Food Waste and What to Do About It
Did you know that every year in the United States, approximately 31% (133 billion pounds!) of the overall food supply is wasted? From uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce, most people don't realize how much food they throw away every day. When food is tossed aside, so too are opportunities for improved food security, economic growth, and environmental prosperity.
And now that the holidays are upon us, food waste will only increase. Whether it’s your own small holiday party or a large family dinner at grandma’s house, there will likely be a lot of wasted food.
Why is this a problem? Around 94% of the food we throw out ends up in landfills or other facilities. However, there are many benefits to sustainably managing and reducing our food waste.
- You save money when you buy less food.
- Less food waste leads to more landfill space and less methane emissions.
- It conserves energy and resources by preventing pollution from growing, transporting, and selling food.
- Untouched food that would have otherwise been wasted can be donated to those who might not have a steady food supply.
There are a lot of ways to reduce wasted food. Planning, storing, and being thriftier with food can help your household waste less food. Below are some tips to help you:
- Make a grocery list with weekly meals in mind. This saves money and time, and may even lead to eating healthier food. If you buy no more than what you expect to use, you will be more likely to keep it fresh and use it all.
- Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and buy only the things needed for those meals.
- Avoid overbuying by including quantities on your shopping list. For example: Apples – Enough for 5 lunches.
- Check your refrigerator and pantry before you shop to avoid buying food you already have.
- Determine the best way to store the fruits and vegetables you enjoy. Some last longer inside your refrigerator and some last longer at room temperature.
- Many fruits give off gases as they ripen, causing other nearby produce to spoil faster. Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves, and store fruits and vegetables in different containers.
- Berries mold quickly if washed too soon. To prevent mold, wait to wash berries until you’re ready to eat them.
- Be mindful of ingredients and leftovers you already have that you need to use.
- Shop your refrigerator first! Cook or eat what you already have at home before buying more.
- If you have produce that’s past its prime, it may still be fine for cooking. Think about making soups, casseroles, and stir-fries.
- Learn the difference between “sell-by,” “use-by,” “best-by,” and expiration dates. The USDA has an app that provides guidance on safe handling, preparation, and storage of more than 650 food and beverage items. With the app, you can track storage times for different foods, learn cooking tips, and get safety recall alerts.
- Plan an “eat the leftovers” night each week.
- When at a restaurant, order only what you can finish. Ask about portion sizes and included side dishes to gauge how much food you’re getting. Take home the leftovers and keep them for your next meal.
Buy Food in Bulk
Bulk products are often cheaper than buying food on a smaller scale. Buying in bulk is also better for the environment in several ways. Packaging makes up the majority of the litter that ends up on beaches and waterways, which can harm wildlife. Plus, about one quarter of the waste in landfills is packaging. Bulk products have little or no packaging, helping to keep our water clean and reduce waste.
Compost Your Food Scraps
You’re bound to create some amount of food scraps. But instead of throwing them away, consider starting a compost pile. It’s a very easy way to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills.
To learn more about composting, read the Take Care of Texas "Guide to Yard Care" or watch the video "How to Start Composting in Your Own Backyard" for instructions on starting a compost pile.