Like many Americans, I’m more than a little freaked out about climate change. The recent United Nations Climate Report is pretty scary, and it prompted me to take a look at the amount of waste generated by my family’s kitchen to see where I could make some small but meaningful changes. Food waste generates 8% of all human-made greenhouse gases worldwide. Looked at from a different perspective, food waste generates more greenhouse gases than the airline industry.
Beyond the food we throw away, either because it’s gone bad or because we just don’t want it, we also throw away a ton of plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Plastic wrap is difficult to recycle, contributes to plastic pollution and may be harmful as it breaks down in the environment. While aluminum foil is recyclable, some municipalities don’t include it in curbside pickup and the foil must be free of food residue to be recycled. The average American throws away about three pounds of foil yearly. It takes about 400 years for it to break down in a landfill.
The good news is that we can cut down on both the amount of food we waste, as well as the packaging we use to store it. Read on for some ideas you can start using today.
Better ways to wrap
You likely slice a lemon or avocado in half on a daily basis. The half that you’re not using probably gets wrapped in a piece of plastic wrap and stored in the fridge. Swap out your plastic wrap for one of the great new reusable options on the market. Oxo’s Cut & Keep Silicone Produce Saver Set ($16.99) comes with two savers with a layer of silicone that stretches to fit that onion half or kiwi quarter. The savers are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe.
Another option that is easy to grab and use are from Food Huggers ($10.19), made from BPA-free silicone. I especially like the ones they make for avocados, which are shaped just like everyone’s favorite toast topper and hug the halved fruit so that it will last another few days in the fridge.
If you’re trying to reduce the amount of plastic in your life overall, check out fabric food covers. The ones from Coyuchi are made from fair-trade organic cotton and look like well-made shower caps. One set includes a small, medium and large cover ($58), which are machine-washable. They’re the perfect thing to cover that bowl of fresh cherries or half eaten salad.
If you’re looking for a solution that will work for virtually any leftover piece of produce or sandwich, grab yourself a roll of Bee’s Wrap ($29.99). This moldable, rinseable, reusable wrap is made from organic cotton that is coated with a combination of beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin. And for vegans, there is a bee-free version made from wax derived from the candelilla plant, which is native to Mexico and the Southwest. You can buy pre-cut wraps in various sizes, produce bags and sandwich bags in either version. The only thing you can’t store in this earth-friendly wrap is raw meat and fish because the high heat needed to sanitize it would melt the wrap.
Smart ways to waste less
Every time I read about how much food is wasted in the U.S., it’s always shocking. From the farm to the table, we waste 133 billion pounds of food, which ends up in landfills, producing methane that contributes to climate change. According to the USDA, each one of us throws out nearly 220 pounds of food each year. For my family of five, that amounts to a horrifying 1,100 pounds of food yearly!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these statistics, but unlike some environmental dangers that we can’t control, there’s a lot we can do to cut back on food waste:
- Work on buying the right amount of food for your household. Planning your meals can help with this. You don’t need to cook every meal from scratch — just plan for the ones you will be cooking and then stick to the game plan. Because you have a specific use for your ingredients, you’re less likely to waste them. The added bonus is that you’ll save a ton of money by not ordering takeout or dining out.
- While I always encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, they don’t all need to be fresh! Frozen fruit and veggies help cut down on food waste because you only use the amount you need, and then you can stash the rest back in the freezer. Don’t forget that dried fruit, like prunes, figs and raisins also count — and last for months. And I know that giant one-pound container of spring mix you can find at your big box store seems like a great bargain, but the truth is that it’s unlikely you’ll finish those greens before they go bad. Paying more per serving for a smaller container is actually better for the planet because it minimizes waste.
- I certainly do not have a Pinterest-worthy refrigerator, but I’ll be the first to admit that an organized fridge wastes less food. If you can easily see the ingredients you have on hand, you’re less likely to double purchase. And keeping those leftovers front and center in clear containers is the best way to use them up quickly. Take stock of your fridge and freezer once a week before shopping and you’ll be on the road to less waste.
Turn food scraps into garden magic
You’ve cut down on the amount of food you’re buying, but it’s inevitable that some food will still go unused. The good news is that you can turn these scraps into compost that can benefit the earth. Live in an apartment or don’t have a garden? No problem! Many cities and towns do curbside compost pick up and most farmer’s markets also collect food scraps. Community gardens are another great way to donate your compostable food waste and benefit your neighborhood. Read on for compost solutions for every household.
If you’re simply looking to collect food scraps in a vessel that will keep them from getting smelly as they sit on your counter, there are several options. We like the ones from Full Circle ($32.99) and Bamboozle ($44.99), which both look nice in your kitchen, don’t take up much space and are designed to reduce odor.
Another option I’m personally excited about is the new Vitamix Food Cycler ($324.95) which solves the issue of what to do if your locality doesn’t collect food scraps. This electric countertop device lets you turn everything from eggshells, coffee grounds and lemon rind into compost that you can mix into soil for garden use. You add the scraps to a bucket inside the unit, turn it on, and in a few hours, it dries the items and then grinds them into fertilizer, reducing the volume of food waste by 90 percent. And the bucket is dishwasher safe!
This option requires more space and more know-how, but it’s definitely doable. And if you’re an avid gardener, you’ll reap the rewards of creating a rich (and free!) fertilizer for your flowers and plants. In addition to food scraps, you can also compost yard clippings and dead leaves and plants. While some methods can take up to a year to create usable fertilizer, other methods produce results in less than a month.
Backyard compost needs to be turned, or aerated, regularly. This allows the microbes to do their thing and break down the plant material. If you’re not so keen on using a pitchfork, you can buy a composter than can be turned, like the Multifunction Garden Compost Tumbler ($96.99). Some people use earthworms to speed up the rate of breakdown in their compost pile, but it isn’t necessary to add them. You’ll know your compost is ready to use when it turns a rich brown and looks like moist soil.
We all want to do right by Mother Earth, but don’t feel like you need to do everything all at once. Figure out which solutions will make the most impact on your household and start with that. To figure out where to begin, take TODAY’s One Green Thing Quiz. Here’s to making our world a greener place!