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 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 we push our shopping carts around the grocery store or wander through the farmer’s market, I doubt anyone is 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 our 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 marker value; 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.

Related Posts

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

10 Green New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Let’s make our 2015 New Year’s resolutions green and easy to achieve. I propose we get started by heading off to our local grocery markets.

Line of Shopping Carts

Grocery markets are ideal venues for undertaking our New Year’s resolutions for several reasons. First, we already shop for groceries on a regular basis so will not need to squeeze another activity into our already busy schedules. Second, grocery shopping is a recurring task giving us plenty of opportunities to practice and reinforce our new habits. Third, grocery shopping involves making straightforward decisions like to buy or not buy a particular food or item, switch to a different product, or try something new.

10 Green New Year’s Resolutions We Can Accomplish at the Grocery Market

We grocery shoppers are more powerful than we may realize. Each time we buy or do not buy a product we contribute to the data pool that farmers, manufacturers, and retailers analyze and use to make decisions about what to grow, make, and sell.

When millions of people make a change, even a small one, it all adds up. Take organic food, for instance, once considered a niche market, organic food is now available at national grocery chain stores and even some big box retailers. In part, this is due to a few people requesting and buying organic food, then more people, then many people, and eventually millions of people.

Imagine the positive impact we can achieve if each one of us chooses one of the ten green New Year’s resolutions below and incorporates it into our weekly grocery shopping. We can cut carbon emissions and reduce waste, make healthier food choices and even save money.

New Year's Resolution - 2015 Happy New Year Sign and Target with Arrow in Bullseye

Avoid Aluminum

Making single-use disposable aluminum beverage cans is a wasteful application for a valuable material with a huge environmental impact. Since we are likely to buy beverages during each shopping trip, eliminating drinks that come in aluminum cans from our grocery lists is a green choice that keeps on giving week after week.

Bring Your Own Bags

Bringing our own reusable bags to the grocery market gives us an opportunity to be on the leading edge of a growing trend of people, municipalities, and even states saying no to single-use plastic bags, which are wasteful on so many levels. If we can remember to grab our wallets, we can remember our bags.

Reusable Shopping Bags of Various Styles and Sizes

Pass on Packaging

Skipping single serve packages, buying in bulk, and bringing our own reusable produce bags are just a few of the options available for cutting down on the amount of throwaway packaging we bring home and later toss in the trash or recycle bin. Recycling is a good habit, but not having a package to recycle is even better.

Opt for Organic

Opting for organic fruits and vegetables over their conventionally grown counterparts supports environmentally and people friendly farming practices. If millions of shoppers purchased just one organic fruit or vegetable a week, surely produce department managers across the country would take notice.

Organic Fruits, Vegetables, and Packaged Food Items

Recycled Fiber is all the Rage

Choosing paper goods like toilet paper, facial tissue, napkins, and towels made from 100% recycled paper fiber reduces deforestation. Selecting chlorine-free products is even better.

Soap Switch Up

Manufacturers have spent millions of dollars on advertising trying to convince us that we need to buy liquid soap in decorative plastic dispensers, even though it does not clean any better than bar soap. Spending less by switching to bar soap makes sense economically and environmentally.

Liquid Soap Dispenser and Stack of Bar Soap

Ban Bottled Water 

Bottled water is not an environmentally friendly product and recycling the plastic bottles, which few people do, does not make it so. Banning bottled water from our shopping carts is green and good for our wallets.

Look for Local

Looking for and buying locally and regionally produced foods cut carbon emissions by reducing the number of miles our food travels. Locally grown produce is fresher (often picked the day we buy it) so it will last longer in our fridges and fruit bowls. Trying new local food products instead of buying our usual national brands can be fun and tasty too.

Grocery Market Locally Grown Produce Section

Fair Trade Fan

Purchasing fair trade products ensures farmers receive a fair price for the food they grow like cacao beans, coffee beans, and bananas. Farmers receiving fair trade certification are required to follow eco-friendly and sustainable agricultural practices, making buying fair trade products good for people and the planet.

Make More Meals Meatless

Buying less meat (especially beef) is perhaps the greenest New Year’s resolution we can accomplish at the grocery market. Growing grain for livestock feed and raising animals for meat has an enormous environmental footprint, which is growing as more people around the world eat more meat. Implementing meatless Mondays is an easy way to remember to eat less meat but any meal or day will work.

Hopefully, you found at least one of the above New Year’s resolution ideas appealing and decided to go for it. To increase your chances of success keep it simple, specific, and doable. For instance, make a resolution to buy bar soap for your shower, switch to recycled fiber toilet paper, or make one dinner a week meatless.

Let’s do it!

