If food were a country, what would its flag look like? What currency would it use? How many greenhouse gases would it emit?
While the first two might be fun games of imagination, the third question has a real - and scary - answer:
if food were a country it would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world.
The only countries putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are China and the United States.
You might be wondering how your apple core does as much damage as your car. Driving your car puts harmful carbon dioxide into the air, which traps heat in the atmosphere and causes the earth to get warmer. However, when food is taken to a landfill it is covered with other trash and dirt, cutting off its access to oxygen. When food breaks down without oxygen it produces methane, a greenhouse gas thirty times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. This means your uneaten leftovers and food scraps might even be worse for the environment than your car.
In the United States one-third (⅓) of the food we produce is wasted.
That’s a whole lot of methane! Plus, when food gets thrown in the trash we can throw in the pesticides, fertilizers, water, grocery store, transportation, and everything else that went into making that food with it. That’s a whole lot of waste!
All that waste can get pretty expensive; we are wasting $165 billion every year! All that money - and food - could go to helping feed the 41 million Americans that do not have enough food.
It’s pretty clear that food waste is a huge problem, but there are small things you can do to help!
1. Smarter shopping
When you are grocery shopping only buy what you will be able to eat before it spoils. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Make a list before you go: this will limit impulse buys and make sure you are only getting what you need for your recipes. (And remember your reusable produce bags!)
Shop in the bulk bins: these are a two-for-one of environmental positives! Shopping bulk reduces packaging that would get thrown away and it allows you to only buy as much as you need - which helps you save money too!
Buy less food: you may have to go to the grocery store more often, but this will ensure that you are actually eating everything you are paying for.
2. Stay organized
Keeping your fridge and pantry organized will allow you to see what you have available and access it before it hits its expiration date. Speaking of expiration dates - don’t pay attention to them! They are set arbitrarily to encourage you to buy more food, but most of the time food is still perfectly edible past its printed date!
3. Give your leftovers new life
This is a two step process in a very specific order
First, try to re-purpose your food scraps and leftovers. You can use vegetable scraps to make a veggie stock (recipe here). You can turn leftover dishes into exciting new dishes - check out this website which has ideas for everything from beef and chicken to pasta and rice. Try to use up and eat all of your food before resorting to the trash.
Second, if you’ve given the food all the chances you can, compost it instead of throwing it away. Composting allows food to break down with oxygen releasing far less methane than a landfill and the soil you get from composting is great to help plants grow. There are composting options whether you live in a small apartment or have a huge backyard (keep an eye out for future blog posts focusing on composting for tips!) - do your research and find out what works best for you.
Reducing the amount of food we waste is being kind to our bodies, our wallets, and our earth. Do you have any tips for minimizing food waste? Know some great leftover recipes? Let me know in the comments!
By Emily Knipp