Your trash can eats money and it’s coming out of your pocket

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If you haven’t checked the back of your fridge in a while, chances are that some molding vegetables are rotting in a hidden corner. Food waste is a global issue with far-reaching environmental and financial implications. To avoid that feeling of guilt when you throw away a spoiled item, learn how to be a part of the solution by implementing practical steps to reduce food waste.

One-third of all food produced is wasted. Learn how to be a part of the solution by reducing your food waste. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

The hidden costs of food waste 

You may not think much of the food that’s gone bad in your fridge, but imagine the compound effect of millions of households wasting food — the environmental impact is substantial. Dumping food means wasting natural resources and the greenhouse gas released from growing the food. 

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that a staggering one-third of all food produced for humans is wasted. In terms of carbon footprint, food wastage is the third top emitter of carbon dioxide after the United States and China.

The FAO also shows that if you were to put an economic value on global food waste, the direct cost, excluding fish and seafood, is about 750 billion USD, the size of Switzerland’s GDP. The average cost of wasted food for U.S. households, specifically, is about $1,866 per year. That number’s probably got you scratching your head, thinking back to all the times you shopped while hungry and purchased way more than you needed.

Environment and financial costs are two implications of food waste, but what about its impact on food security? While billions of tons of food are being thrown away, many out there face hunger. The FAO states that a global initiative to reduce food waste would decrease the need to increase food production by 60% to support the 2050 world population. With the hidden costs laid out, it is obvious that a more efficient and equitable food distribution system and a change in consumer habits are needed to save the people and the planet.

Breaking it down

There are multiple layers and contributing factors to this issue that may be out of your hands. It is, however, important to understand what role you play as a consumer in this. Spoilage is the main reason for food waste for most households due to over-purchasing or not managing their food properly. Unsurprisingly, perishable items like fruits, vegetables and dairy are the most commonly discarded foods, making up 80% of total surplus food in the U.S., according to ReFED. To find out what your family tends to throw out, keep track of your trash so you know what foods to stop overbuying.

Practical tips for reducing food waste

This issue occurs at every step along the food supply chain, from the farm to your fork. Although you can’t control waste in the supply chain, you can make a difference in your homes. Try following these practical tips to reduce your carbon footprint.

Smart shopping 

Careful planning before going to the grocery store can prevent overbuying. Plan out your meals for the week ahead and check your food inventory so you know exactly what you need at the store. Write this in a grocery list to avoid impulse purchases and picking up more than you need. 

Preservation methods

Sometimes, a bulk deal is too good to pass over, but how are you going to finish 20 pieces of chicken breast by yourself within the next few weeks, there’s only so much chicken and dumplings you can eat? That’s where freezing techniques come in to increase shelf life. 

Freezing foods at peak ripeness, especially fruits and vegetables, helps with preservation without taking away from their nutritional value if done properly. First, portion the ingredients into the sizes you plan to use them. Then, store them in airtight containers, filling them almost to the top but leaving half an inch of space for expansion — the key is to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burns and oxidization. You can also use freezer bags as long as you push out all the air before sealing them. The last thing you want is to pull out a mysterious bag weeks later, wondering how long it’s been sitting in the freezer, so make sure to label it.

Creative cooking

Instead of throwing away those lemon peels, try making them into candy. Repurposing scraps is a great way to reduce kitchen waste and allows you to explore creative recipes you’ve never thought about before. You can make a delicious vegetable stock with veggie scraps like carrot tops and broccoli trunks. All you need is to boil them for about 10 minutes and season them to your liking. You can do the same with your meat bones to make chicken or beef broth.

If you’ve made too much for dinner one night, save the leftovers and give life to them again in another meal; a walking taco casserole is perfect as leftovers. A salad is always a great option if you have protein from the night before. Extra bread can go stale fast, but that doesn’t mean it has to go in the trash. Old bread is perfect for French toast and bread pudding. Using leftovers allows you to get creative with your cooking while reducing waste.

The impact you can make with new habits

Implementing these changes can result in long-term benefits for the planet, not to mention savings in your own pocket. A four-person household can save up to $1500 on food yearly using food-saving tips. Try using Save the Food’s calculator if you’re curious about how much money you can get back in your wallet based on your household size. 

Being smart with your consumption saves water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than you’d think. Save the Food shows that throwing away 1 pound of beef wastes the same amount of water as showering for over 6 hours. Imagine all the natural resources you can conserve if you try out some of the practical tips like freezing food or repurposing leftovers.

Small steps for a big change

Taking active measures to reduce food waste has the dual benefit of financial savings and environmental preservation. Being more conscious of what you buy and how you manage your food are habits you can start incorporating daily. These small steps can result in big changes for a better tomorrow. 

Mandy Applegate is the enthusiastic creator of the vegetarian website Splash of Taste; she makes meat-free cooking fun and easy. When Mandy’s not cooking and writing, you’ll find her traveling, exploring countries and cuisines and spending time with her chihuahua.

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