Estimates suggest that one-third of the food produced globally goes to waste4. We can do a lot 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. However, 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 straight into the trash.
Food waste is a global issue and a major contributor to environmental degradation. Tossing food inadvertently means wasting money and valuable resources - 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 that as food decomposes, it releases greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. One of the main culprits of food waste is methane, the second most common greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.
Research from the World Resources Institute found that halving our food waste would save our atmosphere from 1.5 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. In a country like the U.S., where each individual is estimated to produce about 219 pounds of wasted food yearly5, we need to revisit how our food habits impact the environment.
Food waste also causes an increased demand for food6, raising the requirement for energy and natural resources invested in growing, manufacturing, and transporting food. This means more use of mechanical equipment and consumption of fossil fuels (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 waste3.
Research shows that of the 15 million tons of wasted food generated in The U.K. every year, 7 million tons come from U.K. households.
How much food do we waste? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), only 60% of America's food ends up actually being eaten. All the food scraps and spoiled fruit and veg we throw out, multiplied by millions of homes, 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 vital that we do our bit to avoid wasting food. 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 below tips and ways to reduce food waste.
Before you go to the grocery store, ensure that you have used up (almost) all the edible 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 surplus food is left.
When you're ready for a shopping trip, avoid buying fresh foods in bulk. 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, you do not need to pick them up.
Create a meal plan considering what you already have at home, when you're likely to be out, and what you need in addition. Additionally, shopping more frugally for only what you need will help you save money on your grocery bills and save you from buying too much food in the first place.
Keeping all fruits and vegetables together might seem safe, but they could spoil one another. Remember that rotting food produces gas; this process can start 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:
Additionally, proper food storage in airtight containers and using alternatives to plastic wraps help keep food fresher for longer and ensure food safety, preventing cross-contamination.
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 fridge sections could go bad and eventually have to be thrown into household waste.
Keeping your fridge clutter-free also helps you to see what items are available and inspire you for enjoyable meals. Simply keeping ready-to-eat foods at the front of the fridge can prevent them from going bad at the back. 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 early7, and when one apple starts to rot, the rest follows, resulting in spoiled produce. 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 end this sad sequence, take note of this tip to waste less food and start buying the ugly fruits. They taste just as good as the perfect-looking ones, and each ugly fruit enjoyed is one less rotting away - cutting food waste.
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 an airtight container to make stock with or cook another time. Or blend them with tomatoes or coconut oil for a base for curries you can freeze in small portions to add to fresh produce later.
Similarly, add your vegetable scraps to a reusable container in your freezer and save them up for soup stock. Many creative applications for stocks and soups exist, such as using a chicken carcass to make a chicken broth. While you can whizz up stale bread into breadcrumbs for later use. A search online will reveal many more simple ways to ensure the food you might otherwise have thrown away finds a useful application.
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 excess food and vegetable scraps in your freezer.
Further, with many people going hungry in our cities, when you have too much food to go around, consider donating to local food banks, although it's also wise to check what they need and accept first as there's no point in passing on the problem.
A Harvard research report reveals that the U.S. government does not regulate manufacturers' use of these terms. Several other countries also lack federal binding standards on food labels and the dates placed on food items.
'Use by' indicates the date when food will begin to lose its optimum freshness, while 'expires by' means when the food will officially be considered expired.
While shopping, a top tip to waste less food is to look out for these labels to ensure that you 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; if not, you can eat them. Those labels can easily mislead with ambiguous terms rather than being designed to reduce wasted food.
Several preservation methods you can use to reduce food loss 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. Even better, many vegetable-based preserves make great additions to healthy meals, helping you eat better too.
If you have a garden or room, when your food really is past its best for human consumption, add it to the compost bin.
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.
You could be raising their awareness on this topic by providing information on food waste and its effects on the people around you. 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 to never throw out a single food item again, but we can definitely reduce our food waste to the minimum possible amount.
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.|
|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.|
|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 2030 Food Loss and Waste Reduction Goal. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency)|
|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.