Food waste is a big problem, and our individual bad habits can make things worse. But with tricks like Meal Prep Sunday and food scrap compost, it’s easier to make less food waste than you think.
Whether you’re trying to save money or reduce your impact on the environment, there’s never been a better time to think about how you’re using food in your home and whether you could be doing things differently.
Every bit helps. That’s because food waste is a massive problem for the planet. According to the USDA, in just the U.S., 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted—meaning it’s never consumed. According to Feeding America, the nation’s leading nonprofit food bank network, more than 108 billion pounds of food go uneaten every year in the U.S., totaling more than $400 billion in losses. Last year, the Feeding America network and its partners rescued 4.7 billion pounds of groceries—making it the largest food rescue organization in the country.
But food waste is more than just expired grocery items. USDA’s Economic Research Service defines food loss as edible amounts of postharvest food lost to a number of culprits from cooking shrinkage to mold. It recently changed the term “food waste” to “food loss and waste” in order to describe all reductions in edible food mass anywhere in the supply chain. This can also include typically inedible food parts such as banana peels and eggshells that can be of value when used in compost or disposed of in other ways.
Whatever you call it, wasted food isn’t doing the environment any favors, either. When not composted or properly disposed of, food waste is a leading producer of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2. Climate experts have warned that methane emissions must be reduced in order to prevent catastrophic climate events.
Governments are working to address the food waste issue. California enacted a statewide law aimed at keeping food scraps out of landfills, mandating green compost bin disposal for qualifying food waste.
Ten other states also have laws in effect aimed at curbing food waste. States including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oregon, there are certain tax incentives for donating meals to food banks and other organizations. Other states, like Vermont, are aiming to decrease output overall. In 2012, it passed legislation that required residents and businesses to gradually reduce their organic waste, banning all food scraps from landfill in the state by 2020.
Reducing food waste at home
Making changes at home is a key part of reducing food waste. And it’s easier than you might think. These tips on how to prevent food waste in your kitchen make it easy.
1. Create a food waste plan
Everyone should have a plan in place for what you’re going to do with any food waste that is created. There’s always going to be some waste because that’s just the nature of cooking. Food waste is inevitable because you can’t eat every part of the vegetable. So have a way of recycling it or maybe using it in your garden in some way. In states where composting scraps is mandated, a simple bowl or bucket on the counter can serve as a place to gather your scraps before taking them to your green bin on trash day. Easy!
2. Meal prep Sunday
Having a food and meal plan for the week ahead is another tool that will help you with reducing food waste. “Meal prep Sunday” is a great way to do this. By setting aside an hour or two on the weekend, you can make sure all of the perishable food in your fridge gets slotted for consumption. When you have a weekly plan in place, you can follow it closely and buy only the things you need for the meals in the week ahead. It’ll also mean that you’re less tempted to reach for junk food or eat out—call that a win-win! Batch cooking is an easy way to meal prep so that you have food ready to go for meals and reduce your waste.
3. Keep an eye on your refrigerator temperature
This might sound obvious but it’s something that people often overlook when it comes to the lifespan of the food they buy. The temperature of your fridge will have a big impact on how long your food will last. If the temperature is too high, the food won’t last as long as it probably should or as long as you want it to. Keep it between 1 and 5 degrees celsius (33.8°F to 41°F). Energy efficient appliances are often well-equipped to maintain their temperatures, so if it’s time for a new fridge, this is one way to go.
4. Know when food and drinks are likely to go bad
5. Freeze your leftovers
Not everything freezes well, but you’d be surprised at just how much does. Freeze leftover soups and stews for rainy days and you’ll be glad you did it. You can also steam or blanche veggies and freeze those for quick add-ins to future meals. This is a great practice when you’re about to travel and won’t eat what’s in the fridge.
While organizations are doing great work with supermarkets and farms to keep food items out of landfill, you can help, too. Whether you’re donating to a food drive or find a Freedge—a community stocked refrigerator to provide free food to anyone who needs it—every bit, and every bite, helps.