According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste (globally) is the NUMBER 3 MOST IMPORTANT thing we can do to reduce our climate impact. NUMBER THREE!
If you’re curious, number one is refrigerant management and number two is onshore wind power. Regardless, I was surprised (as you might guess by the all caps situation above) that food waste was such a big solution. There is a lot of food wasted in this world, and it represents a huge problem for emissions.
In short, about 30-40% of global food production is unused, and almost the same amount (35%) of food is tossed out by consumers in wealthy nations. Overall, food waste accounts for 8% of global emissions. Why is food waste such a big deal?
Food Waste Facts
First, on the farming and industry side, wasted food means wasted land, energy, and money. If you have a huge field growing carrots, and one-third of those carrots are tossed away or left to rot, the land used for them has been wasted during the specific growing season.
Second, each step of our (predominantly fossil-fuel based agricultural system) that is used to plow, plant, and tend to that one-third of carrots is also wasted. And this doesn’t account for the wasted time and energy of farmers and workers, as well as the incurred expenses for labor, seeds, implements, and more.
Most retailers have very strict ‘beauty requirements’ for fruits and vegetables – only the most perfectly round tomatoes, just-right red apples, and super straight carrots have a chance of finding their way into supermarkets. This leaves millions of pounds of fruits and veggies in fields and farms to rot – all while we have a massive hunger issue in the US.
You can help make a dent in industrial side of food waste by:
- Talking to your local food stores – see if they have buyers with flexible buying power for local options
- Purchase ‘ugly produce’ using a specific delivery program like Imperfect Produce, or find the ugly ones at stores.
- Shop local: smaller farms will likely have less incentive to waste food on a local scale, and you’ll often find deals on ‘processing grade’ or rejected produce – it’s always worth asking what’s behind the display.
There are national and industrial standards that need to change to make a huge dent in this problem, but you can make a big impact at home, too.
How to Reduce Food Waste at Home
A good portion of our global food waste comes from us at home: moldy bread, rotten greens, forgotten leftovers. Here’s a photographic journey through our food waste so you can see how beautiful and scary our waste situation is. If you are serious about diverting food from the waste stream, you need to make more careful buying decisions, store food properly, and bring to-go containers to restaurants to take home any foods leftover.
This is much easier said than done, of course! I still find leftover greens (oops) and leftovers from who-knows-which-meal. But here are some tips I’ve used to try to reduce my waste in practical, easy ways:
- Learn just how MUCH food you do waste. We can’t make changes until we know what to change, right? Think about food you toss out each week: maybe it’s big things like a bunch of greens, but maybe it’s small pieces here and there: bread crusts, slightly off vegetables, take-out meals, or leftovers. Knowing what you’re tossing out makes it easier to figure out how to fix it.
- Compost it! Keep your food waste in a bin in your your freezer: seems weird, but in our warm climate it’s imperative to keep the bugs away and ensure we don’t have to take out the trash everyday. But most importantly, it gives you insight into a week’s worth of waste so you can make a learn to waste less. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, learn the basics of composting to turn your trash into garden treasure.
- What foods you always waste, but continue to purchase? My problem? Jars of pasta sauce. Homemade pasta sauce just never fits into my week, but after one meal of noodles with jarred sauce, I just ignore it. This needs to stop.
- Use the whole veggie: You can stop peeling potatoes, carrots, and beets. The skins are edible and reduces your waste immediately. Also, broccoli stalks and kale stems? Chop them small, sauté with onions and carrots, and use as the base of a stir-fry. It’s like free veggies! Make homemade broth with whatever you cannot eat.
- If you eat animal foods, consider ‘nose-to-tail’ eating which involves, y’know, eating the whole animal– it’s very popular now with the omnivorous hipsters. For the veggies among us, the alternative is stem-to-root eating: learning how to use cherry pits, watermelon rind, corn cobs, stems/stalks/roots and more!
- Keep working at it! Long-held habits are not going to change overnight. It’s process, and there are lots of things to learn along the way. Continue to learn more about food waste, and how to reduce it in the various ways. Need some more ideas: here are some more tips to reduce food waste to keep you motivated
Related: Learn how to reduce all your waste with my 10 zero-waste kitchen tips!