From scraping leftovers into the trash to tossing food on its expiry date, we are all guilty of creating food waste at one point or another—and it may be more than you think. Collectively, America produces a whopping 80 billion pounds of food waste annually, which is approximately the size of the Empire State Building. This wastes not only the food itself but also the water and energy used to make it. However, the good news is this doesn’t have to be our future if we start making more mindful choices in our kitchen.
Whether you are just starting to transition to a zero waste home or are well on your way, you can use these 6 tips to start reducing food waste today. Both the environment and your grocery bill will thank you!
1. Reuse Food Scraps
We can define zero food waste as keeping as much as we can out of the landfill. And one simple way to start doing that is by rethinking your scraps. Here are a few fun and delicious ideas to get you started.
Reconsider the Peeling: Scrub vegetables like potatoes and carrots instead of peeling them. Speaking of peeling, don’t let your banana peels go to waste as they are great for making vegetarian pulled “pork”, a bacon alternative, or banana tea.
Make Broth: Save a container in the freezer with any onion skins, garlic peels, potato bits, herb stems, etc. Once full, dump them in a pot, cover with water, and simmer with a few spices to make vegetable broth. This broth is a great low-sodium base for soups, pasta dishes, or even just for sipping on its own. Chicken or turkey bones can also be boiled to make chicken stock in a similar fashion.
Regrow: Cut the bottoms off green onions and place the base with the white bulb in water to regrow them. This method also works with leeks, lettuce, celery, and bok choy.
Dye It: Onion skins, outer red cabbage leaves, beet peels, wilted spinach, and orange peels can all be used for making natural dyes. Just cover 1 cup of scraps with double the water and boil for an hour. Once cool, these colorful liquids can dye everything from fabric to Easter eggs.
Compost: For anything that can’t get reused, chuck it into the compost bin. Using a compost bin won’t only keep your garbage from smelling, but it also allows the food to decompose without releasing methane—unlike food in a landfill site. See if your city has a compost program or start your own backyard compost pile.
2. Plan Your Meals
Before heading to the grocery store, plan out your meals for the week. This way, you’ll know the exact quantity for all the ingredients, which will prevent overbuying. To further the effectiveness of this step, you may also want to plan meals with similar ingredients to use everything in its entirety.
3. Shop the Farmer’s Market
It can be hard to assess how long something has been on a shelf at a grocery store, which is one reason farmers’ markets are ideal. At a farmer’s market or similar venue, you get the perk of being able to ask how long ago something was picked. How does this prevent food waste? Imported produce has already used some of its lifespan traveling, so a fresher alternative will last longer, giving it a better chance of being fully used. As a bonus, farmer’s markets are also great places to scope out produce with no packaging.
4. Understand expiry dates
If food has reached the expiry date it has on the packaging, it doesn’t have to head for the bin in most cases—contrary to popular belief. Here are a few different phrases you will come across and what they mean.
Use by or best by: In this case, the date shown here is when the product’s quality and taste may start to decline. This should only be considered a “throw out” date for baby formula and meal replacements.
Sell by: Simply tells the stores the last day they can have the product on their shelves.
If you are going to abide by the printed date on any product, make it meat. While most things can be tested with a quick smell or taste, meat can have harmful pathogens past expiry, even if it smells fine. For more information, consult the USDA food safety guidelines.
5. Prioritise Food Close to Expiry
Speaking of expiry, consider sectioning off a portion of your fridge and cupboard specifically for things that are close to spoiling. This ensures that it doesn’t get pushed to the back and forgotten. Plus, if anyone is looking for a snack, that should become the go-to place to check first.
If you find you have a lot of vegetables about to go south, soup and stir fry are always a good option. Have fruit that’s not very crisp? Throw it in a smoothie or muffins. You can also use a recipe finder that will suggest recipes specifically for the ingredients you have on hand. All you have to do is type in what you’ve got and it will generate a list of delicious options.
6. Store Food Correctly
By properly storing leftovers and produce, it will stay fresh longer—and this doesn’t have to involve plastic wrap.
Beeswax wraps are a reusable option that comes in a variety of sizes. They are made from 100% cotton, beeswax, and sometimes pine resin or jojoba oil, which allows the wraps to stick to themselves as well as dishware. These generally last around a year and can be refreshed by melting more beeswax on them in the oven. Alternatively, when they are no longer sticky, they can also be cut up and composted or used as a fire starter.
Containers with lids also work great for leftovers and meal planning. Only have plastic containers? While plastic is commonly touted as a sin of zero waste, you should use these containers if you have them on hand. Alternatively, empty jars from pasta sauce or other food containers can also get upcycled into food storage.
Assessing your food waste and taking steps to reduce it can save the environment and your wallet. By making small and simple changes today, we can start making an impact on the future—and with all the fun and delicious ways to reduce your food waste, why wait!?