Whether your concern is with saving money or saving the environment, focusing on reducing food waste makes a big impact as a responsible consumer.
It is estimated that Americans throw away billions of pounds of food each year. In 2010, the average American generated about 219 pounds of food waste.
There are numerous benefits to reducing food waste for the individual and the environment.
Saving money for individuals can be a significant motivator to reduce food waste. The average consumer loses $3.00-$5.00 per day due to food waste, and the average American family of four throws out an average of $1,365 to $2,275 worth of food each year
What is, perhaps more impactful, is the effect wasted food has on the environment.
Discarded food sent to landfills produces methane gas, which is the second most common greenhouse gas. The World Resource Institute notes that reducing food waste benefits the environment by reducing the need for land, water, and other resources to grow food. In addition to that, cutting food waste in half would significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are a few tips that will help prevent food waste at home.
- Use a shopping list based on pre-planned weekly menus to reduce impulse buying.
- Avoid bulk shopping. While convenient, it has been shown to lead to more waste.
- Take a few shorter trips to the grocery store each week, rather than one larger trip.
- Plan to eat leftovers 1-2x per week and get creative.
- Use stems/peels and imperfect produce to make nutritious smoothies or soup stock.
- Consider: The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet.
Organize Food Storage
- Declutter the fridge and pantry to help keep food that is ready to eat visible.
- “FIFO” stands for first-in-first-out and is a useful way to organize food at home
- Storing leftovers in a clear glass container so you don’t forget the food is there.
Master the Shelf Life of Foods/ Store food correctly
- Understand “sell by” or “use by” labels. These dates help markets know when to rotate their stock but can be confusing for consumers. Don’t assume “sell by” dates are expiration dates and throw out perfectly edible food. While labels may give a general idea for freshness, they are not hard and fast rules.
- “Best before” dates can be misleading — if produce still appears fresh and usable, it usually is fine.
- Storing produce incorrectly can lead to premature ripening and rotten produce.
- Potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and onions should never be refrigerated. These items should be kept at room temperature.
- Foods that produce ethylene gas, like bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, green onions, should be kept away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid premature spoilage.
- keep the refrigerator below 5°C (41°F).
- store cooked foods on shelves above raw foods.
- store food in sealed containers.
- Freezing foods can help preserve them for later use and prevent spoiling. Many fresh fruits and vegetables keep well when frozen.
Composting/Don’t Toss the Grounds
- Creating a compost heap and turn plant scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer.
- coffee grounds make excellent fertilizer for plants. The grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
- Coffee grounds also make a fantastic natural mosquito repellent. Sprinkling spent coffee grounds in grassy areas deters female mosquitos from laying eggs, reducing the population of these pesky insects.
Finding ways to reduce food waste can have a strong individual impact and help create a healthier food future for all. By thinking more about the food your household wastes every day, you can help create positive change to conserve some of the earth’s most valuable resources.
This article was reproduced with permission from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in celebration of National Nutrition Month. This article was submitted by Gwen Kuskie, RD, CNSC from Longmont United Hospital.
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- World Resources Institute. (2019). Leading food experts issue global agenda to halve food loss and waste by 2030 [Press release].
- Tips to reduce food waste. (2019).
- Healthline: 20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste. (2017) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste
- Conrad Z. Daily cost of consumer food wasted, inedible, and consumed in the United States, 2001-2016. Nutr J. 2020;19:35.