5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste
Word on the streets is food waste is a huge contributor to global warming. In the U.S., we throw away 40% of the food that’s produced and only 5% of that food waste is composted. Most of it ends up in the landfill where it rots and releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that’s up to 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. When you factor in the energy, water and labor necessary to produce and distribute that food, that’s unfortunate amount of waste. We can do better.
If you’re going to reduce your food waste, you’ll have to make a few minor changes to your habits. By that I mean, changing the way you shop, the way you cook and the way you plan. Don’t be intimidated though, the changes are relatively painless and just require a bit more intentionality.
While one surefire way to reduce your food waste is to buy less fresh food and more packaged, processed foods with longer shelf lives, I’m not going to recommend that sort of thing here. That’s obviously less healthy and eating more processed foods would only be more harmful to the planet. I will only encourage fresh, nutritious food choices paired with a bit more planning and mindfulness.
Here are just a few simple ways you can reduce your food waste:
1. Buy less
It’s probably not a good idea to buy three heads of lettuce for a two person household (that doesn’t eat much salad, in all honesty), but I’ve done it more times than I can remember. And then I’m sad to find a gnarly head of lettuce in the produce drawer.
If this sounds like you, you’ll likely benefit from shopping more frequently and buying a little bit less of the perishable foods each time. I find that consistently shopping once a week and just buying enough produce to last until the next shopping trip reduces the amount of food that ends up in my compost. No more stocking up on lettuce for me. I still end up with slimy zucchini every once in a while because, frankly, we have a love-hate relationship, but I’d like to point out that I’m on the right path...just for the record. And I buy that zucchini with the best of intentions, mkay?
2. Shop smarter
You’ve probably gone to the grocery store without a list before, right? Yea, that’s sort of what I mean. Planning is an important step in reducing your waste; it’s hard to make impactful changes to your habits without it.
If you make a random grocery list without an actual meal plan for the week, you’re likely to buy more than you need. Like the lettuce. I mean how many salads did I think I was going to force myself to eat that week? I digress.
To put it simply, don’t shop without a detailed grocery list with specific meals in mind. That way you’ll buy exactly what you need for the week and everything gets used up.
3. Store smarter
Did you know that the way you store your produce can affect how long it lasts? Not too long ago, I was scrolling aimlessly through Facebook and noticed one of those entrancing informational videos that happened to be about the proper way to store produce to make it last longer. Honestly, my mind was completely blown. I.had.no.idea. Now, I’m saving produce lives left and right! And you can too.
I’m sure there are a ton of these sort of tips out there, but here are a few:
- Store bananas away from the other fruits. A banana hanger helps to get them off the counter and avoid bruising, but it’s not necessary; I keep my bananas next to my fruit bowl. If you’re still ending up with bad bananas, try separating the bunch when you buy them; an individual banana ripens slower than a bunch because of a concentration of ethylene gas, a natural plant hormone which is released in the ripening process of some fruits and veggies. Some produce items are more sensitive to it than others. If you’re interested, you can learn more about ethylene and the plants that produce it on one of my fave websites, TheKitchn.com.
- To make potatoes last longer, make sure they’re dry and store them in a dark, cool place. I’ll usually keep my potatoes in a paper bag in the kitchen cupboard. And never store potatoes (or any other root vegetables) with onions or they’ll spoil faster.
- For the best tasting tomatoes, it’s recommended that you let them hang out on the countertop instead of putting them in the fridge. Storing tomatoes in the fridge degrades the texture of the tomato while leaving it on the countertop at room temperature improves its flavor. Double win!
For more storing tips, here’s The Kitchen’s guide to storing your fruits and veggies. (Warning: you’ll wanna bookmark that ish.)
4. Approach meal planning differently
If you’re shopping weekly, there are food items that you won’t use up by the end of each week, like that huge tub of greek yogurt or that jar of pesto. When meal planning for the week and working on your grocery list, consider taking inventory of what foods you have and their expiration dates and planning accordingly. You’re sure to toss out fewer science projects with this method. (Also, note that expiration dates are only suggestive. There’s currently a movement for less confusing and standardized food labeling to mitigate waste. If the food looks and smells fine, it’s likely not spoiled.)
5. Blend and/or Freeze It
If all else fails, you can try and salvage wilting fruits, veggies, and herbs by giving them a new life as an ice cube.
What I mean is you can freeze your herbs by combining them (individually or as a medley) with olive oil in your ice cube tray and cooking with them later! Here’s a blog post on how to preserve your herbs by The Pioneer Woman if you want to know more.
Another example is blending up your sad, limp greens with a little bit of water and, again, freezing it in your ice cube tray. You’ll end up with small, preserved doses of greens you can sneak into spaghetti or your next smoothie. Brilliant, right?!
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are so many more small changes you can make that will make a difference in your food waste, but you’ll be off to a really good start with these.