Have you ever considered your sustainable habits? What do you do to reduce your carbon footprint? Do you commit to “going green?” Do you consider yourself resourceful or conservative? Whatever you do in terms of sustainable living, we can all do more to lessen the impact on the Earth.
Perhaps one of the easiest things we can do is reduce food waste. Everyone has to eat, right? Above you can see the Environmental Protection Agency’s hierarchy for reducing food waste.
There is an estimated 6 million pounds of food thrown away every month in the US (1). That’s the same weight as about 240 school buses. Further, nearly $165 billion dollars are spent on producing just the food we throw away (1). But, the effort of one person makes a huge difference! Below, we provide some Earth friendly habits that can help reduce food waste.
First, buy only what you can eat. This probably sounds like a no brainer. Life is hectic and we don’t always remember those impulse buys, like a new fruit you wanted to try. To avoid this type of food waste, meal plan and carefully think through your grocery list. As you prepare your list, check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what you already have on hand. Stick to your list when you shop, and make sure to eat all of the delicious meals (and leftovers!) you have prepared.
In addition to mindful meal planning, you can also intentionally plan meals and snacks that will use similar ingredients. For example, celery typically comes in a large bunch even though a recipe typically calls for 2 or 3 stalks, so find a way to use all of it. Personally, I clean and chop the whole bunch at a time. I will portion out a few stalks to be frozen and later used in soups, stews, or my favorite, chicken pot pie filled with vegetables.
I chop these stalks up small (dice), measure the amount I need for each recipe, and freeze them. Then I cut a few stalks into logs for snacks during the week. I like celery, but don’t want to eat it every day, so I might chop four stalks or so into three-inch sections.
These snack-sized pieces will be stored in reusable containers in the refrigerator, and then they are ready to grab and go during the week. Any of the remaining celery will be used in that week’s lunch or dinner, such as tuna salad sandwiches.
Finally, I will freeze the tops and the bottom of the celery bunch. You can save other vegetable scraps too, like onions, bell peppers, and lettuce, in the freezer until you have collected enough to boil down into a homemade vegetable stock later. Voila! The entire bunch of celery has been used without wasting any of it. Using an approach like this may also help you learn new kitchen skills and give you opportunities to use foods in new ways.
What if you end up with more than you need? Donate it! Share meals with a friend, extra ingredients with soup kitchens, and packaged items with donation centers or shelters. Rerouting these extras can help improve the livelihood of those in your community while also reducing waste.
According to the Food Recovery Hierarchy (2), the third level of prime waste reduction would be to donate appropriate food scraps to local farms to feed animals. If you live in the city this might not be practical, but some foods are safe for dogs and cats. According to the American Kennel Club, fully cooked eggs are perfectly safe for your furry friend. If you have a hard time finishing a dozen eggs before they go bad, treat your pup or feline friend to some scrambled eggs. This is an excellent way to reduce food waste, but make sure to use the eggs before they go bad!
Further down the hierarchy the EPA recommends composting, but check with housing rules and decide if this is practical for you. My mom always puts eggshells on her roses. It may not seem like much, but even these smaller actions matter and help divert waste buildup in landfills.
Besides reducing food waste, we can also reduce the waste from the containers food comes in. Cleaned out plastics (like milk jugs and yogurt cups) and flattened boxes can be recycled at most recycling centers. The most important thing to remember when recycling is to pay attention to what items your local site accepts. Make sure that no trash accidentally gets mixed in and remove all food from recyclable items. Even sticky glass jars for jellies and jams can easily be cleaned with some hot soapy water.
Overall, there is a lot that can be done to reduce our impact on the Earth and its resources. If everyone worked a little harder to throw away less food, then we all would be well on our way to adjusting our habits to become more conscientious of our actions and their impacts on the Earth. So, grab your pen and paper and aim to make your mark, or rather…not make your mark, by developing more sustainable habits.
— Jenissa Gordon is a graduate student Dietetic Intern with the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia.
Food Forward. Food Waste in America. 2015. Accessed February 28, 2017. Available at: https://foodforward.org/2015/10/food-waste-in-america/?gclid=CjwKEAiA3NTFBRDKheuO6IG43VQSJAA74F77KxMdi91o9GjsXSY9HIwMS-2p2SVdq3zJv3lWyJzgaBoCDEPw_wcB
US Environmental Protection Agency. Sustainable Management of Food. 2017. Accessed February 28, 2017. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food