Fun Fact: Making tiny changes in your life to cut down on food waste can help save you time and money.
Not So Fun Fact: Food waste is a much bigger problem than many people realize. Even with the efforts we’re making, busy schedules, misconceptions, and some hard-to-break habits cause us to miss some great opportunities to limit our household food waste.
According to the EPA, reducing food waste in your home will actually help address climate change, as 20% of total U.S. methane emissions (a powerful greenhouse gas) come from landfills. In other words, throwing out your unused food negatively contributes to global warming.
Plus, the more you toss out, the more you need to buy. The energy that goes into the production, harvest, transportation, and packaging of wasted food produces more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. What that means is if food waste were a country, it would be the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
But, there are countless ways we can all help, and here are 5 you can start doing today:
1. Shop in Your Fridge First
We know that all-too-familiar feeling where you look into the fridge and everything in there just isn’t enticing or exciting enough. But before heading out to a restaurant or the grocery store, get creative! Grab whatever you have and mix it up. Sure, staying in and cooking something unfamiliar and new is not as fun as going out, but leftovers are a common item that leads to food waste. In a study by the NRDC, they found that leftovers are the second most wasted category of food behind fruits and vegetables.
But that doesn’t mean leftovers have to be boring. You can still liven up the food you already have by designating one night a week for “whatever’s around.” Call it a potluck night, or a “use-it-up” meal. Either way, the food you already have can still be mixed up in interesting ways to make unexpected dishes that save you time and money, and that help protect our environment. Maybe it’s a casserole, or an omelette? How about a quesadilla? A leftover quesadilla?! Yes, please.
2. Make a Grocery List
Sure, it sounds simple, and that’s because it really is. Just by writing down what you need before you hit the grocery store, you’ll buy less on impulse. Get started by looking at what you already have at home and plan your meals and snacks for the week around that — especially around what will be expiring and going bad soon. Then, make your detailed shopping list with all the ingredients you need, and stick to it. Only buy what’s on the list, otherwise, things will surely go to waste.
Also be realistic with your meal planning. We often feel aspirational on the weekend, buying a good week’s worth of healthy meals, including fruits and veggies, but by Wednesday, we’re on UberEats. Then the fruits and veggies you planned for are going to waste, rotting away. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t order some takeout. Being realistic with your meal planning and grocery shopping should include some meals where you don’t cook and eat at home.
3. Shop More, Buy Less
Instead of making one big grocery trip that covers one or many weeks of meals, make a couple of quick, smaller trips to the store throughout your week. A stocked pantry and fridge might give you options, but it’s a certain recipe for spoiled, wasted food, especially as plans change and one meal turns into many through leftovers.
Planning to eat fresh, nutritious, healthy foods but only going to the store every two weeks simply doesn’t work. But if you’re shopping for fewer upcoming meals, you’re more likely to only buy what you need, especially since you know you’ll be back in a couple of days anyway.
4. Store Wisely
How you store your food can actually impact how quickly it ages. For example, did you know that potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, and onions should never be stored in the fridge?
And many fruits and vegetables produce more ethylene gas than others, which promotes ripening in foods and could lead to spoilage, so they must be stored separately from those that don’t. Bananas, avocados, peaches, and pears produce ethylene gas, while apples, leafy greens, berries, and peppers are more ethylene-sensitive.
Absolutely befriend your freezer, but think of it as short-term storage, not long-term. Otherwise, you might just leave perfectly good leftovers in there, slowly drying out when you could be enjoying them, saving money, and limiting food waste.
Also try practicing FIFO in your fridge. It stands for First In, First Out. When unpacking your groceries, place older products in the front and new ones in the back. This way you’ll use the older stuff first so it’s less likely to expire.
5. Enjoy It All
Think about all the parts of the fruits and veggies left behind — the skins, the stems, the seeds, the stalks. They usually go right into the trash or garbage disposal, but they’re all actually quite valuable to cutting back on food waste. From carrot peels and broccoli stalks to celery ends and herb stalks, you can use it all to get more nutrition while also throwing away less food. While the parts of veggies left behind are often great sources of fiber and nutrition, make sure it’s actually edible first. Not all veggie scraps can be eaten, but a quick Google search will help you know what to enjoy and what to compost.
Struggling to find a use for all these scraps? We get it, they’re not always very appetizing by themselves. So, just blend them up into a healthy smoothie. This way you get more of the vital vitamins and nutrients your body needs in a delicious drink.
Nutritious skin, seeds, and stems? Might sound a bit scary at first, but that’s exactly what we do in our ZENB Veggie Sticks — as many parts of the vegetable as possible for as much flavor and fiber as possible. You have to try it to believe how good it is. And, don’t forget: it’s made with you and the planet in mind.
So, what did we learn? It can all be summed up into “Buy what you need, eat what you buy.” It’s that easy. And, by doing that, you’re helping to cut down on food waste and helping the Earth thrive.
Have any other tips & ideas for cutting back on food waste at home? We definitely want to hear them. Reach out on social or send them to us at community@ZENB.com.