Reducing food waste is good for the planet and your wallet. Here’s how to do it more effectively

By Casey Barber, CNN

The statistics are alarming: In the United States, we generate approximately 35 million tons of food waste each year, and as individual families, we waste about 30 percent of the food we buy. For a family of four with a monthly food budget of $1,000, this is like throwing $300 directly into the trash each month.

Not only are our personal budgets affected by food waste, but it also contributes to the ongoing climate crisis. The annual amount of water and energy wasted from uneaten food in America each year would be enough to power 50 million homes, and the amount of greenhouse gases from food waste equals the carbon dioxide emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants, according to it. to a 2021 report from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

At home, the primary problem is that we buy too much food and then throw out too much food because of perceived spoilage or spoilage, or the ingredients “do not match food preferences” or we can’t prepare them, according to a 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

It is true that there are much more factors that contribute to waste within the food system than just consumer behaviour. “It’s much bigger than a consumer problem,” said Pamela Koch, associate professor of nutrition education at Teachers College Columbia University.

But that does not mean that our personal efforts can still have an effect. “There is a lot that consumers can do,” said Ronnie Neff, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the co-authors of the National Academies report.

Neff said the process begins with “getting to know what we’re getting rid of and what led to it.” “If we understand our own patterns and what’s going on in our homes, the next step is to ‘know how to prepare [our] environment to facilitate avoiding food waste as much as possible.”

Here are expert strategies for reducing food waste and saving a few dollars in the process.

Curb Impulsive Food Purchases

The first step begins very honestly at the grocery store.

“I’m a public health person, so I’ll say one of the challenges is that we want to be healthier, and we have more visibility about it when we’re at the grocery store and we see all that comes out of it,” Neff said. However, it’s important to “be realistic about what we’re actually going to eat,” and realize that wasted produce doesn’t help anyone’s health.

Plus, two-for-one deals on perishables and other bulk purchases are only good for our budget if we’re going to consume all the food we buy. “Sales are convincing us to buy more than we need,” Neff said. “It’s not savings if we’re going to throw it away.”

Before you add that big bundle of chicken breasts or that big container of blueberries to your grocery cart, ask yourself if you know what you’re going to do with it. This is where the meal plan comes in.

Embrace meal planning and leftovers

Meal planning can be a difficult hurdle for many families, but as with maintaining most habits, you can start with a few meals a week and build from there. “A little planning ultimately saves time and money,” Koch said. “It’s a small investment to make a big return.”

Koch suggests that the main person in each family’s cooking/meal preparation should start “thinking about the next week and what’s going on with your family.” This is how you plan, by noting how many dinners will be eaten at home, and how many commitments, such as sports practices, music and business trips, will affect the meals.

There are a few factors that can help make meal planning easier.

Stock your home with “go-to ingredients,” as Koch calls them, that can be used in multiple dishes rather than shopping for an ingredient “just for one recipe will still be there because you don’t know what to do with it either he-she.” If your family loves Tex-Mex food, ingredients like tortillas, onions, sauce, beans, and basic spices like cumin, oregano, garlic, and chili powder can always come in handy to prepare a meal.

The “cook once, every twice” mentality helps lighten the burden of meal planning. “I’m the queen of leftovers because it helps directly reduce food waste and saves a lot of time,” Koch said. “I’ll sometimes cook two days in a row knowing I have leftovers.”

Next, keep an inventory of what you already have. Having a playlist of all meal essentials in stock, like canned beans, pasta, and grains, and foods in the freezer, like vegetables, proteins, and frozen leftovers, will remind you of what’s available and ready to use. When you don’t have meal ideas, look at the menu.

Finally, if your family suffers from “refrigerator blindness” when it comes to leftovers and available food, try these strategies to see what works best for you.

  • Keep a roll of painter’s tape and a Sharpie marker in the kitchen to label all containers with the dates they were cooked and refrigerate. Use the “first in, first out” rule to keep old items closer to the front of the refrigerator, or designate a specific shelf for food that needs to be eaten first.
  • Stick the magnetic board prominently on the refrigerator to list available leftovers and/or any ingredients, such as fresh produce, that should be used on a particular date.
  • For tech savvy, apps like Fridge Tracker, Fridge Hero, and CozZo can remind you of what’s in your fridge and when you should eat the rest of your food outside.

Understand what “best in” dates really mean

A common misconception is that dates on food packages have a government-specified expiration date. Neff explained that date labels like “best before” and “sell by” don’t mean that the food in question will suddenly go bad or make us sick as that date passes.

With the exception of infant formula, food product dating is not required by federal law, and these voluntary dates are intended to serve as standards for food quality, not safety, according to the USDA.

“Because the standard is voluntary, it is inconsistent,” Neff said, which is why terms like “sell by,” “use by,” and “best if used by” can be confusing to the consumer.

She explained that “best if used by ‘meaning after this point, quality may decline.’ As long as the food in question is stored properly (ie by following appropriate refrigeration recommendations) or sealed and unused, there is no need to dispose of it once the date on the packaging is marked. off the calendar.

Composting is not a free jailbreak card

Experts warn that composting is not an excuse to get rid of excess food. Compost is still a form of food waste in that it wastes resources that have already been invested such as labour, water and fuel that were used to grow, process and transport food.

But it’s also not a waste of time. “If you’re cooking at home, there’s still a lot of unused leftovers.” Koch said. “Composting is worth doing — it works on several levels.”

In 2018, 2.6 million tons of food waste was composted instead of going to landfill, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many cities across the United States now have compost collection or takedown programs available to families who do not wish to maintain their compost bins.

“If you have good food, you have to find a way to eat it first,” Neff said.

While most food stores do not accept donations of prepared foods from non-commercial kitchens, home garden vendors may be able to donate fresh produce. Neff recommends Ample Harvest, a registry resource for finding local food stores that accept surplus production.

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Casey Barber is a food writer, artist, and editor for Good. food. stories.

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