Food waste is a bigger problem than many people realize. Nearly one-third of all food produced in the world is discarded or wasted for various reasons, nearly 1.3 billion tonnes every year.
While you might not think food waste affects you, think again:
- Throwing away edible food doesn’t just waste money — discarded food is sent to landfills, where it rots and produces methane gas, the second most common greenhouse gas. So, throwing out your food contributes to climate change.
- It also wastes a huge amount of water. About 24% of all the water used for agriculture is lost through food waste every year — that’s about 64 billon Olympic swimming pools!
While these numbers may seem overwhelming, you can help reduce these harmful practices by applying the tips in this article. Remember, every little bit helps!
1. Shop Smart: most people tend to buy more food than they need. Buying in bulk may be convenient but research shows this can lead to more food waste. Avoid buying more food than you need by making trips to the grocery store every few days, rather a bulk shopping trip once a week. Make a point to use up all the food you purchased during the last trip before buying more groceries. In addition, make a list of the items you need to buy and stick to the list, which will also help you reduce impulse buying and reduce food waste.
2. Store Food Correctly: improper storage leads to a massive amount of food waste. About two-thirds of household waste in the United Kingdom is due to food spoilage. Many people are unsure how to store fruits and vegetables, which can lead to premature ripening and, eventually, rotten produce. For instance, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and onions should never be refrigerated but should be kept at room temperature.
Separating foods that produce more ethylene gas from those that don’t is another simple way to reduce food spoilage. Ethylene promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage. Foods that produce ethylene gas while ripening include:
|· Bananas||· Peaches|
|· Avocados||· Pears|
|· Tomatoes||· Green onions|
Keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid premature spoilage.
3. Learn to Preserve: while you might think fermenting and pickling are new fads, food preservation techniques like these have been used for thousands of years. Pickling, a type of preservation method using brine or vinegar, has been used as far back as 2400 BC. Pickling, drying, canning, fermenting, freezing and curing are all methods you can use to make food last longer, thus reducing waste. Not only will these methods reduce your carbon footprint, they will also save you money– and most preservation techniques are simple and can be fun.
For example, canning an excess of ripe apples and turning them into applesauce, or pickling fresh carrots from the market will provide you with a delicious and long-lasting treat that even kids will enjoy.
4. Don’t Be a Perfectionist: rummaging through a bin of apples until you find the most perfect-looking one contributes to food waste. Though identical in taste and nutrition, so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables get passed up for produce that is more pleasing to the eye. Consumer demand for flawless fruits and vegetables has led major grocery chains to buy only picture-perfect produce from farmers, which leads to tonnes of perfectly good food going to waste. It’s such a big issue that some major grocery chains have started offering “ugly” fruits and vegetables at a discount in an attempt to reduce waste. Do your part by choosing slightly imperfect produce at the grocery store, or better yet, directly from the farmer!
5. Keep Your Fridge Clutter-Free: while having a well-stocked fridge can be a good thing, an overly filled fridge can be bad when it comes to food waste. Avoid food spoilage by keeping your fridge organized so you can clearly see foods and know when they were purchased. A good way to stock your fridge is by using the FIFO method, which stands for “first in, first out.” For example, when you buy a new carton of berries, place the newer package behind the old one, which helps ensure that older food gets used, not wasted.
6. Save Leftovers: leftovers aren’t just for holidays. While many people save excess food from large meals, it is often forgotten in the fridge, then tossed away when it goes bad. Storing leftovers in a clear glass container, rather than an opaque one, helps ensure you don’t forget the food. If you happen to cook a lot and you regularly have leftovers, designate a day to use up any that have accumulated in the fridge, a great way to avoid throwing away food.
And what’s more, it saves you time and money.
