Imagine something that wastes seeds, water, nutrients, financial resources, working hours, soil, and land space, all while generating a large amount of methane. Are you thinking of food waste? If so, you’d be accurate.
In fact, the resource exhaustion generated by food waste is responsible for close to ten percent of global emissions. While that’s bad news in and of itself, it also means that there is a strong opportunity to reduce our environmental impact by reducing our food waste.
Right now, close to a third of produced food ends up uneaten. If we could put a large dent in that number, the planet’s health would benefit significantly.
1. Reject norms in the food industry that contribute to waste
In the grocery industry, a large amount of food (particularly produce) is rejected because of discoloring, bumps, bruises, or irregular shapes. Quite often, nothing is wrong with the quality of the food items themselves.
However, groceries take into account visual appearance when stocking, and the more emphasis that is put on this, the more likely they are to continue this practice. On the other hand, celebrating irregularities may cause an opposite effect, where less fruit is thrown out.
Another key tactic to use at the grocery store is understanding the differences between apparent expiry dates.
“Best by” or “best before” is a stronger indicator of peak quality or flavor rather than the time where food becomes unsafe to consume. “Sell by” is more intended for store display purposes. “Use by” is the label used most commonly in reference for safety, but in many cases, odor and texture are better indicators. This depends on the food product in particular.
A report from London’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that 30-50% of food in European supermarkets go to waste because of a poor understanding of expiry dates. In response, advocates have developed tools like stilltasty.com to better increase public awareness.
2. Plan meals in advance
Plan out meals a week or two in advance. Buy the right quantity of necessary ingredients. These actions can bring down the amount of food that goes to waste.
Intentional shopping can help grocery shoppers avoid the tendency of “stocking up” on too many products that would ultimately go bad before being used.
This habit can further help increase a person’s awareness of their consumption habits and needs. By gaining a more realistic perception of how much food is needed in a household on a regular basis, people are less prone to buying inappropriate amounts.
Knowing what an entire week’s worth of meals might look like as opposed to one or two days can also help people buy smaller quantities when appropriate. Rather than purchasing a large bag of prepackaged walnuts for one recipe that calls for two cups, one could find themselves getting just that amount from bulk bins.
In addition to wasting less food, there are financial benefits to pre-planning one’s meals. Improving one’s financial health increases their ability to be better environmental stewards.
3. Find creative ways to reuse food
A simple pizza crust recipe can be a game-changer. Why? Because pizza is versatile and can feature a wide range of toppings made out of the week’s leftovers.
There are a number of different ways to reuse food that range from the innovative to the practical. Turning a large quantity of fruit into a smoothie before they go bad can be a good way to make sure you get their nutrients. Simply planning on using the previous night’s leftovers as the next day’s lunch can reduce overall consumption and waste.
You can also learn how to store food that would otherwise go bad in ways that are more long-lasting. Turning vegetables into veggie stock, for example, allows them to be more easily saved for later. Pickling produce also results in long lasting items, not to mention unique flavors.
You can find these ideas and a few others in an earlier Plant With Purpose post.
Ultimately, you’ll discover that reducing food waste doesn’t have to just be a chore. It can be a creative outlet and an opportunity to have more fun.
For low-income families around the world, challenges around avoiding food waste can be very different. This includes improving infrastructure and access to farm equipment. You can help empower rural communities every month by becoming a Purpose Partner! Learn more here.