Day 22: Reduce food waste
Today’s action: Tossing out less to advance a top climate solution
Today’s action is to find ways to reduce your household’s food waste. We know this is easier said than done, but we’ve got some tricks for you! Read through our top tips today, and try them out in the coming weeks. (If you need reminders, how about jotting down your favorite ideas on a piece of scrap paper or writing them on your calendar?)
Plan your meals for the week. Before grocery shopping, take a few minutes to plan out your meals, accounting for what’s already in your fridge and cabinets. Prioritize recipes and meals that use your food that’s closest to expiring. Also make sure that your meal plans are realistic for your schedule.
Buy less (and more realistically). Try to only buy portions you know will be consumed. This might mean ignoring food “deals” that encourage you to buy more than you want, or being more realistic about what you buy. (We all want to eat healthier, but if you’re always tossing out certain veggies, either stop buying them or make a concrete plan for eating them.)
Store smart. Produce is the most commonly wasted food, and improper storage expedites spoilage. Store ethylene-sensitive foods (such as apples, berries, leafy greens, potatoes, and peppers) away from ethylene-producing foods (avocados, bananas, cantaloupes, green onions, peaches, pears, and tomatoes).
Understand labels. In the US, more than 80% of people throw out perfectly good food because they misunderstand the labels! What’s the most reliable indicator of whether a food is still good? Your senses! Look at, smell, and taste a food rather than relying solely on the label. And learn what each label really means:
“Sell by” can be ignored; it indicates stock rotation for retailers.
“Best by” and “Best before” simply indicate when the food will be at its peak quality. After that date, the food is most likely safe to eat, but may have lost some flavor or texture.
“Use by” refers to highly perishable items that likely will spoil by that date. (In other words, put that spinach in a soup, smoothie, or freezer before then!)
Eat your leftovers. Make a concerted effort to not let anything from your next meal go to waste! Keeping your fridge organized can help (check out these tips).
Find shop-the-fridge recipes, as well as recipes that use the underutilized! Like this Shop-the-Fridge soup from the Zero Waste Chef, one of our favorite bloggers. We’ve also got two recipes just for you from Chef Gabe Kennedy that use typically tossed produce in the "looking for more" section below!
Are these tips not enough? We’ve got even more below!
Why this action? Food waste accounts for about 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions, making its carbon impact greater than that of the airline industry. If food waste were a country, it’d be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the US. How does this happen? Roughly one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted, squandering precious resources and resulting in unnecessary emissions from farm to table to trash bin. And most wasted food is thrown in landfills, where it produces methane gas (25x-86x more potent than carbon dioxide). For these reasons, reducing food waste ranks as the top climate solution for limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
In the US, nearly 40% of all food is wasted–that's over 108 billion pounds per year! While food is wasted throughout the supply chain, 37% of our food waste occurs in homes. This means that an American household of four currently throws out an average of $1,800 worth of food every year! (At the same time, one in eight American households is food insecure.) This is crazy. But it also shows an opportunity: there are plenty of simple steps we can take to drastically reduce the food wasted in our own homes. Not only will our efforts help contribute to a top climate solution, but they’ll also save us money–potentially lots of it!
Looking for more? Read on for recipes, more info and tips, and actions to help reduce food waste beyond your home.
Bonus recipes: One fun way to reduce waste is to use typically tossed produce! Try out these two recipes from Chef Gabe Kennedy.
Veggie Scrap Stock:
Save veggie scraps that typically go to waste (potato skins, carrot tops, celery roots, etc.) in a bag/container and store in your freezer until you have enough to fill 3/4 of a pot. (By the way, a full freezer actually takes less energy to keep cold, so you'll be saving energy too!) Once you’ve got enough, simply add them to your pot, add water to cover, and let simmer for an hour. Strain out the scraps, and voila, you've got veggie stock! Use it in a soup or base, or store again in the freezer for later use!
Soups can be a creative and delicious way to transform produce and proteins nearing their end – use the stock as the base for your very own soupe du jour. (And if you've got bones or parmesan rinds, throw them in for extra flavor!)
Carrot Top Pesto:
Pulse everything below except the olive oil in a food processor until a paste is formed. Slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste!
1 cup packed carrot top greens, tough stems removed
1 cup packed basil
1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (63g) roasted unsalted pine nuts or walnuts
2 tbsp Nutritional yeast
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
sea salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup (118ml) extra virgin olive oil
If you prefer your stats in video form, check out this 1-minute video on food waste in the US. Do you have a little more time? Watch this 10-min video on how Food Waste is the World's Dumbest Problem to learn more about the psychology and behavior behind the problem, and why reducing food waste is a win-win solution!
If you want to dig deeper into America’s food waste problem, explore ReFED's resources to learn more about food waste throughout the supply chain.
Extra tips for reducing food waste in your home that we couldn’t squeeze in above:
Buy less, part II. If you're trying out a recipe that requires an ingredient that you won’t use most of, can you just leave it out or swap it for something else you already have (for example, using chili powder instead of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)? Or if you really want that ingredient but don’t have a way to use all of it soon, can you freeze the rest to use later?
Eat your leftovers, part II. If you don’t like eating leftovers right away, freeze portions for later. If you often have leftovers, try designating a day of the week to use them. If you really hate eating the same thing twice, then cook smaller portions or find a way to re-purpose leftovers into new meals. (Oh, and if you’re still going to restaurants these days: bring your own container in case you have leftovers to take home!)
Find recipes, Part II. If you’ve got some food that you need to use up soon, look online to find a recipe! (Psst – do you have old bread lying around? Kaitlin’s fave way to use it up is to make these croutons.) Or check out other food waste recipes from the Zero Waste chef (as well as her awesome cookbook).
Use those scraps. Try out preserving techniques like pickling and jarring to take your scraps further. See these Fermenting FAQ's to help you get started, and try out some unique pickling recipes (watermelon rinds?!) or get creative with your citrus to elevate your desserts, clean your home, and make your own essential oils!
Want even more tips and recipes than what we gave you?! You’re in luck! Here are some great resources for you:
Savethefood.com: tips from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on food planning and storage, as well as recipes.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has 15 quick tips for reducing food waste and becoming a food hero.
If you’ve got extra food that you’re not going to eat, how about sharing it with a friend or neighbor? Or check out the Olio app, which helps connect people who have extra food to share with people who want to take that food.
Reducing our own food waste is an awesome (and important!) place to start. If you want to go deeper, consider helping efforts to reduce food waste outside the home as well. You could start by asking local restaurants, work cafeterias, or grocery stores to take simple steps that would reduce food waste. This might include selling half-portions or participating in food recovery programs.
Cities have an important role to play in reducing food waste. If you're interested in getting your city to tackle food waste, the NRDC's Food Matters website is a good starting place for learning more.
State and national government legislation and policy around food waste is also critical. The Zero Food Waste Act was recently introduced as a bill in the House and Senate. The bill has been endorsed by lots of organizations, including the NRDC, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Center. Check here to see if your House representative has co-sponsored it. If they haven’t, give them a call (you’ve got their number!) and request that they co-sponsor. (And okay, if you’re tired of calling, sign this petition to make the request.)