7. Eat the Skin: people often remove the skins of fruits, veggies and chicken when preparing meals, which is a shame, because so many nutrients are located in the outer layer of produce and in poultry skin. For example, apple skins contain a large amount of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Researchers have identified a group of compounds present in apple peels called triterpenoids that act as potent antioxidants in the body and may have cancer-fighting abilities. Chicken skin is packed with nutrients, including vitamin A, B vitamins, protein and healthy fats. What’s more, it is also a good source of the antioxidant selenium, which helps combat inflammation in the body. These benefits are not limited to chicken and apple skin. The outer layers of potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, mangoes, kiwis and eggplants are also edible and nutritious.
So, not only is eating the skin delicious, it’s economical and reduces your food waste impact.
8. Eat the Yolk: although most people are moving away from the once-popular low-fat dieting trend, many still avoid egg yolks, opting for egg-white omelettes and scrambled egg whites instead. Avoiding egg yolks mostly stems from the fear that they increase cholesterol levels. Many people assume that eating foods high in cholesterol, like eggs, has a major impact on cholesterol levels.
However, studies have shown that in most people, dietary cholesterol has only a small effect on cholesterol levels. Your liver actually makes the majority of the cholesterol you need and your body closely regulates levels in the blood. When you eat foods that contain a high amount of cholesterol, your liver simply compensates by producing less. Evidence shows that most people, even those with high cholesterol, can enjoy whole eggs risk-free. Plus, egg yolks are packed with nutrients, including protein, vitamin A, iron, selenium and B vitamins. If you simply don’t like the taste or texture of egg yolks, add them to other recipes to mask the flavour.
9. Be a Seed Saver: of the millions of kilograms of pumpkins we produce every year, most end up getting thrown away. While carving pumpkins can be fun for the whole family, there are ways to reduce the waste that comes along with this activity. Aside from using the tasty flesh of your pumpkins in recipes and baking, a great way to cut waste is to save the seeds. In fact, pumpkin seeds are tasty and packed with nutrients, being very high in magnesium, a mineral that is important for heart and blood health and helps control blood pressure and blood sugar levels. To save pumpkin seeds, simply wash and dry them, toss them with a little olive oil and salt and toast them in the oven. Butternut squash seeds can be prepared in the same way.
10. Blend It Up: blending a nutrient-packed smoothie is a simple and delicious way to reduce food waste. While the stems, ends and peels of produce may not be appetizing in their whole form, adding them to a smoothie is a way to reap their many benefits. The stems of greens like kale and chard are packed with fibre and nutrients, making them a great addition to smoothies. The tops of beets, strawberries and carrots also make great add-ins. Other items that would otherwise be discarded can also be thrown into a nutritious blend, including fruit and vegetable peels, wilted herbs, overripe bananas and chopped broccoli stalks.
11. Make Homemade Stock: making a homemade stock is an easy way to use excess food. Sauté vegetable scraps like the tops, stalks, peels and any other leftover bits with some olive oil or butter, add water and let them simmer into an aromatic vegetable broth. Veggies aren’t the only scraps that can be transformed into a flavoursome stock — rather than letting the chicken carcass or meat bones leftover from dinner go to waste, simmer them with veggies, herbs and water to make a homemade stock that will put store-bought broth to shame.
12. Perk Up Your Water: many people don’t drink enough water simply because they don’t like the flavour, or lack thereof. Luckily, you can make water tastier and reduce your food waste impact at the same time. One of the easiest ways to increase your water intake is to make it taste good by using peels from citrus fruits, apples and cucumbers to add a kick to your glass of water or seltzer. Wilted herbs and berry tops also make excellent additions to your water bottle. After finishing your water, toss the leftover fruit or herbs into a smoothie for a zero-waste nutrition boost.
13. Keep Your Serving Sizes in Check: overeating is a problem for many people. Making sure your portion sizes stay within a healthy range doesn’t just help keep your weight down, it also reduces food waste. While you may not think twice about scraping the leftover food on your plate into the trash, remember that food waste has a major impact on the environment. Being more mindful of how hungry you actually are and practicing portion control are great ways to reduce food waste.
