Most of us at times throw food away off our dinner plates at home and when we eat out.
Is that all there is to food waste or is there something more to consider?
Food waste is actually much more far reaching than just the bites we toss off our plates when clearing the dishes.
Let’s learn more about what food waste is and how we can make a difference in reducing it!
Food waste encompasses the ”removal of food from the food supply chain which is fit for consumption, or which has spoiled or expired, mainly caused by economic behavior, poor stock management or neglect.”
Statistics of Food Waste
We don’t intentionally waste food; instead, we are unaware of where, when and how we are actually wasting food. When we learn more about ways we are currently wasting food, we can begin to reduce the amount of food lost.
- According to the United Nations Environment Programme, almost one third of all food produced worldwide is wasted either in production or consumption. That is a shocking number when one considers the crisis of hunger we have globally.
- When that amount of food is calculated into calories, about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten. That is alarming!
- In the United States, food waste (organic) is the second greatest component of landfills, resulting in methane gas production. Some actually feel that the amount of food in US landfills is greater than paper and plastic.
- Per person, it has been estimated that Americans waste 20 pounds of food each month.
- The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 30-40% of our food is wasted each year.
- Food waste costs $162 to $164 billion a year.
Sources of Food Waste
Food waste happens in a variety of places, not just our kitchens. Here are some places that food waste occurs and where people and industries are working to reduce this loss.
Food labels – Confusion about dates on our food labels results in a great deal of food loss. Food with a best by date can be used after that date but expect some loss of quality. However, if the use by date is passed, it is best to discard because it might be unsafe to eat.
Spoiled food – We tend to throw away food in our kitchens that we have allowed to spoil. Perhaps we bought too much, let it go past the use by date, forgot it was in the refrigerator, had produce we didn’t get around to washing, neglected unused leftovers, stored food in the freezer too long, or simply cooked more than everyone was going to eat. We can impact this loss with better planning.
Overbuying – When restaurants or households buy more food than they need, the rest is left to be wasted. Careful planning of the amounts and types of food needed before the next buying trip will help us all reduce wasteful excess purchases.
Wanting perfect produce – Growers throw away produce that is blemished, malformed, not a perfect color or not what consumers feel is ‘perfect’. When we find a flaw in produce we won’t buy it, so growers throw it away before they bring it to market. Farmers markets have begun bringing ‘imperfect’ produce to us, which is a great way to reduce food loss. Imperfect vegetables can be used as ingredients in other products, such as tomato paste or in a pre-made casserole, instead of being wasted.
Businesses – Restaurants often throw away foods they cook ahead and don’t sell. We know that the bread basket that comes to the table and leaves half full will get tossed. Food prepared in bulk that is never ordered will get discarded. Large portions we get served, can’t eat, and leave on our plates end up being thrown out. Restaurants are often not in a position to compost their kitchen waste, so much food waste is produced. We should bring home our leftovers and re-purpose or compost our extra food.
Surplus food production – Growers and producers of our food supply plant and harvest food that goes to waste, perhaps because there is no market or the market price is not great enough to bring the product to market so that it gets wasted. Growers can use this excess for animal feed instead of wasting it and many are working toward this.
What Can You Do To Reduce Food Waste?
All of us in our own homes can make a big impact on the amount of food wasted each year by doing a few simple things. Here are some ideas to help you reduce loss.
- When grocery shopping, make a list of foods that you need based on meals you will prepare for the week. This reduces impulse buying and overbuying food that you don’t have plans to use before it spoils. Know what you have in your pantry before you shop so you don’t buy things you already have and can’t use before it spoils.
- Buy only the amount of food you need. Buying one more portion just in case usually leads to leftovers that don’t get eaten. Learning the appropriate portion sizes for each person to whom you serve meals will help you cook only what will be eaten. If you want to cook once and eat twice then you will double the correct portion sizes and have just the right amount for two meals with no leftovers.
- If you do have leftovers, make a plan for how you will re-purpose those ingredients in the next meal so that it won’t go to waste. If you can’t use leftovers in the next few days, freeze them for a time in the near future when you can use it before it spoils.
- Be aware of the food in your refrigerator and pantry and eat what has been there the longest before you eat what you just purchased. Adopt a first in first out philosophy. If you can’t use it before it expires, donate it to your local food bank.
- Use your produce before it wilts. When you keep on hand only the amount you will realistically use, you will not have as much produce wilting in the cooler drawer of the refrigerator. When you bring your produce home from the store or farmer’s market is the best time to cut up for snacks and lunches and portion it out into serving containers so your family will eat it instead of waiting for you to wash and cut it. Some fruits like berries should be washed right before eating so don’t wash it too early to prevent mold formation. Store certain fruits and vegetables separately so that they don’t cause others to ripen too quickly.
- Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer to be sure the food is being stored at the optimal temperature.
- If possible, compost your kitchen waste and use to nourish the plants in your yard instead of feeding the landfill.
- Use your produce even if it is bruised. Cut off the bruised spots on apples and chop the rest. Freeze bananas for smoothies if they are turning brown too fast and can’t be eaten.
- Make use of ‘extras’ like the ends of bread loaves or the last burger roll. Make breadcrumbs or croutons for use in other dishes instead of throwing away these items.
- Buy frozen fruit and use it as needed if you can’t use the fresh variety quickly enough to avoid tossing.
- Peel potatoes with a peeler instead of a knife to avoid cutting off too much potato. That goes for white, red and sweet potatoes as well as carrots. If your potatoes or onions have already sprouted in the pantry, remove the sprouts and use, don’t throw out.
- Use leftover dinner protein in a sandwich for lunch the next day.
As we become more aware of the excessive amount of food that goes to waste each month, not only in the US but also globally, every little change we can make will help us all save the planet by reducing food waste.