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People are always looking for ways to save money as well as do better things for the environment. Of course, cutting down on the number of monthly subscriptions or upgrading to more energy-efficient devices are all great ways to do both. However, there’s one shocking fact we must face.
On average, Americans throw away roughly 40% of the food they buy. Reducing food waste has an enormous impact on the environment as well as the family budget. There’s a lot of money in your refrigerator and food pantry. Don’t let it go to waste. Let’s look at how excessive food loss affects the environment and what you can do to reduce food waste at home.
Food Waste in America, a Hard Look at the Numbers
Reading that roughly 40% of food is discarded can come as a shock. Save the Food gathered data regarding food waste from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The results are nothing short of deplorable. It found that roughly 50% of seafood is discarded, 48% of produce is wasted, and 38% of grain products are tossed in the trash.
There is a large cost associated with high amounts of food waste at home. Save the Food estimates that a family of four discards up to $124 of food each month, or $1500 each year. Looking to pinch some pennies for that big vacation or home upgrade? It may be worthwhile to look at reducing the amount of food waste your household produces.
From an environmental impact perspective, it’s more of a disaster than one may think. It takes a lot of water to produce the fruit and vegetables we end up throwing away. Tossing out a pound of tomatoes equates to running the shower for five minutes. It’s all downhill from there, with a pound of bananas equating to running a shower for 42 minutes in terms of water loss. While families tend to throw out less meat than they do vegetables, around 20%, the water used to create just a little bit of meat is staggering. A pound of beef takes as much water to produce as a six-hour shower. Imagine the water bill after turning on the shower all day because of some ground beef that had to be thrown out.
How Food Waste Hurts the Environment
The long-lasting and damaging effects of high food waste go far beyond the damage to our wallets. Greenhouse gas emissions from food scraps in landfills is also raising red flags. With so much food scraps and other waste going to the garbage instead of into a more environmentally-friendly compost pile, landfills are getting filled up with food garbage. In 2018 the EPA, or environmental protection agency, noted, “in 2018 in the United States, more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other single material in our everyday trash, at 24 percent of the amount landfilled and at 22 percent of the amount combusted with energy recovery.”
NPR also noted that, as food enters landfills, it degrades into methane, a greenhouse gas that is just as toxic to the environment as carbon dioxide and is helping contribute to the global warming issue.
Food Waste Reduction at Home
So what can be done to reduce food waste at home? Several steps can be taken to ensure your family is creating less food waste each week. While reducing food waste to zero in your home is just about impossible, these few tips can make a big positive impact on the environment, and your budget.
Use Your Freezer
A freezer is a powerful kitchen tool that greatly extends the life of food purchased at the grocery store. Freeze food in portions. Portioning out your food and freezing it allows you to use just what’s needed instead of forcing you to use it quickly before it goes bad.
Even slices of bread can be frozen and then toasted just one or two slices at a time. Say goodbye to the race against mold growth on your sandwich bread.
Practice Effective Meal Planning
Meal planning each and every week can become time-consuming and even expensive if you’re always buying new ingredients for one-off recipes. It can even increase the odds you throw food away that you didn’t use. For example, if a recipe calls for three green onions, but it comes in bunches of six or seven, you might throw those last four out.
Instead, practice more effective meal planning. Don’t pick a complete list of meals each week. Stick to three to five staples that the family loves to eat. It keeps ingredients in the fridge fresh as they’re constantly getting used up. Of course, don’t be afraid to throw in a few curveballs to keep mealtime from becoming boring. Plan meals around what you already have in the fridge. This way you don’t need to buy an extra avocado without needing to. Creating a meal plan with ingredients already available saves money and reduces food waste.
Wage War on Wilted Veggies
Take the fight to veggies and greens that are starting to wilt before you have a chance to use them. Soaking veggies such as carrots, lettuce, and broccoli in ice water for 10 minutes can help them regain their structural fortitude. If the plan was to eat them raw and they’ve wilted beyond what an ice bath can help fix, cook them in soup or another compatible dish.
Nobody is perfect. Sometimes we buy food we intend to eat and it sits uneaten. Instead of letting now-unwanted food items collect dust in your pantry, donate them to a local food pantry or food recovery project. These incredible resources are there to both help reduce food waste and feed those who might otherwise go hungry.
Finding out the shocking amount of food waste in the United States is truly an eye-opener. Thankfully there are plenty of things everyone can do to help reduce food waste and in doing so, help the environment.