How To Reduce Food Waste (and Save Money)
With supermarkets and grocery stores packed with cheap food brands and prepackaged goods, it’s no wonder we overconsume and overdispose. But buying too much too often and paying less attention to the ways we can save means that as much as 40 percent of the food we produce in the United States continues to get thrown away.
Not only is food waste a waste of money, when organic material like food waste is sent to landfills, it generates methane — a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Here are a few easy ways you can reduce your household’s food waste without significantly changing your lifestyle:
1. Shop smarter.
It’s fairly simple: If you buy less food and only purchase what you know you’ll eat, you and your family will waste less. Stock up on basic cooking ingredients and baking staples so you aren’t relying on prepackaged foods, and keep track of how much you’re actually consuming each week so you don’t purchase beyond your needs.
2. Know your dates.
Not every date printed on a food item is an expiration date. “Sell by” dates, for instance, indicate when an item is no longer at its peak retail quality and should be removed from the shelf. “Best if used by” is a manufacturer recommendation that describes when the food is considered to be at maximum quality and freshness for consumption.
Use common sense to determine how closely you should adhere to these recommendations. A bag of chips will be fine past its expiration date, but use caution with more perishable items like dairy products.
3. Preserve your leftovers.
It can be tempting, but don’t spoon your leftovers into the garbage can. Preserving food is simple and can be done in a variety of ways. The freezer is your friend, as are airtight containers.
4. Buy local.
There’s nothing better than supporting local businesses while getting some of the freshest produce in your area. Local produce is typically cheaper than supermarket fare, and it’s transported shorter distances so it has a lower carbon footprint.
The next time you’re at a farmers’ market, CSA, or local farm stand, try to purchase less than you would in a traditional store. This way, you’ll have a limited but constant supply of fresh, high-quality food that you’ll be more inclined to utilize.
5. Wash out your food packaging.
Organic material includes food scraps that hide on the inside of the packaging you toss. Leftover residual materials from packaging are especially troublesome for my team at TerraCycle, a global recycling company, because they can contaminate the entire recycling stream.
Be sure to wash out your drink pouches, candy wrappers, chip bags, and other forms of food and beverage packaging with water before throwing them in the bin.
6. Compost food scraps.
Composting is where TerraCycle got its start — I started producing fertilizer made from worm poop compost, called vermicompost, out of my Princeton University dorm room. After feeding earthworms organic waste, we would collect their droppings (castings), and bottle the fertilizer in used soda bottles. The product was sold for years at Whole Foods Market, Target, and even Home Depot.
I learned that composting is actually a very simple process. If I could do it out of a dorm room, you can do it at home! It’s a great way to utilize food scraps instead of wasting them, and your garden will reap the benefits.