There’s a surprise contributor to climate change: food waste.
In addition to the wasted energy and emissions that goes into producing and distributing food that goes uneaten, food also generates methane when it decomposes in landfills. That methane makes uneaten food a huge global contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
About 108 billion pounds of food are wasted each year. This food could have gone to hungry families and instead ended up polluting the environment.
Stop Food Waste Day is coming up on April 27th. Here we’ve compiled 10 actionable (and easy to do) strategies to reduce food waste in your home on that day (and beyond!).
While this may seem counterproductive, it can encourage you to buy less. With less room in your fridge, you will only buy essential items. It gives you a chance to stock the fridge with more things you will eat and have less excess food. Consider removing shelves and drawers to reduce storage space.
Plan out your meals ahead of time. Then, before heading to the store, write down what you need for the week. When shopping, this list will give you specific items to look for and reduce impulse purchases. Sticking to your list is a great way to prevent food waste while saving money on your grocery bills. In fact, the average person spends about 9.5% of their disposable income on food.
Buying in bulk is a cost-effective way to reduce your grocery bill. However, saving isn’t as beneficial if you don’t use the item before it goes bad. Before buying in bulk, consider whether it’s something you need. For example, it makes sense to stock up on mac and cheese if you have younger children. Follow this rule when buying things on sale, as well.
There are probably times when you head to the store without even knowing what you have at home. This can cause you to buy duplicate items. So, take an inventory of things in the fridge and pantry before leaving. Checking beforehand also saves you an extra trip to the grocery store.
There are multiple food labels, which can get confusing. When you don’t read these, your snacks can go bad, but you can also end up discarding good food. Review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) website to learn more about what each label means.
Here are a few ones to keep in mind:
- “Best If Used By” – This indicates when a product will have its best flavor or be at peak quality.
- “Sell By” – This tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
- “Use By” – This is the last recommended date for using the product while at peak quality.
There is also the “best before” date, which is about quality and not safety. It is usually okay to eat products even after this date. It just may not have as strong of a texture or flavor. Yet, many people are quick to throw this food away. In fact, canned foods, frozen foods, and hard cheeses can all be eaten past their expiration date. Just be sure to store them based on the label instructions.
Grocery stores are common offenders in this regard, discarding food before or even right at the date. In fact, 30% of food in American grocery stores is thrown away. Instead, they could scrape off mold from cheese or do a sniff test before repackaging meat.
Along with grocery stores, restaurants also misinterpret labels and have larger portion sizes, leading to food waste. So consider eating at home more often.
Consider donating excess items to a food bank. It can reduce food waste and help feed hungry families. In 2017, 821 million people were chronically malnourished. Research food banks in your local area through sites like Feeding America. You can also volunteer for programs that allow you to prepare or deliver meals.
Always ask ahead and find out what the food bank needs. Never simply drop off food or assume food banks can accept open packages or items. Like other sectors that handle food, they will have regulations and requirements they need to follow.
Some waste management companies are finding valuable ways to turn trash into energy. They send some of their waste from composting to processing facilities. Then, the facility turns the waste into an engineered bio-slurry, which is used to generate electricity. Repurposing excess food also reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, helping the environment in the process.
Improper storage leads to rotten or spoiled food. Ensure you’re using the right storage methods to keep your items fresh. Make sure to store bananas, apples and tomatoes by themselves. These emit natural gasses that can spoil other produce.
Store raw meat in a sealed container on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is at or below 40°F. For more tips, review the FoodKeeper website from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
A lot of processed food is wasted before it even hits the grocery store. Some manufacturing companies trim off edible parts of meats and vegetables, such as the skin, fat, and peels.
By cutting out the intermediary, more food can be saved. Farmers’ markets are excellent places to start. These places provide you with healthy meals for the whole family.
Consider cooking in larger quantities and then freezing the leftovers. This can prevent you from throwing out food the next day. Soups, stews and casseroles are good items to freeze.
Cabbage, celery and pasta, however, should be eaten the next day. When storing your items, remove as much air as possible from the bags or containers before sealing.
Check the internet for ideas on what to do with food waste before you toss leftover food. This food waste infographic from Sustainable America gives some delicious examples of the creative ways you can use things you might otherwise throw out.
Bonus! Start a Food Waste Log
The best way to know how much food you waste is to keep track of it with a food waste log. These logs are simple charts you can use to jot down any food items you toss, how much you tossed and why you tossed it.
If you’re trying to reduce your waste, you can track your progress over time and learn which strategies are working for you. The EPA has a free printable food waste log here. It’s for facilities, but it’s easy to adapt for households.
Food waste is a big issue in this country. Many consumers end up purchasing more than they need and discarding the rest. You can try these simple tricks to prevent food from ending up in your trash.
And if you need some extra inspiration, we recommend the amazing documentary Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. Watch the trailer here and get ready to get excited to tackle this issue.