3 Practical Ways to Reduce Food Waste

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Food waste is a major problem in the U.S. Here are a few simple tips you can use to reduce the amount of food you throw away, save money, and build a more sustainable future for our planet.

One could argue that one of the greatest enemies to sustainability in the developed world is waste. We are a consumeristic society, and unlike our grandparents’ generation who often did their best to repair and reuse things as many times as possible, our default setting seems to be to throw something away and buy a new one.

This is especially true of food, and food waste has become a major problem. In fact, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans throw away around 40% of all the food we produce each year!  Crazy, right?

So just why do we waste so much food? There are a couple of major reasons:

  • Consumers are picky
    People do not like seeing bruises on their apples or other fruits.  In fact, a lot of food and vegetable produce never sees the inside of a supermarket, because consumers expect these items to look a certain way.  For example, when is the last time you saw an oddly misshapen carrot or potato being sold in your local grocery store?  If you shop at a farmer’s market, you probably have a somewhat different experience there, but the majority of food sold in grocery stores is as close to “perfect” looking as possible.
  • Throwing out food has become “normal” due to higher living standards
    When we all had to grow our own food, and scrimp just to survive, waste was much less common. But with much higher disposable incomes now compared to earlier generations, and easy access to food everywhere, it is easy to buy more food than is necessary at one time so some of it spoils in the fridge before you ever get to it.

However, the practice of wasting this much food is not only irresponsible, it also leads to waste of resource, waste of money, and pollution. The amount of food waste in the world today is simply not sustainable.

By cutting down on food waste, you will:

  • Save money
  • Cut down on the resources related to growing and producing your food (fuel, water, etc.)
  • Decrease greenhouse gasses related to methane emissions coming from landfills.

Here are 3 easy ways to reduce your food waste, starting today:

  1. Plan Ahead
    Plan your meals a week ahead of time, while considering what you already have in your fridge, and what you need to use soon before it spoils.When preparing meals, keep a running tally of what is left in your fridge and what you are running low on.  Always make a list of ingredients that you will need before you go shopping – this will help prevent over-shopping and impulse buys.

    Think about how you can use leftovers.  For example, if you make chicken and vegetables on Monday, can you then make a soup from the leftovers on Tuesday?

    In addition, try to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season.  This ensures better flavor, it’s better for the environment as the food likely didn’t have to travel quite as far, and there is less chance that you will let them go to waste.

  2. Store Food Properly
    Paying attention to the storage of perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, can reduce food spoilage.  For example, you do not want to store apples next to other produce, because they create more ethylene gas than some other fruits and vegetables.  This ethylene gas is a natural plant hormone that increases the rate that produce ripens.  Ripened bananas and avocados are among other items that also give off large amounts of ethylene gas.Here are a few ideas:
    – Allow avocados to ripen on your countertop before storing them in your fridge.  Once avocados are ripened and put in the fridge, you need to use them within several days to prevent spoilage.  Cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplant are also better stored at room temperature and then stored in the fridge for only a few days before being eaten.
    – In addition, always take produce out of plastic bags to reduce the rate of spoilage.  Produce generally needs a bit of air.  (Leafy greens such as lettuce are an exception.)
    – Don’t wash your fruits and vegetables until you are ready to use them to keep them from spoiling and growing mold.
    – Also keep in mind that some fruits and vegetables spoil more quickly after being put in the refrigerator.  Bananas and avocados are two such examples.
    – Do not pull off or cut off stems until you are ready to use the produce.
    – Before spinach starts to spoil, freeze it, and you can later use it in smoothies or cooked foods such as soups or omelets.
  3. Consider Your Food Prep
    You may want to use up your perishables immediately after shopping. For example, you may want to spend Saturday or Sunday afternoon preparing your meals for the week, and then freezing them.  For example, you could make two vegetable lasagnas, and then freeze them until you bake and eat them later on in the week.You can also buy things like ground beef in bulk, and then cook it all at once to make a large pot of spaghetti sauce.  This spaghetti sauce can then be frozen and thawed for when you are ready to use it.

    Freeze bread, and toast only the number of slices you need.  If bread does happen to get stale before you use it, you can use it to create croutons, stuffing, or use it in bread pudding.

    You can use fruits that are no longer quite as fresh – such as blueberries, apples, nectarines, oranges, and bananas – in smoothies.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so make a plan to reduce waste this year, and keep those leftovers out of the landfill! By making responsible food usage a habit, you can help reduce food waste, save money, and build a more sustainable planet. You will also be setting a great example for the next generation!


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