Just Eat It: Fighting Food Waste
The next time you throw away food, pause for a second and consider the impact of that small, seemingly insignificant action.
Did you know that 40% of our food is wasted in the U.S.? (And one-third of food produced across the world.) That’s over 133 billion pounds or 31% of overall food supply wasted every year—much of it perfectly edible and nutritious.
Food Loss vs. Food Waste
Now, food is wasted for several reasons and there’s often a distinction made between food loss and food waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service defines food loss as “the edible amount of food, post-harvest, available for human consumption but not consumed for any reason.” Before food even reaches the grocery store, it can be lost due to bad weather, processing problems, overproduction, insects, etc.
Food waste, on the other hand, includes the food left on your plate at a restaurant, scraps from preparing a meal at home, and the expired foods you toss. Overbuying, poor planning, and not paying attention to labels also contribute to our food waste habits. All this comes at a hefty price tag of over $200 billion a year, which is over $1,866 per household. Imagine tossing thousands of dollars in the trash!
Impact and Intervention
Food waste, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, also has an environmental impact, where we waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package food. When all that food goes into landfills, it rots and produces methane—a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.
There’s much to be gained by consuming our food consciously. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), redirecting excess food to people, animals, or energy production provide immediate benefits to public health and the environment, including:
• Reducing methane emissions from landfills.
• Saving money through thoughtful planning, shopping, and storage.
• Supporting your community by donating untouched food that would have otherwise gone to waste.
• Conserving energy and resources by preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling of food.
Current California state law requires businesses and multi-family communities to recycle organic waste. In 2022, additional regulations will become effective, requiring all Californians to recycle organic waste. Our cities are doing whatever they can to mitigate some of the damage by having various processes in place. "We already have a successful program to capture food waste from commercial customers. Now, we are working on a program that complies with state mandates to recycle organic waste into compostable material from residential customers and work to address food insecurity by recovering otherwise discarded fresh food,” says Devin Whittington, waste services utility manager for the City of Roseville.
Folsom is designing a city-wide food scraps recycling program to be launched in 2022 that will drastically reduce landfilled food and greenhouse gas emissions. The food scraps will be made into compost and used in local parks, gardens, and farms. “The most exciting thing about this program is that we will be able to see a tangible difference in our air quality and soil quality as we reduce greenhouse gas emission from the local landfill,” says Sarah Moe, recycling supervisor at the City of Folsom.
In other efforts, the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department and CalRecycle have teamed up with the Food Bank of El Dorado County to create a surplus food program to keep it out of the landfill. Rescued food from restaurants and food distributors is brought to the Food Bank of El Dorado County where it’s sorted through and distributed to nonprofits that provide emergency food assistance. Unsalvageable foodstuffs are donated to local farmers as livestock feed.
So, what can you do? Here are some easy ways to reduce your own food waste.
• Meal plan before grocery shopping. Decide on recipes, check your existing supplies, and determine what quantities you need.
• Prep and store produce as soon as you bring it home. Look online for storage methods for different produce and freeze what you can.
• Use what you have before buying more. Websites and apps like BigOven, SuperCook, and MyFridgeFood allow you to search for recipes based on ingredients already in your kitchen. You can also use apps like Epicurious and Allrecipes.
• Use overripe fruits in baked goods and breakfasts and overripe vegetables in soups and casseroles.
• Save onion skins, celery and garlic ends, carrot peels, potato skins, and parsley stems to make a vegetable stock that you can freeze in ice trays.
• Have a designated “leftovers” dinner night every week.
• Perform a weekly audit of your fridge supplies and a monthly audit of pantry supplies.
• Use see-through storage containers so you know what’s in your fridge and pantry.
• Reconstitute dehydrated vegetables by immersing them in warm water for 15 minutes.
• Compost food scraps like vegetable and fruit waste, eggshells, tea bags, and coffee grounds.
Outside the Home
• At restaurants, order only what you think you can finish. Allot room for the appetizers, main course, and dessert.
• Take any leftovers home.
• When you buy packaged foods, know that “best if used by” labels indicate quality—meaning they are still edible, just not at their peak quality; and “expires on” labels indicate safety levels.
• Shop locally at the farmers’ market, co-op, CSA, etc. Doing so reduces the phases fresh foods go through on their way to spoilage. As a bonus, you reduce packaging waste, too.
• Pick the bruised or odd-shaped produce that’s edible but might otherwise get thrown away.
• Avoid buying too many fresh herbs, as they’re the most tossed items.
During the Holidays
• Plan your menu and choose recipes that use the same ingredients.
• Resist impulse purchases and holiday discounts.
• Use smaller dishes and serving spoons so guests don’t over-serve.
• Reinvent leftovers by looking up recipes online and freeze the rest—don’t forget to label containers with dates and names.
• Send your guests home with leftovers.
• Donate excess food to food banks or homeless shelters.
by Tara Mendanha
Photo © ©jchizhe - stock.adobe.com.