Sustainability Theme of the Month: Reducing Food Waste

The holidays inevitably produce increased food waste.  We’re cooking large meals for family gatherings, baking cookies and treats for gifts, and indulging in our favorite cold-weather recipes.  However, added holiday cooking doesn’t have to amount to additional contributions to the landfill.  It can actually be an opportunity to reevaluate the way we deal with extra food, and make adjustments to reduce the food we throw away year-round.

Did you know food waste takes up more space in landfills than anything else? Worldwide we discard about 1.4 billion tons of food scraps every year, and the US is the largest contributor.  While there are several factors that influence this statistic (agriculture, economics, and social norms, to name a few), there are things we can do in our own homes that make a real difference in our waste diversion.  Here are a few simple steps to reduce the amount of food we trash at home:

1. Make a plan.  If you find yourself throwing out a lot of food waste, think about what foods you typically buy each week.  Making a meal plan ahead of time will let you map out exactly what ingredients you need to buy at the store.  Sustainable Tip: If one recipe calls for half a can of tomato paste, you can either double the recipe or incorporate a second recipe that will use up the other half!  Don’t forget to write down your meal plans, grocery lists, and tried-and-true recipes to make your next meal plan easier!

2. Collect scraps while you cook:  Celebrity TV chef Rachael Ray popularized the concept of keeping a “garbage bowl” on your counter while you prep your food, so you spend less time running between the garbage can and your prep station.  At the same time, this doubles as an easy way to collect organic materials separate from packaging and the rest of your trash.  Once your meal preparation is complete, your bowl of food scraps is ready to be composted! (Check your local compost program’s guidelines ahead of time so you know what foods they do and don’t accept.)

3. After the meal:  The first and best option when you have leftovers is to save them and eat them later!  Package leftovers in airtight, reusable containers so they stay fresh until you’re ready to eat them.  It helps to package meals as close to “ready-to-eat” as possible, so you can easily grab one container and throw the contents into the oven or head out the door with your leftovers.  Your future self will thank you for doing this quick prep step when you’re in a hurry the next morning/evening!  If you’re preparing a meal for a friends-or-family gathering, plan ahead and have extra containers on hand for your guests to take leftovers with them (and avoid messy and wasteful saran-wrapped paper plates or wads of aluminum foil!)

4. Track your progress.  If you’re not sure how much food waste you could potentially divert by composting, you can do your own mini waste audit at home!  Keep a separate bin next to your trash can for a day, or a few days.  Toss food into it instead of the trash when you remember, then at the end of the day, go through the trash and pull out any additional food waste you missed the first time.  How much of your trash is made up of food that could be composted?

Come back next month for an in-depth guide to holiday mindfulness, where we’ll cover gifting and gift wrap, holiday gatherings, and sustainable activities for friends and family!