Did you know that worldwide, we throw away a third of our food?
Worse, here in America, we throw out 40% of the food we buy.
This is an enormous waste of money (By conservative estimates, food waste costs each household at least $1400 annually), but it’s also a large environmental problem.
The food that we throw out is one of the top causes of the methane gas that emanates from our nation’s landfills. Also, growing, processing, packaging, and shipping food uses resources, and when the food isn’t even consumed, those resources have been spent for nothing…they’ve just been wasted.
The good news is that household food waste is a problem you can actually do something about, and you won’t even have to turn your life upside down. Plus, though many environmentally-friendly lifestyle changes cost money, this one will put more money back in your pocket.
Unfortunately, since food is so plentiful in our culture, we don’t value it as much as we should, and that makes it hard to stay motivated. So, before we get to some practical tips, here are a few ways to keep yourself motivated.
1. Put a dollar amount on food.
Once food is paid for, it’s a little harder to see its monetary value. You would never dump a dollar bill into your trash can, but it’s pretty easy to throw away a cucumber.
If you find yourself lacking inspiration to eat your food before it goes bad, think about how much you paid for it. Instead of seeing half a gallon of milk, train yourself to see $2. Instead of a head of lettuce, see $2.50.
When you do end up needing to throw something out, consider the monetary value of your waste so that you’ll be motivated to prevent it in the future.
2. Think about what went into producing the food you own.
Someone had to plant, cultivate, harvest, process, ship, and stock your food before you could buy it and bring it home. A lot of work and a lot of time went into your food, and realizing this can help you value it more. And when you value your food, you will be much more likely to use it instead of wasting it.
3. Consider the environmental impact of waste.
American garbage production and pollution is an overwhelming problem, and its magnitude can make us feel like there’s no point in even trying to make a difference.
But household food waste is a huge contributor to landfill waste (and to the methane gas which leaks from landfills) and it’s something we can control. You may not be able to stop factory pollution or clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch, but by golly, you can stop throwing away food, and if even half of American households made the same effort, the impact would be significant.
How can you say goodbye to food waste? Here are some practical ideas that you can implement right away.
1. Keep an emptier fridge and freezer.
When you stock your fridge and freezer to the gills, it’s almost impossible to see all of the food you own, and when you can’t see it, you’re much more likely to forget about it and let it go to waste.
2. Store food in clear containers.
Use glass containers or clear plastic because again, if you can’t see what you have, you’ll be much less likely to use it.
3. Rummage through the fridge when you’re hungry.
Before making something new or eating a shelf-stable item, look to see if something in the fridge needs to be used up.
4. Plan a menu before grocery shopping.
Grocery shopping with no plan leads to over-buying and over-buying leads to waste. A menu plan will help you buy what you need and no more.
5. Look through the fridge/freezer when planning a menu.
Take stock of the food you already own and work that into your meal plan. If you have an excess of carrots, plan a meal to use them up. If your potatoes are starting to get wrinkly, put a potato soup on your plan.
Looking through your food will also prevent you from purchasing duplicates at the store, and that will save you money and prevent additional food waste (If you buy a new sack of potatoes, the ones at home are probably going to rot.)
6. Eat leftovers for lunch.
You won’t have to eat out or prepare something new, so you’ll save time and money. To make leftovers easier to grab, package them in lunch-sized portable containers when you put the food away after dinner. The next day, you can grab and go.
7. Make friends with soups, salads, smoothies, and scrambled eggs.
What do those four things have in common? They’re all great ways to use up random odds and ends that might otherwise go to waste. Soft fruit can be frozen to add to a smoothie, while protein foods and savory produce are better suited for soups, salads, and scrambled eggs.
8. Use your freezer carefully.
If you know you can’t use something in time, freezing it for later consumption can be a great idea. To make sure it’s not going to be forgotten, use clear containers (or label opaque containers), check your freezer when you plan a menu, and take stock of your freezer’s contents regularly.
9. Clean out your fridge regularly.
Food waste seems to beget food waste, at least partially because in a fridge cluttered with rotten or semi-rotten food, it’s hard to see the edible food. An additional benefit is that the process of cleaning out the fridge helps you to take inventory of what you own, and once you know what you’ve got, you’ll be more likely to use it up.
10. Educate yourself on food storage and expiration/sell-by dates.
Knowing how to properly store food is key in food waste prevention, and knowing the difference between expiration and sell-by dates is important as well (Food shouldn’t be eaten after an expiration date, but can be safely consumed after a sell-by date.)
These topics can be a little bit confusing, but helpful guides are available on the internet. For instance, check out Still Tasty, a comprehensive guide to shelf life in the fridge and freezer.
One last tip: Be patient with yourself. For many of us, food wasting is an ingrained habit, and it takes time to change. Remember that any progress is better than none, so when you have a food waste failure, don’t give up! Just keep on trying. You’ll see a difference in your grocery bill and you’ll feel great about reducing your environmental impact.
- we throw away a third of our food
- we throw out 40% of the food
- one of the top causes of the methane gas
- Still Tasty
Kristen is an east coast wife, mom, and blogger behind The Frugal Girl. In an effort to inspire others to live frugally, Kristen contributes to the CareOne Debt Relief Services blog, a community that provides debt consolidation and money-saving advice.