As Earth Day approaches, let’s be reminded that the foods we eat have an impact on our planet. Getting food from farm to fork spends 10% of the total U.S. energy budget1, uses 50% of our land2, and swallows 80% of all freshwater consumed in the United States3. Yet, 40% of food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten4.
Food is too good to waste. When we throw away food, we also waste the energy, land, and water that was needed to produce, package, and transport it. Wasted food is the single largest component of municipal solid waste in the U.S.5 What’s more, when wasted food sits in a landfill, it produces methane—a greenhouse gas about 30 times more potent that carbon dioxide6. Even the most sustainably farmed food does us no good if no one eats it.
If you’re interested in doing something good for the planet this Earth Month, curbing your food waste is an excellent place to start. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll save money. The average American household tosses 25% of the food they buy. For a family of four, this amounts to about $2,275 each year7.
Below are some simple ways to waste less food. Commit to two or three (or more!) of these strategies this Earth Month. Even small changes make a big difference over time.
- Make a list (and remember to bring it with you!). Stick to your list to avoid impulse buys, which often go unused.
- Buy only what you need. Opt for by-the-pound pricing in the produce, seafood, and deli departments. If a perishable item is packaged in a larger container than you need (for example, you’d prefer to buy only a few basil leaves rather than a whole container), one of our employees would be happy to break it down for you.
- Make smaller, more frequent shopping trips. You’ll have access to more fresh foods and you’ll trim waste.
- Purchase a combination of delicate produce items (like berries, greens, tomatoes, and avocadoes) and more durable items (like broccoli, oranges, cabbage, and potatoes). Eat the delicate items first—they’ll spoil faster.
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Everything looks appetizing when you’re hungry, and you’ll probably buy too much food. Keep a snack in your bag and tear into it if needed.
- Head home after your shopping trip. Try to make food shopping your last errand of the day. If it’s a long ride home or you must make a stop after shopping, keep a cooler in your trunk.
- Conquer clutter. Out of sight is out of mind (and usually, wasted), so avoid overstuffing your fridge and freezer.
- Practice FIFO—or “first in, first out”. When you buy fresh groceries, move older items to the front and place the newer items near the back.
- Designate an “eat me soon” area of your fridge, and place items there are nearing expiration.
- Move fruits and vegetables out of the crisper drawer—it’s too easy to forget they’re in there. Keep them in the center of your fridge instead.
- Choose transparent storage containers. Knowing what’s inside a container will help you remember to eat it.
- Avoid washing your fruits and vegetables until you’re ready to eat them. Too much moisture will cause these items to rot faster.
- Treat fresh herbs like fresh flowers. Store them in a jar or small vase with an inch or two of water at the bottom. Cover the top with a plastic produce bag. They’ll stay fresh for weeks this way.
- Remove milk from the refrigerator door. The door is the warmest area of the fridge, so keep more perishable items in the interior. And remember, the lower the shelf, the cooler the temperature.
- Store uncut avocadoes, bananas, cantaloupe, garlic, kiwi, onions, pineapple, potatoes, and tomatoes at room temperature. Citrus fruits can be stored at either room temperature or in the fridge, but never in a plastic bag.
Know Your Dates
- “Use by” and “best by” dates are manufacturers’ suggestions for peak quality. Because manufacturers aim to preserve their brand’s reputation, these dates are often overly conservative.
- Label dates do not indicate food safety. Eggs or yogurt, for example, are often safe to consume for weeks past the “best by” date. Use your senses to determine if something is safe enough to eat.
- Label dates are not regulated (except in the case of infant formula).
Use It Up
- Love your leftovers. Have a leftover night, or box them up and eat them for lunch the next day.
- Make a “clean the fridge” stew. Throw in whatever you’ve got on hand, like vegetables, fresh herbs, last night’s stir-fry, potatoes or onions that are beginning to sprout, and half-used containers of broth.
- Can’t finish your greens before they get slimy? Opt for baby kale or baby spinach. These greens are tender enough to make fresh salads, yet hearty enough to stand up to some heat. Sauté them or add them to stew when they begin to wilt.
- Can’t finish a loaf of bread before it turns moldy? Store it in the fridge or freezer instead of on the counter top. Frozen slices of bread can go right from the freezer into the toaster.
- Repurpose stale bread or bagels into breadcrumbs, bread pudding, croutons, or crostini.
- Use smaller plates and bowls. Opt for no larger than 9-inch dinner plates and 12-ounce cereal bowls. In addition to curbing waste, research suggests that we eat fewer calories when we use smaller dinnerware—and we don’t even notice! Good for the environment and your waistline.
- Enable seconds rather than over-portioning firsts. Make it easy for family and guests to help themselves to more food by serving family-style.
- If children are prone to over-serve themselves, portion their meals for them.
- When dining out, ask your server about portion sizes before ordering. Inquire if half sizes are available, or have your leftovers boxed up (it’s not faux-pas!) if you’re unable to finish a whole portion.
Look out for more sustainable-eating strategies throughout Earth Month!
- M. Webber, "How to Make the Food System More Energy Efficient," Scientific American, Decemeber 29, 2011.
- USDA Economic Research Service, “Major Uses of Land in the United States,” Pub. 2002/eIB-14, 2002, http://www.ers.usda.gov/ publications/eIB14/eib14a.pdf.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), economic Research Service, economic Bulletin No. (eIB-16), “Agricultural Resources and environmental Indicators,” Chapter 2.1, July 2006, http://www.ers. usda.gov/publications/arei/eib16/.
- K.D. Hall, J. Guo, M. Dore, C.C. Chow, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its environmental Impact,” PLoS ONe 4(11):e7940, 2009.
- Gunders, D. (2012). Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. Natural Resources Defense Council.
- Understanding Global Warming Potentials. (2017, February 14). Retrieved March 29, 2017, from https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/understanding-global-warming-potentials
- Bloom, J. (2010). Home Is Where the Waste Is. In American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) (p. 187). Philadelphia, PA: First Da Capo Press.