Around one-third of the food produced worldwide—that’s fit for human consumption—gets spoiled or squandered every year, according to the United Nations (UN). This massive wastage of food isn’t just one of the root causes of global hunger but also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions across the globe.
“Compacted in a landfill and cut off of oxygen, decomposing food emits methane —a greenhouse gas that’s about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide—over a 20-year-period,” tells Anne-Marie Bonneau, author of The Zero-Waste Chef: Plant-Forward Recipes and Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen and Planet. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), food waste accounts for roughly 8% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. “To put that into perspective, the aviation industry is responsible for approximately 2.5% of carbon dioxide emissions,” notes Bonneau.
Moreover, it’s not only the actual food that’s getting wasted, either. “Land—including important ecosystems such as virgin rainforests and peatlands—is being cleared, people are displaced and habitats destroyed for us to grow more and more food,” says Lindsay Miles, zero-waste expert and author of Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps To A Joyful And Clutter-Free Life. Meanwhile, “one in nine people experienced food insecurity in the US before the Covid-19 outbreak,” says Bonneau. The situation has only worsened during the pandemic.
Why does so much food gets wasted before reaching our plate?
There are various factors behind food wastage, some of which we have control over as consumers and some of which we don’t.
For instance, “stores and restaurants that sell food create a lot of waste through over-ordering, excessive displays and binning perfectly edible food rather than donating it to food banks, churches or other charities,” says Miles. In fact, some of this food goes to waste simply because it’s deemed aesthetically imperfect. “Most grocery stores will accept fruit and vegetables only if they meet rigid cosmetic standards. For example, all the apples stacked in the produce aisles have to have a uniform shape and size, with zero blemishes,” tells Bonneau. “I have seen bananas being thrown out simply because they are too big or too small. Peppers that are misshapen, slightly scarred or do not stand on their own are also thrown out for not meeting those beauty requirements. It’s ridiculous that our food has beauty standards when these ‘imperfect’ products taste just as good,” says Going Zero Waste founder, Kathryn Kellogg.
On the consumer front, food waste can occur for a number of reasons, including people getting confused by “best before,” “best by” and “sell by” labels that often lead them to dispose of perfectly edible food. In addition, going shopping on an empty stomach can also contribute to food waste as it often means that people end up buying more than they need, says Miles.
Meanwhile, “weather events such as storms or floods which damage crops, poor storage in warehouses and refrigeration breakdowns can also lead to food spoiling, adds the zero-waste lifestyle advocate.
So, what can we do to minimize food waste in everyday life?
Better food waste management is important to not only reduce waste and ensure that people who need food have access to it but also to decrease pressure on our land, water and other resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions, notes Miles. Here are eight expert-backed ways to curb food waste at home:
- ‘Shop’ your fridge and pantry before you go grocery shopping. “Check what you have to make sure you don’t double up. And make a list of what you need,” suggests Miles. “A list will also help you focus and make fewer impulse purchases,” she points out. Also, “as a bonus, shopping in your kitchen first will also reduce packaging waste because the less food you buy, the fewer packages you’ll bring home,” adds Bonneau.
- Learn how to store fruits and vegetables correctly. Instead of shoving everything in the fridge, take the time to find out how to store different items correctly to help them last longer. For instance, “keep potatoes and onions in the dark and separate from one another and they won’t go mushy, store apples in the fridge so that they stay crisp, leave unripe fruit on the counter till it ripens and keep fruit away from leafy green vegetables because the greens will yellow much faster,” suggests Miles.
- Shop local. “When it comes to grocery shopping try and support your local farmers or a produce box like Imperfect Foods so you can help rescue food that would otherwise have gone to waste,” suggests Kellogg.
- Reuse leftovers. “Most of us, when we cook, search for a recipe based on what we feel like eating, make a list of the necessary ingredients, go out shopping and finally cook the dish. Do that a few nights a week, and you’ll have a pile of leftover ingredients and leftover food. So rather than starting the process with a recipe, look through the refrigerator and pantry, see what’s on hand and let that food dictate what you’ll cook for dinner,” suggests Bonneau. “For example, right now I have some leftover cooked yellow potatoes in my refrigerator. I can make gnocchi out of those. I also have leftover pesto in the freezer. There’s dinner right there. If I have leftover gnocchi, I can toss that into the soup later in the week,” explains the zero-waste chef. You can even bring leftovers to the office for lunch. “It will not only clear out the refrigerator at home but also reduce the inevitable food waste generated by large takeout portions that people often can’t finish,” says Bonneau.
- Decode sell-by labels. One of the best things you can do as a consumer is to understand that ‘best by’, ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ labels mean absolutely nothing, says Kellogg. “Manufacturers cannot tell you when something is going to expire. It’s simply a best guess so you need to use your best judgment with a visual, smell or taste test,” tells Kellogg. “The USDA doesn’t regulate these dates. Rather, food manufacturers stamp these dates on their packages to indicate when the food will be at its peak quality. But many consumers fear they will get sick if they eat food past the best before date on its package, thus encouraging consumers to throw out food—and to buy more,” explains Bonneau.
- Give away food that you know you’re not going to eat before it spoils. Miles suggests using neighborhood networks like the Buy Nothing Project and Nextdoor to help you connect with neighbors and share goods that you don’t need. You can also donate excess dry goods to local food banks or Little Free Pantries. Miles also recommends using the OLIO app that allows users to list excess food for others in their neighborhood to collect. “Since it started, they’ve saved nearly 10 million items of food from landfill,” she adds.
- Be mindful when discarding food. “Ask yourself ‘why’ beyond the obvious ‘it went bad’. Why did it go bad? Did you buy too much at the store? Did you have intentions to cook but ended up getting takeout? Did you buy it because you thought it was ‘healthy’ but then decide you didn’t want to eat it? The more you can understand your eating habits, the more you can tweak them and waste less food,” Miles explains. “Maybe that means accepting that you’ll always get takeout a couple of times a week so you should buy less fresh produce or acknowledging that you’ll just never eat a particular healthy food even though you buy it every week so you can remove it from the shopping list,” says the sustainable lifestyle expert.
- Compost food scraps. “Food should never be put in the landfill. Instead, you should be composting it,” suggests Kellogg. “Food can’t break down in landfills instead it releases methane which is 30 times more powerful than your average greenhouse gas,” explains the zero-waste expert. This is why composting is much better for the environment so your food scraps can be turned into nutrient-rich soil, she says.
Published at Sun, 31 Jan 2021 18:35:27 +0000