Food Waste Reduction Challenge – Let’s Eat the Food We Buy

Would you toss a $10 bill in your garbage can every week? Probably not, yet millions of Americans spend that and more buying food and later throwing it away. 1

Growing crops and raising animals for food requires a massive amount of land, water, and energy, so does the harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, storing, selling, preparing, and disposing of it. Food loss and waste occur during every phase of food production and consumption including on farms, at processing plants, on the road, at stores and restaurants, and in our homes.

Crops Being Watered by Sprinklers

In 2012, 34.7 millions of tons of food ended up in U.S. landfills. At 21.1%, food made up the largest category of waste by weight. 2

When we fill up landfills with food instead of filling up people, we squander all the resources that went into producing it, waste its valuable nutrition, and throw away a huge amount of money.

It is up to each one of us to do our part in reducing food waste and we can begin today by figuring out how to stop wasting food in our own households.

Why Do People Waste Food?

If asked directly, I expect most if not all people would say they do not purposefully waste food; however, an enormous amount of food is indeed wasted. This is a case of saying one thing and doing another. Clearly, our society views wasting food as an acceptable and perhaps unavoidable practice. I believe this is the root of the problem.

As you push your shopping cart around the grocery store or wander through the farmer’s market, I doubt you are thinking, “I wonder what food I can buy that I won’t eat and will eventually throw in the trash.” I believe we intend to eat the food we buy, but we chronically overbuy, prepare too much food, and are overly optimistic about what our family members or we will and can actually eat.

Woman Scraping Uneaten Food off Plate into Garbage Can

Extra food finds its way into our shopping carts. We grab a bunch of kale because we know we should eat it (even though we hate kale), we load up on hamburger because it is on sale (but forget to freeze part of it when we get home), or we pick up a baguette on the way to the checkout stand (adding it to the two loaves of bread already in the cart).

We do not want to run short of food at meals so we make extra, especially on special occasions when we anticipate people will want seconds or even thirds. At the end of meals, we scrape uneaten food into the garbage disposal or kitchen trash, and the un-served food either follows or is spooned into leftover containers and put in the fridge in hopes that someone else will come along and eat it.

Be honest, does any of this sound familiar?

Our Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Fortunately, my spouse is a dedicated leftovers eater, but we still waste food. A few days ago, I snapped some photos of food waste around our kitchen and later my spouse and I discussed how to avoid wasting food like this in the future.

Oranges

Plate of Oranges with One Spoiled OrangeLast week, we bought a 5-pound bag of oranges at the farmer’s market. The grower does not spray the oranges with chemicals to extend their shelf life, which we appreciate, but the oranges began to spoil before we could eat them all. This is not the first time this has occurred. Our supposed savings for buying in bulk vanish when we end up putting rotten oranges in our composter.

We could start squeezing some of the oranges for juice, but we do not do that now and are unlikely to start. We decided to keep it simple and buy fewer oranges (duh).

Fresh Herbs

We enjoy cooking with fresh herbs but it is difficult to use them up before they dry out or spoil. Sometimes smaller bunches of herbs are available in plastic cartons but that seems more wasteful than wilted herbs ending up in the compost pail.

We could grow our own herbs and cut what we need, but honestly, we are not going to do that. Not buying fresh herbs seems too drastic. We decided to avoid buying fresh herbs sold in plastic cartons and redouble our efforts to use the herbs we do buy.

Salad Dressing

Open Hardly Used Salad DressingsIt was actually my salad dressing collection that prompted this post.

Several months ago in a quest to expand my salad dressing horizons, I bought a new flavor. It was okay but I did not really like it so I bought another bottle, then another and another. As I surveyed these open hardly used bottles, I realized this was a wasteful and costly practice. Technically, my salad dressing collection is not food waste yet, but it would be eventually.

We decided not to buy another bottle of salad dressing until we use all the bottles we currently have on hand, probably not on salads, but in marinades, sauces, and anything else we can dream up.

To make it fun, we will put a $5 bill in a jar on our kitchen counter every time we use up an old bottle of salad dressing. When it is all gone, we will treat ourselves with the money we saved.

Try Your Own Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Games are popular with people of every age and nowadays workplace learning is undergoing gamification in many companies. I believe games can be an effective way to help people learn and change their behavior by making it fun.

Whether you have kids at home or not, or live on your own, identifying and reducing food waste in your home can be educational and fun. Here are a couple of thought starters to get your creative juices flowing.

Food Waste Survey Game

Pink Piggy Bank on Top of Stack of CoinsObjective: to learn what food you throw away and how much it is worth.

