Holidays are among the highest times of year for food waste, and food waste is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases caused from food being tossed in the trash and taking up space in the landfill. In a landfill, food does not decompose like it would if it were to be properly composted, it just sits there trapped without the oxygen it needs to break down, and instead it leaches toxic methane gases into the air.
In fact, more than a third of the total food produced and distributed in Canada is never eaten. That is quite a significant number, reflecting in a waste of resources and causing significant environmental and economic consequences, such as high costs for waste disposal systems for example.
You might be thinking that it’s just a banana peel, or just table scraps. But it is essential to understand that we need to all play our part in minimizing the food waste in our own kitchens, because our kitchens are not the only place food is discarded. Before food makes it to your house it can also be thrown out for various reasons during processing, distribution, and at the grocery store. 53% of the total food loss and waste happens during a stage in the food supply system before it even reaches your house. Household kitchens are responsible for the other 47% of total wasted food, coming from wholesome, still good to eat food that has been thrown away.
It is our responsibility to make sure food loss and food waste numbers are not this high. To do this, we must do three things:
Minimize the food wasted in our own kitchens
Responsibly discard food scraps and any uneaten food, to make sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill.
Be smart at the grocery store
Minimize Wasted Food in your Kitchen
There are many ways we can help reduce the waste of perfectly good food products in our own homes, and it actually starts with the confusion over how foods are labeled and when we choose to throw products away.
“Best before” dates or “use by” dates are the con artists of wasted household food. Both of these phrases do not indicate safe consumption, but instead show the last recommended date for the use of the product while it is still at peak quality and freshness. Most foods can be consumed days to weeks after these dates, depending on the item. According to Love Food Hate Waste Canada, whipping cream for example can be safely consumed for two weeks after the best before date. There are many other foods that we may waste just because of these dates. Obviously we don’t want to make ourselves sick, but knowing what these labels actually mean can help us prevent wasting perfectly wholesome foods.
There are many strategies that can help prevent wasted food (and wasted money) in your kitchen, and below are some of my favourite reduction strategies for using all the food you buy.
Create an “eat my first bin” – Crisper drawers are the perfect place for this concept, however baskets outside of the fridge are great too. Place food that will go bad within a week in the bin and label to give yourself a gentle reminder!
Freeze your food – An easy one – simply place fresh foods like bread into the freezer either once they’ve been out a few days or right as you buy it. You can do this with fresh produce too like berries and blanched broccoli to extend their edible life.
Label opened things in your fridge – whether it’s a jar of half used pasta sauce, or leftover rice, use a sharpie and make a note on the jar lid or a sticky note to remind yourself when you made/used it. This helps with rotating items in your fridge and using up small amounts of something before opening a new one.
Store fruits away from each other – some fruits such as bananas, apples, and tomatoes give off natural gases as they ripen and will ripen slower if they are fruit-distancing.
Responsibly Discard Food Scraps & Uneaten Food
Composting is the best way to discard food scraps, as putting them in with your garbage is an irresponsible way to manage waste. In a landfill, food does not decompose because it does not have access to the oxygen it needs in order to ferment and break down into soil.
If you live in an area where municipal composting services are available, you have an easy head start to the world of food waste reduction. Your job is just to make sure you are composting correctly, meaning no foreign items like cutlery, fruit stickers, or packaging end up in your bin. Compost is not sorted at a compost center like recycling, and instead it is thrown into a shredder and heated up for a number of months before it turns into beautiful soil. That means that if you decide to throw out a half eaten sandwich in plastic wrap into the compost, well that plastic ends up in the soil used in food industry crops (for food we will eat).
If you don’t live in an area with compost collection, that’s okay, you just have an extra step in the composting process. Compost bins are incredibly easy to maintain and you can even buy the bin itself from any type of garden store. If you’d rather make one yourself, a compost box is easy enough to build with some scrap wood. Just make sure you give it a lid to contain odour, leave holes for it to breath, and turn the compost every once in a while. This way of composting is just as successful and important as the industrial level, the only difference is that you get to use the soil from your efforts. A little reward for your hard work!
Another way to compost at home, especially in the winter, is with vermiculture, also known as worm composting. Worm composting is a fun way to dispose of food waste while also tending to living creatures (great for kids)! The composting system is also incredibly easy to make yourself from two rubbermaids, newspaper, a drill, and of course worms. Finding worms is probably the hardest part about this DIY, but with a little local research, you’ll most likely be able to find a worm farmer near you or at the least, online.
Be Smart at the Grocery Store
Lastly, there are ways that each of us can help with lowering food waste that happens at a grocery store by doing a few things. This list was taken from shopping tips given by the David Suzuki Foundation, which I believe are great ways to help reduce food waste beyond your own kitchen.
Pick dairy products at the front of the row – which has the date closest to the date you are shopping. This ensures that less product is tossed when it hits the “best before date”. But we know that this date is not what it seems and the product actually lasts much longer. So by purchasing products close to the due date, you are saving wasted food!
Pick imperfect fruit – these fruits and veggies that may not be the same shape as all the others are usually picked last or not picked at all, meaning they are thrown away.
Choose overripe produce sometimes – find creative ways to use produce that looks like it may go bad in a day or two. Maybe bake with overripe bananas, eat a pineapple right away, or perhaps choose almost overripe strawberries for wine making!
Choose single bananas instead of a bundle – often these ones are left unchosen, and again end up being tossed!
Pick the last on the shelf – veggies don’t like to be lonely! Actually though, when there is only one of something left on the shelf, we are more likely to ignore it and therefore it may go bad.
The last suggestion I have in this section is about how we always want to shop like we are feeding an entire village. Although at this moment in time you may find yourself doing double shopping trips, or buying a little extra to get you through a few more days to spend less time in public spaces, we still need to remember not to buy beyond our means. Buying in bulk only saves you money if you are able to use the food before it goes bad. Buy only what you need and will use, and be generous to others requiring the same products.
The bottom line is that we are all in this together, making a positive impact one crooked vegetable at a time. Every person has a role to play when it comes to improving the environment and what we take from it. This includes our food, and I am so thankful to live in a place with so much accessibility to a variety of food. The least we can do is waste less of it.