The statistics on food waste in the United States are rather alarming. It is estimated by the USDA's Economic Research Service that roughly 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is wasted. That is nearly half of total production. While a great deal of this waste comes from restaurants, grocery stores, and other commercial operations, implementing your own food waste solutions at home can have a substantial impact on the above statistic.
This article covers 8 effective methods you can implement today to stop wasting food. Before taking these on, spend some time measuring exactly how much food you are currently throwing away. There are multiple ways you can do this, but the easiest is using a small kitchen scale to total up the weight of waste for the week. Keep measuring as you implement some of the following habits to track your progress and gain a feeling of satisfaction.
Without further ado, here are 8 of the best ways to reduce food waste for you and your family.
The 8 Best Food Waste Solutions
Composting is the best way to get rid of the food scraps you can't repurpose. Throwing all of your organics into your household trash means that food ends up in large landfills with no proper air exposure, meaning it can't break down very fast. Organics that decompose like this also create a substantial amount of methane, which is one of the more potent greenhouse gases.
When you choose to compost as a food waste solution, however, these organics are broken down naturally and responsibly. Setting up a home composting system is easy if you have space. If you have a backyard, you can make your own compost pile using dirt, grass clippings, leaves, and your food scraps. Even families living in an apartment can make their own compost bin, though it can be harder to keep up with food waste due to the smaller size of the bin.
If you would rather have your food scraps sent somewhere else for composting, most U.S. cities offer some form of composting service for their residents. How your organics are broken down depends on what method your local composting facility uses. But the end product is a rich, nutrient-dense soil that has a wide range of uses. It can be used to rebuild depleted agricultural soils, reduce runoff, used in gardening, or even used in construction.
It is not only food scraps you can compost, but various paper products as well. The following are all items you can compost at home:
- paper towels
- paper grocery bags
- vegetable scraps
- fruit scraps
- coffee grounds
- tea bags
Do NOT compost:
- meat scraps
- dairy products
- noxious weeds
- compostable plates/cups (industrial composting only)
If you are using a composting service provided by your city, check with the company to see what the facility can handle. In most cases, it is all organics, including meat scraps.
2. Reduce Grocery Store Spending
Stop wasting food at the source. Limit the amount of food you buy at the grocery store, especially perishable items. Keep in mind how much you are planning to eat during the week and adjust your shopping list accordingly. Buying less at the grocery store not only reduces organic waste, but it saves you and your family money as well.
Some of the most common items that are thrown out as fast as they are purchased are fresh fruit and vegetables. Think twice before buying that bulk bag of spring greens that always ends up in the trash. Perhaps purchase 1 or 2 bananas instead of a whole bunch.
Saving money is a huge incentive here. As an extra motivator, consider calculating how much money you saved. Spend that surplus on something nice for yourself or spend it on your baby.
3. Take Advantage of Your Freezer
Freezing excess produce before the expiration date is a great food waste solution. This goes hand-in-hand with the rising popularity of bulk shopping outlets (Costco, for instance) that sell larger quantities.
When freezing your food, make sure you are using sealable plastic bags or plastic containers. Stay away from using glass, as most types of glass will crack under colder temperatures. Freeze everything in portion sizes instead of entire batches. This makes it far easier to thaw when the time comes.
Don't shy away from freezing your leftovers either. Take that soup and toss it into a few portion-sized plastic containers to eat at another time. Not only are you reducing food waste, but you are also doing meal prep for future lunches and dinners.
4. Expand Your Knowledge of Preservation
There are other ways besides freezing to preserve your food. While it might be the quickest, you can also learn how to pickle, can, and dry your excess produce. These are the most common alternatives to freezing, so we will cover just these 3 a little more in-depth here.
Pickling is done by using vinegar to create an acidic environment, which prevents microbes from growing and then decomposing your valuable produce.
This is most often done with cucumbers to create pickles but can be done with nearly any fruit and vegetable.
Canning, or water-bath canning, is the process of creating a vacuum seal in a glass jar through heat. The heat kills the microbes, and as the contents of the jar cool, it creates the vacuum seal. This is a great way to keep any cooked or pickled produce fresh for years.
While drying doesn't work with all food, it can reduce a lot of food waste. Dry herbs to make your own herb stash, or dry vegetable scraps, like tomato peals, to make a delicious, sun-dried-tomato-like seasoning.
Most fruits are incredibly easy to dry. Instead of letting those apples, mangos, or bananas go bad, dry them instead for a healthy snack.
5. Start Planning Meals
Meal planning can be one of the most impactful ways to reduce food waste. Sit down at the beginning of the week and plan out what you are going to make for the rest of the week.
When you have a clear plan, you end up buying only what you need at the grocery store. Oftentimes, guessing what we might want on a whim leaves us with multiple spur of the moment purchases that often end up as food waste.
Sit down with your family to plan out a week or two of meals before your next grocery store trip. Find a balance that works for you, and don't take on too much planning at once. Start with baby steps, maybe a few days, and then go from there.
6. Be Thrifty with Scraps
There is so much you can do with scraps. You can make stock with your vegetable and meat scraps. You can make smoothies with both fruit and vegetable leftovers. You can take the end slices of your bread, dry them, and make croutons for your next salad.
You can also keep seeds from your fruits and vegetables, keep them in a moist towel for a few days, and watch as they germinate. Take that germinated seed and plant it in an indoor flower pot to grow your own produce.
Last but not least, if you have indoor plants, take the coffee grounds and toss them in the soil. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, potassium, and other essential nutrients plants love.
7. Look at Expiration Dates Differently
Oftentimes, food lasts past its "Use by" date. While it isn't advised you consume food that has aged a week past its suggested consumption date, you can still use food a day or two after it has "expired".
Don't be so quick to toss out that container of food. Smell and test it before throwing the whole thing into the garbage (or at the very least, a compost bin).
8. Keep a Clean and Organized Fridge
If you want to stop wasting food, consider reorganizing your fridge. We often lose track of our food when it gets lost and forgotten behind other things in a messy fridge. We miss expiration dates, forget we purchased something, or just plain lose something if our fridge contents aren't organized.
Eliminating Food Waste is an Important Part of Green Parenting
Green parenting encompasses a lot of things. It involves consciously purchasing responsibly sourced goods and altering traditional living habits.
Reducing your and your family's food waste can have a substantial positive impact on the environment. Whether it is through composting, meal planning, or reducing your grocery store spending, taking steps to reduce your household's food waste is a great move towards green parenting.