How To Root Out Food Waste At (And Away From) Home

Damn Food Waste Amsterdam

We cover food waste often – and justifiably so.  The Washington Post covered food waste in 2014 and had this to say about it,

“In 2012, the most recent year for which estimates are available, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s almost 20 percent more food than the United States tossed out in 2000, 50 percent more than in 1990, and nearly three times what Americans discarded in 1960, when the country threw out a now seemingly paltry 12.2 million tons.”

You see where the trends are heading.

Food waste, a good thing?

Tackling food waste at home does take some effort though. As it turns out, some food waste can be avoided altogether but isn’t due to confusion surrounding food labeling.  For example, researchers at Norwegian University’s Science and Technology department recently found that cutting out food waste is more effective than collecting food waste and turning it into biogas (from a C02 emissions perspective).

“…encouraging people to work harder to cut food waste instead of collecting food waste and turning it into biogas cuts energy impacts more than biogas production and use, the researchers found. Of equal importance, cutting food waste also helps cut the use of phosphorus, which is an increasingly scare but essential plant nutrient that is a key component of fertilizer. This matters because fully one-third of all food produced globally ends up as waste. “Our work shows that policy and incentives should prioritize food waste prevention and that most savings can be had through a combination of prevention and recycling,” said Helen Hamilton, a PhD candidate at the university’s Industrial Ecology Programme.””

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Turkish food spread

By choosing not to eat out you could potentially save hundreds of dollars a week. Image Credit – Coal Miki (Flickr)

Several years ago we detailed one person’s take on tackling food waste, Cathy Erway. Erway is the author of The Art of Eating In.  In her book, Erway took her own experiment to an extreme level and avoided dining out for an entire two years.

By the end of her experiment, she’d saved over $7,000!  These days, Erway chronicles her culinary adventures with the blog Not Eating Out In New York as well as hosting the weekly podcast Eat Your Words on the Heritage Radio Network.

By choosing to eat in (like Erway), you could potentially save hundreds of dollars a week.  Speaking of a week, why not challenge yourself to eating in for just one week and track your savings and waste reduction. Do you think you could do it? 

It’s all part of the plan

Planning meals one week in advance is generally the most effective way to reduce food waste, but for many people that is not practical. The key to planning and reducing your food waste is being realistic.

If you know you are going to have a busy morning one day in the week and it may be unlikely that you will pack your lunch that day do not purchase food that you need to pack. Same goes for dinner. If you think you have to work late one night, plan on having a fast meal to prepare or a pre-made meal from the freezer (frozen leftovers, not a prepackaged meal).

Some of the best laid plans are thwarted by unseen issues like traffic, train delays, or an emergency at work.  So do the best you can, but don’t let it consume you.

Food waste reduction is on the menu

Chinese take out

Takeout and delivery restaurants are notorious for loading you up with everything from polystyrene foam boxes to plastic silverware and packets of pepper. Image Credit – Cameron (Flickr)

If eating in regularly is not a viable option for you, there are ways in which you can reduce takeout waste. Takeout and delivery restaurants are notorious for loading you up with everything from polystyrene foam boxes to plastic silverware and packets of pepper.

Reducing this unnecessary waste, however, is easier than you think. Here are three tips which would help along the way.

  1. Just say no – It really is that easy. Oftentimes if you’re ordering in or carrying out, you can often request no plates, napkins or plastic cutlery. This will cut down enormously on waste. The disposables may be handy for a picnic, but are they really necessary when you’re eating in your own kitchen?
  1. Reuse your to-go containers – Polystyrene foam containers are usually the packaging material of choice for many restaurants. It’s lightweight and insulated to preserve food. However, it’s hard to recycle, and many cities have actually banned it. An alternative popular choice for eateries is containers made from plastic #1 or #2 that even include lids. While these are more easily recyclable, they’re even better to keep around the house for packing sandwiches or storing leftovers.  As for those aluminum bowls common to calzones and noodles, this material can be reused over and over again. Simply wash, dry and store.
  1. Compost your leftovers – Composting can be confusing, but there are so many simple things in your takeout dinner that can go in that bin. Non-greasy vegetables, noodles, fruit peelings and even napkins can be composted.  Compact composting has come a long way over the last several years. If you don’t have time, space or a backyard you can still compost.

Rebecca Louie (aka The Compostess) recently shared her compost intel with our readers. Louie is author of Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small-Space Living.  When it comes to urban composting, Louie had this to say;

There are many surprising benefits to composting in the city. Aside from the obvious environmental bonuses of diverting organics from the landfills to make a nutritious, rich soil amendment, composting is a great way to build community, make friends and have fun. Community composting efforts such as scrap drop offs programs, community gardens, school classrooms and even workplaces are fantastic centers where like-minded people can share the space, responsibilities and materials required for composting. Sometimes, it does take a village to raise a compost pile! I also think that composting can be a gateway drug into activities like gardening, cooking and various creative paths in upcycling. Plus, it’s a great way to reducing the time we spend peering into screens!

Don’t get overwhelmed by the process.   You’re probably not going to eliminate food waste altogether right off the bat.  These tips however should help you along the way.

Savor not only the food but the journey!

Feature image courtesy of Ted van den Bergh (Flickr)

 

Chase Ezell

Chase has served in various public relations, communications and sustainability roles. He is a former managing editor for Earth911.com.

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