It’s easy to open the fridge, grab the molding tub of sour cream out of the fridge and toss it in the garbage without giving it a thought. It’s not your fault that you couldn’t use a whole liter of sour cream in two weeks. It wasn’t good long enough.
When you boil it down, bigger is usually cheaper.
Big box wholesale stores like Costco will sell you a massive 1.15 kg block of cheese for the same price as you’d pay for half that at other retailers. Who doesn’t want to snag that deal? Chances are that block of cheese will go bad before you get through it.
Choices like this are harder to avoid if you’re one of the 7 million Canadians that live in rural areas and only get to a large grocery store every once in a while. It would seem that food waste is unavoidable, so why care?
Save money while reducing food waste
Food costs money, there’s no way around it. We need to eat to live, and we need to buy food to eat it. When you throw out spoiled food that you never got around to eating, you’re throwing out valuable resources. Buying less and having less food waste also means saving money in the long run.
Lower your carbon footprint
Reducing the amount of wasted food you have ultimately helps to lower your carbon footprint. Food needs to be grown, manufactured, transported and sold, all of which leaves a carbon footprint. Then there’s hauling the wasted food to the landfill.
Food waste sent to the landfill degrades over time and releases a greenhouse gas called methane. It’s 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Overall, Canada’s 2.2 million tons of avoidable food waste is the equivalent of 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 or 2.1 million cars on the road.
What about composting?
Composting is a good, environmentally friendly way to get rid of surplus food that has spoiled. Over 60 percent of Canadians participated in some form of composting in 2011, specifically those that lived in single detached houses. Apartment dwellers find it a little more challenging. Whether you’re planning on using a city compost bin or your own that you’ll use to grow food later on, it’s the ideal option if you have leftover organic matter.
But composting does not beat cutting avoidable food loss off before it happens. By preventing a single tonne of household food waste from happening in the first place, you are essentially taking an entire car (and all it’s emissions) off the road and out of the environment for a whole year.
If a greener life for you means low effort, big contribution — cutting your spoiled food down to the bare minimum is where you’ll find it.
How to reduce food waste
Reducing your household’s food waste doesn’t have to be hard. Nor is the blanket answer “buy less, shop more often” the key to avoidable food loss. We can’t all visit the grocery store three times a week. Nor can we necessarily avoid buying large quantities (especially if you have a larger family).
Instead, reducing food waste boils down to four main points:
- Plan your food consumption
- Learn what different labels and dates mean
- Store food properly (and creatively)
- Repurpose spoiling food where possible
Figuring out how to do these four things in your household may just help you cut back on excess food. It can also reduce the amount of avoidable food waste you see each year.
Planning goes a long way towards avoiding wasted food. Simply making a list with meals in mind for the week can save you time and money. It can also encourage you to eat healthier.
But before you head out shopping, take a look at your fridge and cupboards first. There’s no need to buy what you already have. You can use up soon-expiring food by making a list each week of what needs to be used and plan an upcoming meal around it.
When you’re out shopping, you want to try to buy only what you need and will use. You can pre-plan portions you need using tools like the Guestimator. While buying in bulk can save money, it only really does so if it doesn’t end up in the trash. If you have to buy larger quantities because trips to the store are more infrequent, try going for bulk with items that can be frozen for later use.
Not every date on a food package is meant for you, the buyer. Different labels mean different things. Figuring out what those are can help you avoid throwing out edible food. That means getting up-close-and-personal with “best by” and “sell by” dates.
The “sell by” date is intended for retailers. It lets them know when they should sell the product or remove it from the shelves if it hasn’t been sold. This date has no bearing on the freshness of the food. In fact, roughly one third of the product’s life exists after that date. So you still have time to enjoy the food at home after that date.
“Best by,” “Best before” and “Use by”
The “best by,” “best before” or “use by” date is a consumer-facing date that indicates when the quality of the food item is best. This date doesn’t mean that the food is bad or can’t be eaten afterwards. It simply means it likely won’t be as fresh. It’s also indicative of the product quality when it’s sealed.
That said, it’s important to note that dairy and meat should probably be consumed within their recommended dates or stored properly. You might occasionally come across products that expire before their recommended dates. You should rely on smell and look as other indicators.
How you store food makes a significant contribution to how fresh it stays. Storing something improperly can spoil it faster, causing unnecessary food waste.
This is especially the case for fruits and vegetables. They will taste better and last longer if stored properly. But can ruin other produce if stored together due to the natural gases they give off as they ripen. You want to make sure to store your bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves. And put your fruits and veggies in separate drawers.
Perishable foods should be prepared or eaten soon after shopping. Freezer meal prep can be a great way to make dinner easier throughout the week. It can save you time and effort. Lots of food items can be frozen. You can cut up and freeze surplus fruits and veggies, bread, cheese, and meats. Breaking items into smaller meal-size packages in advance can make weekday meal prep easier.
Fruits and vegetables can also be preserved or canned. It’s an especially good idea if you have a large surplus because they’re in season.
You might be surprised to know that food that has passed its prime could still have a use.
Produce that’s not at its finest might still be good for cooking. Especially in dishes where they don’t play the starring role. Think soups, casseroles, stir fry, sauces, smoothies, and baked goods.
You might also be able to use the edible parts of food that you normally avoid, if safe and healthy. Stale bread can be used for croutons, vegetable scraps can be made into soup stock, and beet tops can be sautéed as a side dish. Some delicious recipes you could try include:
- One-minute Herb Oil for Everything
- Garlic Bread Chips
- Leftover vegetable quiche cups
- Ugly Vegetable Pasta
Finally, don’t forget about food scraps which can be used to grow your own vegetables and fruit.
Getting started today
Reducing the amount of food waste and ultimately your environmental impact doesn’t have to be a challenging thing. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Taking a few steps today can help you save money and food tomorrow.
But reducing your amount of wasted food isn’t the only thing you can do. If you want more tips and tricks for small steps you can make towards a greener life, download the GarbageDay app and get them delivered right to you!