Game Play: record each food item you dispose of for a month (a minimum of two weeks if you cannot hack a month). Do not include plate scrapings, but do include leftovers you throw out. At the end of the month, tally the cost of the discarded food by estimating or using receipts. Place that amount in cash and coins in a jar on the kitchen counter and let it sit there for at least two weeks, then donate it to a food bank.

Food Waste Reduction Game

Objective: to reduce food waste in your home and learn how much money you can save.

Game Play: place an empty bowl in a prominent location on the kitchen counter. Find something to use as markers, such as poker chips, pennies, or elbow macaroni and place a hundred or so in a jar (add more later, if needed). Determine the value of the marker; say $0.50, $1.00, or whatever works for you. Each time someone eats leftovers, or crackers from the open box or a piece of produce on the edge of spoiling, put a marker in the bowl (it may be useful to determine ‘acceptable’ actions ahead of time). At the end of the month, count the markers and decide what to do with the money you saved.

Do you have an idea for a food waste reduction game? Share it with other readers in the comments section.

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References

  1. NRDC – Saving Leftovers Saves Money and Resources, last revised 2014/11/19
  2. U.S. EPA – Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012, February 2014

Resources

Green Investing — New Year’s Resolution

I suspect there are many people like me who’ve thought about green investing but done nothing about it. Let’s make 2014 the year we green our 401k, savings, investment, IRA, and stock accounts.

Green Investing - Green Dollar SignsGreen investing is the practice of investing in companies or projects focused on business sectors such as renewable energy, clean water, alternative transportation, eco-friendly consumer products, and sustainable food. It doesn’t matter if we have hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars, we can all participate in green investing.

New Year’s Resolution

My spouse and I had been talking about greening our retirement investments for a few years but hadn’t taken any action to move the ball forward. Greening our investments seemed a daunting task. As the daily money handler, family record keeper, and a former project manager, a green investing project would naturally land on my plate, at least as far as leading the effort. I admit I wasn’t jumping up and down volunteering to take on the project.

As 2013 rolled to a close, we reviewed the green projects we had completed and considered which ones to put our list for 2014. Green investing came up, again. It was time to either tackle it or acknowledge green investing just wasn’t a priority for us. We decided 2014 was the year. I agreed to act as the green investing project manager.

I opted to make greening our retirement investments my New Year’s resolution. Last week I wrote a post entitled A New Take on the Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 in which I proposed we each commit to one personal goal and a companion goal to benefit the greater good. I figured I’d better walk my own talk so added a companion goal that we’ll contribute to a green project, nonprofit, or social business.

As one of my strategies to help keep me on track, I’ve chosen to chronicle our green investing journey on this blog. I’ll write periodic posts to share our progress and what we’ve learned. I hope readers will find the information useful and will share their own ideas and tips.

The Journey Begins

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

— Lewis Carroll

Question Mark Pointing in Many Different DirectionsMy family will say I’m a planning kind of gal and perhaps a tiny bit fanatical when it comes to money. We needed a goal and a road map so I reread a post I wrote last year about how to make SMARTER New Year’s resolutions. SMARTER is a useful acronym for establishing achievable goals.

After conducting a SMARTER review of my New Year’s resolution, I found that we are currently on Lewis Carroll’s journey to anywhere. Below are my findings:

  • Specific – “green our retirement investments” is way too general. We need to define what we are trying to achieve. For instance, do we want to allocate a certain percentage of our funds for green investing, buy stock in a clean tech company, or divest from fossil fuels?
  • Measurable –  measure what?
  • Relevant –  we’re already committed to taking actions to help keep earth habitable for our children and future generations so green investing is relevant to us.
  • Attainable –  attain what?
  • Time-bound –  2014 is our overall time frame but we’ll need milestones to check our progress.
  • Enlist –  my spouse and I will support each other in accomplishing our goal. In addition, I’ve enlisted help to stay energized and accountable by committing to share our progress on this blog.
  • Reward – interim rewards will be appropriate after we actually make some progress.

As it turned out the SMARTER review was an easy and useful exercise. Now I have a few ideas about how to get started.

Getting Started

When in doubt, collect data.

I decided we need some data and established a few mini-goals to be completed by the end of February 2014.

  1. Goal Completion - Dart Board with Dart in BullseyeCollect and review our retirement investments with my spouse.
  2. Conduct online research about green investing for at least 1 hour a week, starting this week.
  3. Contact a fee-only financial planner with green investment expertise and make an appointment.

Stay tuned to find out how we did on our first three mini-goals.

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