Food Waste Resources

Food waste is a big problem, both in the United States and worldwide.

It's estimated that up to 40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste every year. Globally, the amount of discarded food would be enough to feed 1 billion people annually. This excess comes with some serious consequences, which is why we all need to do our part to reduce food waste.

Food Waste Starts at the Grocery Store

Carefully plan your shopping list before you go to the store. Write out the meals you will be cooking that week, and buy items accordingly. Check your fridge and pantry to see if you already have some of the items you need before you shop. Photo curtesy of Pixabay.

Why Food Waste Is a Problem

Food production requires an enormous amount of resources. As much as 70% of our fresh water and 50% of our land is allocated to agricultural use. Agriculture also has negative effects on the environment, such as the emission of greenhouse gases. Because of this, food waste is directly linked to both wasted resources and unnecessary pollution. Consider this: The amount of greenhouse gases that are produced from the creation of wasted food is equal to the emissions of 33 million cars. In terms of water waste, a single uneaten hamburger is equivalent to a 90-minute shower.

Food Waste Facts and Statistics

To appreciate the importance of food waste reduction, it’s important to understand the scale of the dilemma.

  • Approximately 1.3 billion tons of food are lost or wasted each year, about a third of the total amount produced.
  • Financially, food loss and waste equates to $990 billion per year.
  • Fruits and vegetables have the highest rate of waste: 50 percent.
  • Consumers in rich countries waste the same amount of food as the entire net production of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Food waste per capita is far greater in Europe and North America, 15 times more than in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia.

How to Reduce Your Food Waste

Reducing your personal food waste is not a singular activity. Rather, it spans multiple habits and choices, from the grocery store to your dinner table and diet. There are plenty of actions we can take to cut back our food waste during each phase of the food consumption journey.

Eating Out

  • The typical American diet has become known for excessive portions. Avoid oversized meals by requesting smaller portions. This helps reduce waste and also limits you from overeating. You can also consider splitting a large dish with a friend or family member.
  • Request a takeout box to take home any leftover food. Leftovers often taste just as good the next day.

In the Store

  • Carefully plan your shopping list before you go to the store. Write out the meals you will be cooking that week, and buy items accordingly. Check your fridge and pantry to see if you already have some of the items you need before you shop.
  • Stick to your shopping list: Only buy what you need. Be mindful about buying in bulk, especially bulk items that have a limited shelf life.
  • Avoid going shopping when you are hungry. This often leads to impulsive food purchases.
  • If possible, buy the “ugly” fruits and vegetables. They may not look pretty, but they’re fine to eat. Sometimes, the ugly fruits and veggies are even offered at a discounted price.

At Home

  • Make sure the temperature settings on your fridge and freezer are correct. Refrigerators should be set to 40° F or below, and freezers should be set to 0° F.
  • Freeze food you don’t plan to eat soon. You can use the USDA’s FoodKeeper app to determine how long food items can be kept in the freezer.
  • Create a special area in your refrigerator for food that is nearing its expiration date. Food in that section should be prioritized over other food in the house.
  • If you have a surplus, consider donating any extra items to a local food bank. The best foods to donate tend to be packaged goods.
  • Understand the date labels on food. “Use by” dates often refer to the time period of optimal quality; the food is not necessarily unsafe after that date has passed. However, if the item is soft, moldy, or odorous, it’s probably time to throw it out.

Composing Food Waste

Some food waste may be unavoidable, but you can turn those scraps into a useful resource by composting. Composing is the process of converting organic material into fertilizer for plants. Adding composted material to soil helps plants grow and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. It also keeps food scraps out of landfills, where they serve no purpose.

To begin composting at home, select a shady, dry spot in your yard to construct a bin or start a pile. Add both brown and green organic material to the compost pile. Brown material includes leaves, branches, and twigs from your yard. Green material includes grass clippings, fruits and vegetables, and coffee grounds. You should maintain an equal ratio between brown and green material. Once you have added the organic material, you can moisten it with water to help facilitate the composting process. When the material becomes dark and rich, it’s ready to be used as fertilizer.

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