Eliminate Food Waste (Part 1 of 3)

It’s happened to the best of us. That new recipe didn’t turn out as tasty as we’d hoped. The snack that looked so appealing in the store left a funky aftertaste. Last month’s leftovers ended up lonely and forgotten in the back of the fridge. Chucking each into the trash seemed like no big deal. But how hard does food waste hit both our bottom line, and the environment?

Best if Used. 40% of food in America is wasted. savethefood.com
Ad I spotted while walking downtown recently.

Food Waste Facts

The statistics on food waste are mind-boggling:    

  1. Over one-third of food produced globally goes to waste.
  2. An area larger than China is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  3. 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten.
  4. In most developed countries, over half of all food waste takes place in the home.
  5. The average US home wastes $2,275 worth of food per year.

The Hidden Costs of Food Waste

Consider this: Every time you throw away food, you also discard:

  • The money you spent on it.
  • The energy, water, and labor that went into growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, and selling it.
  • The time and energy it took you to purchase and prepare it.

Of all these factors, which one weighs the most on your conscience? The next time you toss food into the garbage, visualize that waste. It’ll go a long way to helping you change your habits and avoid such waste in the future.

For example, the factor that gets to me the most is labor. Let’s say I throw away a strawberry that’s gone bad. I think about the various people who:

  • cleared, planted, watered, and cared for the field where it grew
  • toiled under the hot sun to pick it
  • placed it carefully into a package
  • loaded the package onto a truck
  • drove the truck to the market
  • unloaded the package and put it out for display
  • rang up my purchase

It may help that I’ve picked berries many times myself. About once a year, I take the kids to our local U-Pick berry farm, where we harvest the sweetest, juiciest, most delicious strawberries you’ve ever tasted. We go at our convenience, on a nice summer morning, when it’s not too hot, rainy, buggy, or otherwise uncomfortable. Once we start picking, we can stop whenever we want. Usually, we spend an hour or so there – certainly no more than ninety minutes. Then the novelty wears off, and my back and knees are sore. We’re ready to head home, take a breather, and enjoy the rest of our day.

Contrast this with the person who picked the store-bought strawberry that I just threw out. That person labors in the field day in, and day out. They don’t have the luxury of giving their back and knees a break for the rest of the day or deciding it’s too hot, rainy, or buggy to stay out there. Most, if not all, of the people who labored to get that strawberry to my fridge, in all the various jobs listed above, make a lot less money and live a lot harder lives than I do. So when I throw it away, I’m also discarding their blood, sweat, and toil.

Now that you’ve been sufficiently guilted into avoiding food waste: how do you go about eliminating it?

Tip #1: Use Shopping Lists Consistently

My husband and I simply use the Reminders app on our iPhones to keep running shopping lists, which are synced to our shared iCloud account. Any time one of us adds an item to the list, it appears automagically on the other’s phone. Knowing that not everyone has an iPhone, I spent a bit of time researching other options for this post and discovered that there are many awesome grocery list apps out there. I plan to try a few out and share a review in a separate post down the road.

Whatever method you currently use, the key is consistency on both ends: adding to the list before your shopping trip, and sticking to the list at the store.

We’ve learned the hard way that when we’re running low on one of our staples, it must get added to the list right away. If we wait for “later” to add it, then thanks to our busy distracted lives it’s likely to get forgotten altogether. And then the shopper is more likely to second-guess the list’s accuracy because they’re afraid that something that should’ve been added, wasn’t. We have run into this situation more times than I care to admit.

Five large bags of shredded cheese
An actual picture of the inside of our fridge.

Yes, in the above photo you see at a total of 12.5 pounds of shredded cheese. During two separate trips to Costco in the same month, when the shopper didn’t see cheese on the list, they didn’t trust that it was because we didn’t actually need cheese. They assumed that we did, in fact, need cheese, but cheese had been mistakenly omitted from the list. Thankfully the newest package shown here doesn’t expire for four months, and we go through about one pound in a typical week, so we won’t end up wasting any. But imagine if we had made a similar mistake with something more perishable, like salad greens.

Which brings us to the second point of consistency: sticking to the list at the store. This prevents you from buying items you don’t need. You’re also unlikely to impulse buy. Companies hire clever marketers to sell more of the most profitable products, which come in bright, attractive packages. These also tend to be more expensive per serving and more highly processed. Not only will sticking to the list save you money by avoiding waste and focusing on lower-cost products, but it will also help you maintain a healthier diet.

What else can we do to prevent food waste? Read on in Part 2 and Part 3!

Thanks for reading, and for taking the next step to becoming SuperGreener!
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2 Replies to “Eliminate Food Waste (Part 1 of 3)”

  1. Pingback: Eliminate Food Waste (Part 2 of 3) – SuperGreener

  2. Pingback: Eliminate Food Waste (Part 3 of 3) – SuperGreener

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