14. Get Friendly With Your Freezer: freezing food is one of the easiest ways to preserve it, and the types of food that take well to freezing are endless. For example, greens that are too soft to be used in your favourite salad can be put in freezer-safe bags or containers and used at a later date in smoothies and other recipes. Excess of herbs can be combined with olive oil and chopped garlic, then frozen in ice cube trays for a handy and delicious addition to sautés and other dishes. You can freeze leftovers from meals, excess produce from your favourite farm stand and bulk meals like soups and chilis — a great way to ensure you always have a healthy, home-cooked meal available.
15. Understand Expiration Dates: “sell by” and “expires on” are just two of the many confusing terms companies use on their food labels to let consumers know when a product will most likely go bad. In fact, the task is often left to food producers to determine the date they think a product is most likely to spoil by. The truth is, most food that has just passed its expiration date is still safe to eat.
The “Sell-By” date is not a safety date, it simply tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. However, you must not use any food or drink after the end of the “Use By” date on the label, even if it looks and smells fine, as that doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. Using it even a short time after this date could put your health at risk.
16. Compost If You Can: composting leftover food is a beneficial way to reuse food scraps, turning food waste into energy for plants. While not everyone has room for an outdoor composting system, there’s a wide range of countertop composting systems that make this practice easy and accessible for everyone, even those with limited space. An outdoor composter may work well for someone with a large garden, while a countertop composter is best for city dwellers with houseplants or small herb gardens.
17. Pack Your Lunch: although going out to lunch with co-workers, or grabbing a meal from your favourite restaurant may be enjoyable, it is also costly and can contribute to food waste. A helpful way to save money while reducing your carbon footprint is to bring your lunch to work with you. If you generate leftovers from home-cooked meals, pack them up for a satisfying and healthy lunch for your workday. If you’re strapped for time in the morning, try freezing your leftovers in portion-sized containers. That way, you’ll have pre-made, hearty lunches ready to go each morning.
18. Don’t Toss the Grounds: if you can’t fathom getting ready for your day without a hot cup of coffee, chances are you generate a lot of coffee grounds. Interestingly, this often-overlooked leftover has many uses. Those with a green thumb may be delighted to know that coffee grounds make excellent fertilizer for plants. The grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, nutrients that plants crave. Coffee grounds also make a fantastic natural mosquito repellent. Research has shown that sprinkling spent coffee grounds in grassy areas deters female mosquitos from laying eggs, reducing the population of these pesky insects.
19. Get Creative in the Kitchen: one of the great things about cooking your own food is that you can tweak recipes to your liking, adding new flavours and ingredients. Including parts of foods that aren’t usually used is an excellent way to repurpose scraps when you’re experimenting in the kitchen. Stems and stalks make tasty additions to sautés and baked dishes, while garlic and onion ends can bring flavour to stocks and sauces. Whipping up a fresh pesto made with broccoli stalks, soft tomatoes, wilted spinach or cilantro rather than the traditional basil is an inventive way to add a tasty twist to favourite dishes.
20. Pamper Yourself: if you want to save money while avoiding potentially harmful chemicals found in some skincare products, try preparing a scrub or mask at home. Avocados are packed with healthy fats, antioxidants and vitamin E, which makes them a perfect addition to a natural face mask. Combine overripe avocado with a bit of honey for a luxurious combination that can be used on the face or hair. Mixing used coffee grounds with a bit of sugar and olive oil makes for an invigorating body scrub and you can also apply cool, used tea bags or excess cucumber slices to your eyes to reduce puffiness.
The Bottom Line: there are endless ways you can reduce, reuse and recycle your food waste. Not only will the practical tips in this article help you waste less food, they may save you money and time as well. 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. Even minimal changes to the way you shop, cook and consume food will help reduce your impact on the environment. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
With a small amount of effort, you can cut your food waste dramatically, save money and time, and help take some pressure off Mother Nature.