Action Required: Reducing Food Waste

We toss out a whole lot of food each year (many, many millions of tons), and the costs (many, many billions of dollars) are downright shocking. But it is not hard to to break the cycle and recoup lost money and resources. Here’s the scoop.

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Next up, as we continue our focus on reducing household waste – food. As of 2014, the average person in the United States generated 4.44 pounds of food waste each day – more than 1,600 pounds of waste each year.

While the per-capita generation of waste has actually decreased slightly since 2000, as the population grows, the country’s total waste generation (258.5 million tons in 2014) continues to increase. What exactly are Americans most likely to dispose of? Plastics (18.5%) and textiles (10.8%) are two main sources, but food waste (21.6%) surpasses them both.

Tossing foodstuff has serious consequences. Growing food is extremely resource-intensive. Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water consumption in the United States, which means that spoiled food translates to wasted resources. Food waste equates to 30-40 percent of all food produced in this country. And in 2010, we threw out food valued at around $161 billion, a total greater than the current GDP of 143 other countries.

Making the picture even gloomier is that when food decomposes it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills are the third-largest contributor to methane emissions.

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways that you can help to reduce food waste, and many of these strategies will not only help our planet, but also your wallet.

Plan your meals: Reduce food waste by planning meals in advance and only buying what you will need. These two steps save time during the week and reduce the likelihood that stored food will spoil and go uneaten. Or, if you are like me and do not have this kind of forethought, break the takeout cycle by grabbing what you need from the grocery store every couple of days. I find a perverse kind of pleasure in friends visiting, opening my fridge and finding “nothing” to eat.

Compost: Spoiled food happens, as do orange peels, apple cores and coffee grounds. If you like to garden, try acquiring or creating your own compost bin. Otherwise, some municipalities offer compost collection for a small fee. My previous apartment complex in California provided a large container for compost materials, but I’m not so lucky at my new place here in Colorado. I have been toying with the idea of trying out a VermiHut, but have not committed yet.

Get creative in the kitchen: Homemade soup is easy to make, and can be the perfect solution for vegetables and many fruits, if they are starting to get soft. Roast root vegetables and tomatoes, make pesto from greens, and freeze fruit for smoothies.

Store foods properly: Learn how to maximize the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Check out our Unsolicited Advice article for storage guidance.

Try imperfect fruits and vegetables: Some produce gets tossed before it even reaches grocery shelves, because it is not in “perfect” condition (which typically amounts to minor blemishes or irregular shapes). At least two companies have been founded with the mission of addressing this concern. These businesses will deliver in-season, imperfect produce to you at discounted prices, helping divert the flow of quality produce from farm to landfill. Services are geographically limited to Washington, D.C., and California metros at the moment, but if you live in the Bay Area, Orange County, Los Angeles, Maryland, District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia or New Jersey, consider giving it a try.

*All foods used for this shoot were not wasted. The KHS team had smoothies and pasta for dinner!