 Related Posts

A Healthy Diet is Good for You and the Planet

Fast Food Cheeseburger and Deep Fried Onion RingsIn the U.S., over 34% of adults and 17% of children are obese.1, 2

Clearly, as a society, we are struggling with eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise, aided and abetted by fast food joints, clever advertising, and overly busy schedules.

Besides being good for our personal wellbeing, I believe eating a healthy diet often leads to food and drink choices that are more environmentally friendly. I doubt anyone would disagree that preventing illness, disability, and environmental damage are worthy goals.

I know from first-hand experience how challenging it can be to make the shift to eating a healthier diet and how rewarding it is to actually do it. In hopes of helping others in a similar situation, I’ll share my story in this post and the next.

The Pounds Creep On

I was always one of those lucky people who could eat whatever I wanted and still stay slender, that is, until about ten years ago. Call it middle age, stress, or whatever, but three years ago, I realized my waist had expanded several inches and I was carrying around at least 40 excess pounds; it just crept up on me. My eating habits were okay they just included too many calories from snacks and sweets.

Pile of Candy, Cookies, Crackers, and NutsMy right foot first alerted me I might have a weight problem. I began having sharp pains in my heel, then the bottom of my foot and then next my knees started hurting sometimes when I sat down or stood up. Instead of facing the issue, I adopted a strategy of doing nothing and hoping the problem would solve itself.

Several months later, with the knee pain on the rise, I remembered something I had read somewhere that said losing one pound reduces four pounds of stress on your knees. I thought, “Maybe I should try to lose weight.” Right on the heels of that thought was “I’ve never been on diet in my life.” and “There is no way I’m going to join a gym.”

Since I am a rather goal-oriented person, I like New Year’s Resolutions, often make and sometimes keep them. My 2012 New Year’s Resolution was to lose 40 pounds over a 2-year period.

I Have Never Been on a Diet and I Am Not Starting Now

Fortunately, I realized from the outset that to succeed I would need to make changes in my diet that I could live with for the rest of my life so I was expecting a lot of trial and error.

Tape Measure Wrapped Around PedometerAfter announcing my intention to my spouse, I dusted off my bathroom scale, unearthed an old fabric tape measure from the back of a drawer, bought a pedometer, downloaded a free food and exercise app on my smartphone, and headed to the library.

Over the course of two years, I probably read at least two dozen books about diet and nutrition, and the environmental and ethical aspects of growing, processing, and selling food (see below for a list of my favorites). The books provided a good foundation about how food interacts with our bodies and minds and a few good how-to tips on healthy eating.

Armed with information and equipment, I began my quest to eat a healthier diet and become pain-free.

Personal Benefits of Eating a Healthy Diet

As it turned out, after two years, I had lost 25 pounds not 40. All of my foot and a knee pain had disappeared and I felt healthy and well, and looked a better too. My spouse also lost weight and discovered a taste for kale, which I do not share.

I could have stopped at that point, but as I said earlier, I am a goal-oriented kind of gal so last January I set a new goal to lose the other 15 pounds over two more years.

Environmental Benefits of Eating a Healthy Diet

As far as the environmental benefits of our healthier eating habits:

  • We eat a lot more locally grown and produced food, which cuts down on the miles our food travels and reduces carbon emissions, besides we like supporting local businesses.
  • Community Supported Agriculture Organic FarmWe use more whole foods and less packaged foods, which reduces energy and water use and generates less waste, and it limits the amount of weird synthetic substances in our food.
  • We eat more fruits and vegetables and a lot less meat especially beef, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from livestock facilities.
  • We buy some organic food, which means no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers, better for everyone, farmers, the land, and us.
  • We compost our food scraps, which results in less garbage going down the drain or in the trash and nurtures the soil in our yard.

The Bottom Line

The thing is, that when it comes to eating healthy you have actually do it, and many of the ideas and strategies suggested by books, websites, and apps just did not work for an ordinary person like me.

In the next post, I will share the things that worked for me and the secret I discovered along the way to eating for health and wellbeing.

Related Posts

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Adult Obesity Facts
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Childhood Obesity Facts

Resources

Top 10 Diet, Nutrition, and Food Industry Book List

Below are ten books on a variety of food-related topics that I found useful during the research phase of my journey to eat a healthier diet.

  1. Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, by Michele Simon
  2. Fast food nation : the dark side of the all-American meal, by Eric Schlosser
  3. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, by Marion Nestle
  4. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, by Michael Pollan
  5. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, by Brian Wansink
  6. Nutrition for Life : The No-Fad, No-Nonsense Approach to Eating Well and Reaching Your Healthy Weight, by Lisa Hark, PhD, RD and Darwin Deen, MD
  7. The Best Life Diet, by Bob Greene
  8. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan
  9. The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, by Joel Salatin
  10. You On a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management, by Michael F. Roizen, MD and Mehmet C. Oz, MD

I found the videos Food, Inc. and Forks over Knives to be enlightening.