By Myra Khan
Each year in the United States, 30-40% of all food produced is wasted, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some of this waste is producer-based, such as farmers throwing out damaged crops or grocery stores throwing out unsold foods.
Much of the waste is caused by average people, like us, throwing out food at staggering rates. We may not realize it at first but the food we throw in the garbage adds up, resulting in tons of food being sent to landfills.
In order to create a society where food and the people who produce it are valued, we all need to do our part to help stop different forms of food waste.
Here are some tips to help you cut down your own food waste and save money in the process!
Tip #1: Say yes to leftovers
Are you someone who frequently finds themselves leaving food on your plate while eating out? Take this as a sign to break that pattern. Get in the habit of asking for a doggie bag and spice up the leftovers at home. Reheated leftovers can be an easy way to skip cooking for a meal.
For kitchen-savvy souls, adding new spices, condiments, or sides to an old dish can create an entirely new experience with minimal effort.
Tip #2: Reorganize your fridge
When your fridge becomes more cluttered than it is food, it’s time for a makeover. Spend a day clearing out all of the old food from your fridge and sort what’s remaining by type and expiration date. If you’re meal prepping or storing leftovers, be sure to label each item with the date you cooked it and keep the oldest ones near the front.
Having a clean and organized fridge can go a long way in helping you remember what you can have for dinner and what you need to finish first. Knowing exactly what’s in your fridge can also help save money by reducing what you need at the store. Having a sanitized fridge can help food stay good due to the lack of bacterial build-up.
Tip #3: Make friends with your freezer
Make sure you’re sticking more in your freezer than just ice trays and popsicles. Most food items can be frozen for months at a time without going bad, providing a great way to preserve food you might have made too much of. Label and date containers before you pop them in since frozen food can often be difficult to make out later on.
Tip #4: Keep containers handy
If you’re like many college students, you must go to plenty of festivals, public lectures, and cultural events on campus which more than likely feature free food. Many of these events will have catering left over at the end– a perfect time to use a plastic container kept in your bag or backpack to grab some chow for later.
Not only does this help you grab another snack or meal, but it also helps the event planners waste less food.
Tip #5: Learn about what else your food can do for you
Before tossing out a mushy banana or an old tea bag, consider using it for another purpose. Overripe produce can go great in smoothies or face masks. Steeped tea bags can help soothe sunburnt skin, fruit seeds can be planted, and oils and vinegar make great cleaners. Be creative! Who knows what use you might be able to come up with for food that would have otherwise been tossed?
Tip #6: Get into composting
All of the dining halls at ASU have composting bins, courtesy of Zero Waste. Composting is another wonderful way to get rid of food. If you must throw it away you should compost it, since it will be reused as soil rather than rotting away in a landfill.
Grains, produce, and proteins can all be composted using the available bins in dining halls and other locations around campus.
If you don’t have access to composting facilities, certain foods are easy to compost at home. Coffee grounds, tea leaves, vegetable scraps, and herbs degrade easily, giving you rich soils to use in your home garden or indoor plant pots.
For more information about composting at ASU, visit Zero Waste’s page here.
Tip #7: Share your scraps with animals
While most domestic pets can’t digest much of the food we eat, many farm and animal reserve animals can safely eat a lot of our food scraps. Farm or reserve animals like pigs, tortoises, or even insects can chow down on things that would make common cats or dogs ill. Some parks with ducks, swans or geese also permit visitors to feed the local wildlife, though you should only do this if you see signage indicating that it’s allowed. Read up on your local animal reserves, parks, and farms to see which locations near you might be good ways to help your food go to feed another hungry mouth.
Learn more about legally and safely feeding scraps to animals at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
Tip #8: Embrace ugly food
Let’s face it: some produce just looks funky, whether it’s a bulbous strawberry or a pale watermelon. But that ugly-looking food is usually perfectly good to eat. Learning to judge food’s edibility by its smell and taste rather than its appearance is key in reducing food waste. Unless produce is leaking, smashed, or visibly rotting, chances are, it’s good enough to bite into.
Grocery stores usually end up throwing away this “ugly” produce because consumers tend to leave it on the shelves, despite it being just as fresh as its neighbors. Whether it’s in your fridge or on a store shelf, remember to give abnormal produce a chance before tossing it.
Tip #9: Give food back to your community
A high-impact way to counter food waste is by helping to redirect edible food away from landfills and towards hungry people in your community. If you plan catered events through work or a student organization, make a plan for the food at your event to be given away rather than thrown away at the end. Additionally, encouraging local grocery stores or restaurants to donate their end-of-day leftovers to community organizations makes a big difference.
Leftover, uneaten food can be donated to food banks, homeless/refugee shelters, or food rescue organizations, depending on the type of food. Usually, these organizations do not accept spur-of-the-moment donations, so reach out ahead of time to check their policies and set up a system with them.
If you find yourself with extra, uneaten food suddenly, a quick social media PSA or announcement in a public area will get that food off your hands a lot faster than you think.
Wrapped/sealed foods and drinks are also great to hand out to local homeless folks near campus who might usually not have access to fresh, nutritious foods. When there are people going hungry around us each day, it should be our mission to redirect as much perfectly edible food as possible from landfills to these people.
Like many sustainability problems in the world, food waste occurs both at the corporate and the individual level. Making responsible choices at the individual level can help us change our collective relationship with resources like food.
We can hold corporations accountable for their polluting, exploitative, and wasteful business practices. We should also hold ourselves accountable by working towards a society where everyone intuitively makes decisions that are smart for us, our communities, and the Earth.
Reach the writer on Twitter