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Here’s how to reduce your food waste in 5 easy steps.
The problem with food waste
- 30% of all food in the US is thrown out (UN Environment)
- Food waste is often incinerated, which causes pollution… instead of feeding hungry mouths, or nourishing soil as compost.
- Food waste harms the environment, which is already stressed by food production’s demand for land, water, and the associated release of greenhouse gas emissions.
What you can do
- Plan meals ahead of time
- Use leftovers creatively, in multiple ways
- Shop responsibly, with a purpose
- Store food intelligently; don’t let it go bad too soon
- Support local initiatives, there are good-neighbor ways to help
Bottom line As individuals, we can reduce the environmental consequences of food waste by making simple adjustments to our food habits. Cultivating awareness around food waste will help us work towards a more sustainable food system.
During my first semester of college, after a late night at the library, I walked past the campus cafe, which was about to close. I noticed that the shelves were full of perfectly good muffins, sandwiches, and cookies. I asked the workers what happened to all of the food at the end of the day. They told me that the university made them throw out all of the food, instead of donating it or taking it home to feed their families.
Coming from Guatemala, where millions of people don’t have enough to eat and are told never to waste food, I was shocked.
According to UN Environment, the United States throws out about 30% of all food.
The Issue with Food Waste
There is a serious issue with food waste. The reality is that almost everybody has wasted food in their lifetime, whether you let groceries spoil or dispose of the leftover food on your dinner plate.
Yes, in the United States, 33% of perfectly good food finds its way to the trash can. Rather than filling hungry mouths, billions of dollars worth of food ends up providing more trouble than value.
In New York City, on average, households produce 8.4 pounds of food waste per household per week. 68% of the total food disposed is still edible!
That means that individuals in NYC dispose vast amounts of food, in a city where thousands of homeless people are looking for something to eat. This is also a city pushing for serious environmental reform, but food waste remains a critical issue. With even basic food waste initiatives, restaurants, grocery stores, and cafes could create programs to give their food to shelters, rather than throwing it away.
And yes, you’re thinking what I’m thinking. This food waste problem is only amplified by the crisis of COVID-19, with 1) more restaurants struggling to pay rent and 2) more families struggling to put food on the table.
The Environmental Impact of Food Waste
Food production requires the use of land, water, energy, processing, packaging, and transportation for agriculture, fishing, livestock, and beyond. This process is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Food is a basic human need, and its production will inevitably produce emissions; however, an unnecessarily large amount of food produced gets thrown away.
If individuals in the United States stopped food waste, about 11%, or nearly half, of the emissions from the food system would decrease. As it stands today, uneaten, essential food products are causing a large proportion of total emissions.
A significant amount of the waste produced in NYC is sent to landfills or incinerated. These outcomes release toxic content and greenhouse gas emissions, plus they’re quite expensive.
Despite this growing trend, there are many ways to reduce food waste at the consumer level. By doing so, we can begin to decrease the overall emissions caused by waste.
Here’s how to reduce food waste (as a consumer)
As we transition toward less waste, food awareness is essential. What are the negative impacts of a particular food or meal? Where did my food come from? What does that process look like?
By making small changes to the way you cook, shop, and eat, you can prevent wasting both food and money. The demand for food is growing. As such, it is crucial to encourage the sustainable production and consumption of food.
Yes, food waste is a complicated issue. But here is a simple solution: consume food consciously, and plan ahead.
These five steps can take you from food waster to guilt-free taster:
1. Plan ahead
- Before cooking a meal, take note of serving sizes, how hungry you are, and how many people you are serving. If you are serving yourself food, from a cafeteria or other establishment, only take what you will eat. You can always grab more if you are still hungry.
- When ordering food at a restaurant or take-out, take into account the size of the dish and consider sharing a plate or asking for a to-go container (and be sure to eat it before it spoils).
2. Use leftovers
Sometimes, leftovers are inevitable. However, it is important to either eat the meal again or use the leftovers creatively to create new dishes. Put leftovers in clear containers at the front of the fridge or pantry to ensure that they are top of mind when you reach for your next meal.
3. Shop responsibly
Before going to the grocery store for more food, note what you already have and what you need to avoid unnecessary purchases. Planning meals in advance of your grocery store outing will prevent food waste and help save you money.
4. Store food correctly
Knowing how to store food, like whether fresh produce goes in the fridge can prevent hurried ripening. Freezing food, like bread and fruit, and pickling food also lengthens their lifetime. If you have significant amounts of food like canned vegetables and rice that will soon expire, you can donate it to people in need.
5. Support local initiatives
In New York City, for example, you can see brown bins for organic waste, or compost, use these bins instead of sending food scraps to the landfill. The compost can be used to nourish the soil at local gardens and farms!