The statistics on food waste will make you feel bloated. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 21.6% of what goes into municipal landfills is food, the physical weight being over 29 million tons in 2014.
This waste costs the average U.S. family of four an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 in annual losses. Furthermore, about 10% of the U.S. energy budget goes to bringing food to our tables. With up to one in seven truckloads of perishables delivered to supermarkets being thrown away, we’re not only wasting food and money, but energy as well.
According to a report from the United Kingdom, if food scraps were removed from their landfills, the level of greenhouse gas abatement would be equivalent to removing one fifth of all the cars in the U.K. from the road.
There are many ways to preserve food and reduce waste that’s not only helpful to Mother Earth, but your wallet as well.
About two-thirds of food waste is attributed to improper storage. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Food spoils in homes due to improper or suboptimal storage, poor visibility in refrigerators, partially used ingredients, and misjudged food needs.” Want to improve your food storage game? Download Make Dirt Not Waste’s A-Z Food Storage Tips.
By planning your meals weekly, you purchase food items you need in the amount that you need. Want to go the extra mile? We recommend buying from the bulk section. Not only are you reducing food waste, you’re reducing packaging and saving money as well.
Tired of eating leftovers come Saturday? Freeze them to enjoy in a pinch during nights you’re not in the mood to cook.
Dan Nickey, associate director of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, states that 40% of all food in the U.S. never makes it to our tables- an annual cost of $165 billion. Part of that statistic is attributed to food not meeting retailers’ cosmetic standards. Buying directly from local farms not only extends the life of food- it’s already fresher than supermarket produce- farmers sell their “imperfect produce.” It may not be as beautifully shaped or colored as in the supermarket, but the taste is just the same. (Sometimes even better.)
Use label dates as a guideline
“Best by” and “use by” dates typically go unregulated. Rather than indicating food safety, they follow manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. This means that food can last far beyond its label date, sometimes up to a year. In the U.K., an estimated 20% of avoidable household food waste is due to confusion over label dates.
When going through your pantry and refrigerator, feel free to keep foods with an expired “best by” date a little longer. Just be sure to smell them and inspect for mold. Foods with a “use by” date, which is regulated by the government, indicates that retailers cannot sell foods with an expired date. If you have foods in your home that are a few days beyond the “use by” date, be extra cautious.
If you do end up with food waste, compost. The National Composting Council estimates the average U.S. household generates 650 lb of compostables every year. All that waste can be naturally decomposed in your own backyard and used as fertilizer for your gardens. If you don’t have enough space to compost, reach out to a local composting facility or farm. They may take your food scraps and give you compost credit in return- perfect for your window gardens.
Meg is a dreamer, entrepreneur, and homesteader based in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She loves her cats, feasting, and road trips in her green VW Bug.