Whether it’s that doggy bag from your dinner out the other night, or the carefully stored leftovers that sit in your fridge, its inevitable that some leftover food might go forgotten or uneaten, and eventually end up getting thrown out. Unfortunately, since food produced is wasted even before it arrive at your home due to the nature of food processing, farming or restaurant preparation. Plus, many major supermarket chains are very selective about the foods they will display and sell, especially produce. It may not seem like a big issue, and we as a nation will often joke about those science experiment leftovers that sat in the back of the fridge too long, but when we see the effect food waste has on the environment, it might inspire us to gobble up those leftovers!
Why is food waste an environmental issue? It is estimated that in our country, we waste almost 40% of the food that we produce! While a lot of the waste occurs along the supply chain before the food even makes it into our grocery basket, there is still a question of the effect this unused food has on our environment. If the wasted food ends up at a landfill, it produces methane as it breaks down, which is a greenhouse gas with more harmful effects than carbon dioxide. In addition to the environmental burden of food that is produced, but not used, there is the financial burden placed on families if they spend money on food that doesn’t get eaten, and the increase in total food costs because food wasted before it is sold reduces supply and increases demand.
While we as individuals don’t have much control over a farmer’s food waste, or the produce a grocer chooses not to place on the shelf for sale, we do have total control over the food we take into our homes, and we can also help discourage excessive food waste in our communities. By taking charge of the issue on a personal and local level, we can really do our part to live a greener, healthier life. Here are some suggestions for reducing the amount of food wasted at home and in our local communities.
- Use the “use-by” date as a guideline, not a rule. Many foods are okay to use after the use-by date, just make sure the food looks and smells ok.
- Make sure to compost the food scraps. Meat, dairy and foods with fat can’t be composted, but leftover fruits, vegetables, egg shells and coffee grounds can.
- Keep your leftovers in mind. Just as you plan a shopping list, have a leftover list and make it a priority to use those foods first. They can be reheated as is, or incorporated into new recipes.
In your community:
- Shop local. Farmer’s markets and other local sellers are more likely to have all their stock available for sale, even the misshapen apples or less than prefect heads of broccoli that supermarkets won’t put on the shelves.
- Encourage food donation in your community. Those items that are getting tossed before they make it into restaurants or stores may still be good, and there are many organizations right in your community that can benefit from those food items. Sack lunch programs, homeless shelters and other food programs often rely on donations such as those to keep going.
- Visit those local discount grocery stores or attend grocery auctions. Most communities have a grocery store that sells overstock or slightly-out-of date items. You can often find the same things you would normally buy, at greatly reduced prices. Grocery stores sometimes auction off items that are past the sell-by date for a great bargain.
No matter how you and your family help tackle this issue, doing your part to reduce wasted food in our country will help create a better, healthier future for all of us.