Estimates suggest that one-third of the food produced globally goes to waste6. With food waste as a growing worldwide issue in mind, we can and should all do our bit to address food waste. There's a lot that can be done with simple changes to how we go about buying, storing, and eating our food. Here are 9 tips to reduce food waste.
Whether for great taste, nutritional value and healthy eating, or both, we all have our reasons for the type of food we consume. Once we’ve had our fill, we often don't give much thought to the leftovers we scrape into the bin, or the bad fruits and foods that go out of the fridge and straight into the trash. This seemingly harmless disposal of food is a major contributor to an environmental issue that the world is currently struggling to reverse.
Tossing food inadvertently means wasting money, but wasted food is also a contribution to climate change. The food we throw away is sent to landfills where it can decompose properly. The problem is, as food decomposes, it releases methane gas into the atmosphere. This is the second most common greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change. In a country like the US where each individual is estimated to produce about 219 pounds of wasted food every year5, we need to revisit how our food habits impact the environment.
Food waste also causes an increased demand for food7, raising the energy and resources which are invested in growing, manufacturing, and transporting food. This means more use of mechanical equipment and consumption of fossil fuel (such as electricity, petroleum, natural gas, and oil) which also contribute to climate change.
While it might seem like the blame for food waste can be pushed to the agricultural business sector, a study has revealed that households are major contributors to food waste4. Research shows that of the 15 million tons of wasted food generated in The U.K. every year, 7 million tons come from UK households. Those scraps of food and fruit we throw out, multiplied by millions of households, continue to riddle our planet with methane gas.
Whereas there are many interesting social enterprises and initiatives working to reduce food waste as consumers it’s important that we do our bit. So how can we reduce food waste? The first step is raising awareness of the food waste issue. The next step is changing our food habits. This can be achieved by following the tips below.
Before you go to the grocery store, ensure that you have used up (almost) all the food left in your kitchen. This will encourage you to eat certain foods you may have overlooked, or get creative with ingredients by using the last of what is left.
When you're truly ready for a shopping trip, avoid buying in bulk, especially with fresh foods. Research has shown that people who buy in bulk waste more food1. Yes, three bags of apples may be on sale for the price of one, but will you really eat three bags before they go bad?
Also, remember to stick to your shopping list and avoid buying items that are not on it. If you didn't consider those items essential when writing your list, then you do not need to pick them up.
Keeping all fruits and vegetables together might seem safe, but they could be spoiling one another. Remember that rotting food produces gas, and this process can start right in your kitchen. The ethylene gas from certain fruits and vegetables can force other items to start rotting. Food items that produce ethylene gas include:
Remember to store these food items away from ethylene-sensitive foods such as:
A cluttered fridge leaves little room for proper airflow and distribution of the cold air needed to keep your food items fresh. When this happens, food items in different sections of the fridge could go bad and eventually have to be thrown out. Keeping your fridge clutter-free also helps you to see what items are available and inspire you for enjoyable meals. A clutter-free fridge has the added benefit of helping you save on your home electricity bills.
Our preference for perfect-looking fruits is causing food waste all the way to the top of the agricultural chain. While we rummage around the basket of apples at the store, looking for perfect-looking ones, these apples get bumped around.
These bumps start the rotting process early8, and when one apple starts to rot, the rest follows. This encourages grocery stores to offer bulk sales, and many buyers hardly ever finish eating that much fruit, so the excess fruits go into the bin. Grocery store owners don't want to keep losing money, so they ask farmers and distributors to supply attractive fruits, laying the less-perfect ones to waste.
If you want to put an end to this sad sequence take note of this tip to waste less food, start buying the ugly fruits. They taste just as good as the perfect-looking ones.
Fruits and spices are usually the first things to go bad, so they need the most attention. Once you think you're done with a particular fruit, chop it into small cubes and throw it into a freezer bag. You can collect fruits using this method for your smoothies.
While cooking, we usually need whole spices in small portions so it might feel (almost) normal to throw out leftover spices after cooking. Instead, chop up these spices, and put them in a spice freezer bag to make stock with, or cook another time.
Don't be so quick to throw out leftovers as you can use them to create new meals. If you cook a lot or bring your leftovers from restaurants home, designate special evenings where you will have to be creative and make meals out of the food in your freezer.
A Harvard research report reveals that the U.S. government does not regulate the use of these terms by manufacturers3. Several other countries also lack federal binding standards on the dates placed on food items.
‘Use by’ indicates the date when food will begin to lose its optimum freshness, while ‘expires by’ indicates the date when the food will officially be considered as expired.
While shopping, a top tip to waste less food is to look out for these labels to ensure that you do buy nearly expired items if you intend to eat them straight away (which will mean the supermarket doesn't trash them) and not if you aren’t. At home test the freshness of food without sticking too rigorously to the dates. Most food will smell bad if they are and if not you can eat them. Those labels can easily mislead with ambiguous terms rather than being designed to reduce food waste.
There are several preservation methods that can be used to keep food fresh and edible for months. Most food items can be stored by freezing, canning, drying, pasteurization, or fermentation. Find out which options are best for your favorite foods, and start preserving to waste less food.
In a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nutritionists were able to get university students to waste less food by leaving printed prompt messages around their dining halls2. By simply providing information on food waste and its effects on the people around you, you could be raising their awareness on this topic. This might prompt some people to take a more conscious approach to their eating and food habits. Your small gestures will, to some extent, help the global journey to reducing food waste.
We don't expect that we will never throw out a single food item again, but we can definitely reduce our food waste to the minimum amount possible.
Here’s a recap of all the tips to reduce food waste shared above:
|Ligon (2014). Shop More, Buy Less: A Qualitative Investigation Into Consumer Decisions That Lead To Food Waste In U.S. Households. University of Arizona.|
|Kelly J. Whitehair, Carol W. Shanklin, Laura A. Brannon, Written Messages Improve Edible Food Waste Behaviors in a University Dining Facility, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Volume 113, Issue 1, 2013, Pages 63-69, ISSN 2212-2672, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2012.09.015.|
|NRDC.org: Dating Game Report: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America. September 2013.|
|Helén Williams, Fredrik Wikström, Tobias Otterbring, Martin Löfgren, Anders Gustafsson, Reasons for household food waste with special attention to packaging, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 24, 2012, Pages 141-148, ISSN 0959-6526, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.11.044.|
|United States Environmental Protection Agency. United States 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal.|
|Sally V. Russell, C. William Young, Kerrie L. Unsworth, Cheryl Robinson, Bringing habits and emotions into food waste behaviour, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 125, 2017, Pages 107-114, ISSN 0921-3449, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.06.007.|
|United States Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing Wasted Food At Home|
|Greg Tucker, Xueren Yin, Aidi Zhang, MiaoMiao Wang, Qinggang Zhu, Xiaofen Liu, Xiulan Xie, Kunsong Chen, Don Grierson, Ethylene and fruit softening, Food Quality and Safety, Volume 1, Issue 4, December 2017, Pages 253–267, https://doi.org/10.1093/fqsafe/fyx024|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.