency are the names of the game when it comes to food preservation and the prevention of waste. Once you learn these simple techniques you will be able to cut down your amount of waste ten-fold.
These 5 simple techniques are your best bet for taking a firm stand against the worldwide epidemic that is the massive waste of food. If we can successfully maintain these practices, teach our children, and encourage others to do the same, then we not only reduce the waste we create, we can conserve resources for future generations, ensuring that our children and our children’s children have a sustainable future. Additionally, we can help the farmers and big businesses reduce greenhouse emissions, energy usage, pollution, and save consumers money everywhere. With the environment getting worse every day, there is no better time than the present to start working toward true sustainability.