How to Overcome Wasteful

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20 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste

Food waste is a bigger problem than many people realize.

In fact, nearly one-third of all food produced in the world is discarded or wasted for various reasons. That equates to nearly 1.3 billion tons every year (1).

Not surprisingly, industrialized countries like the United States waste more food than developing nations. In 2020, the average American generated about 219 pounds (99 kg) of food waste, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2).

While you might not think food waste affects you, think again.

Tossing edible food doesn’t just waste money. Discarded food is sent to landfills, where it rots and produces methane gas, which is the second most common greenhouse gas. In other words, throwing out your food contributes to climate change.

It wastes a huge amount of water, too. According to the World Resources Institute, 24% of all the water used for agriculture is lost through food waste every year. That’s 45 trillion gallons (about 170 trillion liters).

Although these numbers may seem overwhelming, you can help reduce this harmful practice by following the easy tips in this article. Every little bit helps.

29 Smart and Easy Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Ah, childhood meals: Flinging peas at your sister, hiding more peas under the mashed potatoes, and being scolded by an adult for avoiding the consumption of said peas — “Clean your plate! There are starving kids in Africa.” At a young age, we learned to feel guilty for wasting food while other people don’t have any. And maybe we should. Because here’s something astounding: The amount of food waste produced globally each year is more than enough to feed the nearly 1 billion hungry people in the world .

But does that mean we should stuff ourselves even when we’re full? Nope, that’s not helping anybody. So what’s a pea-hating child-turned-adult to do?

First of all, don’t let the guilt paralyze you. Cutting back on food waste is incredibly easy, and we’ve made it even simpler by putting together 29 tips designed to reduce food waste at the grocery store, at home, and during meals.

Sir (or Madam) Waste-a-Lot — The Need to Know

Experts tend to differentiate between food loss and food waste. Food loss occurs when food is thrown out or somehow decreases in quality during processing (i.e., before it hits supermarket shelves); it’s mostly an issue in so-called developing countries. Food waste, on the other hand, tends to be a major issue in “developed” countries such as the U.S. It refers to situations when food makes it to the end of the food supply chain but still doesn’t get consumed. Currently, one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. That’s about 1.3 billion tons of nom-worthy edibles per year, and less than a quarter of it could feed hungry people the world over.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is currently one of the largest culprits in this waste-making racket (see: the video above) . Some sources estimate Americans trash as much as 40 percent of our food supply every year, and food waste is one of the largest components of solid waste in U.S. landfills.

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And we’re not just wasting food: All those groceries in the trash add up to almost $165 billion lost annually, not to mention the environmental resources that are wasted on growing food that’s thrown away. Wasted food creates billions of tons of greenhouse gases (major culprits in climate change) and needlessly consumes precious land and water resources. All of these numbers are so startling that the U.N. has recently begun a new global campaign, Think Eat Save, dedicated to combating food wasted by consumers, retailers, and the hospitality industry.

Now that we’re all sufficiently depressed, it’s time for the good news: We as individuals can implement small changes that make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year. Just pick and choose from our list of tips for reducing food waste below (or go hog wild and do them all!).

Waste Not — Your Action Plan

At the Store

1. Shop smart. Plan meals, use grocery lists, and avoid impulse buys. This way, you’re less likely to buy things you don’t need and that you’re unlikely to actually consume. Buy items only when you have a plan for using them, and wait until perishables are all used up before buying more. Check out these apps for extra-easy meal planning.

2. Buy exactly what you need. For example, if a recipe calls for two carrots, don’t buy a whole bag. Instead, buy loose produce so you can purchase the exact number you’ll use. Likewise, try buying grains, nuts, and spices from bulk bins so you can measure out exactly what you need and don’t over-buy (Just note that there’s a difference between buying in bulk and buying from bulk bins; the first one can actually create more waste if we buy more than we can realistically use). Bonus: This tip will save some cash, to boot.

3. Be realistic. If you live alone, you won’t need the same number of apples as a family of four (unless you really like apples). If you rarely cook, don’t stock up on goods that have to be cooked in order to be consumed (such as baking supplies or dried grains and beans).

4. Buy funny-looking produce. Many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because their size, shape, or colors don’t quite match what we think these items “should” look like. But for the most part these items are perfectly good to eat, and buying them at a farmer’s market or the grocery store helps use up food that might otherwise be tossed.

5. Have a Plan B. Let’s say you buy Camembert to make a fancy dish for that fancy dinner party — and then the dinner party is canceled. Don’t toss the cheese! Instead, come up with a backup recipe and use it in a different dish (or just eat it plain, because c’mon — it’s cheese).

At Home

6. Practice FIFO. It stands for First In, First Out. When unpacking groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry and put new products in the back. This way, you’re more likely to use up the older stuff before it expires.

7. Monitor what you throw away. Designate a week in which you write down everything you throw out on a regular basis. Tossing half a loaf of bread each week? Maybe it’s time to start freezing half that loaf the moment you buy it so it doesn’t go stale before you’re able to eat it.

8. Take stock. Note upcoming expiration dates on foods you already have at home, and plan meals around the products that are closest to their expiration. On a similar note, keep a list of what’s in the freezer and when each item was frozen. Place this on the freezer door for easy reference and use items before they pass their prime.

9. Designate one dinner each week as a “use-it-up” meal. Instead of cooking a new meal, look around in the cupboards and fridge for leftovers and other food that might otherwise get overlooked.

10. Eat leftovers! Brown-bag them for work or school for a free packed lunch. If you don’t want to eat leftovers the day after they’re cooked, freeze and save them for later (just remember to note when you froze them so you can use them up in a timely fashion).

11. Use it all. When cooking, use every piece of whatever food you’re cooking with, whenever possible. For example, leave the skin on cucumbers and potatoes, sauté broccoli stems along with the florets (they taste good too; we promise!), and so on. Bonus: Skins and stems often have provide additional nutrients for our bodies.

12. Store better. If you regularly throw away stale chips/cereal/crackers/etc., try storing them in airtight containers — this should help them keep longer (or, of course, just buy fewer of these products).

13. Repurpose leftovers scraps. Use vegetable and meat scraps in homemade stocks, and use citrus fruit rinds and zest to add flavor to other meals. Want more ideas? Check out these resources for using up food scraps.

14. Check the fridge. Make sure it’s functioning at maximum efficiency. Look for tight seals, proper temperature, etc. — this will ensure that the fridge keeps food fresh as long as possible.

15. Preserve produce. Produce doesn’t have to be tossed just because it’s reaching the end of its peak. Soft fruit can be used in smoothies; wilting vegetables can be used in soups, etc. And both wilting fruits and veggies can be turned into delicious, nutritious juice.

16. Donate what you won’t use. Never going to eat that can of beans? Donate it to a food kitchen before it expires so it can be consumed by someone who needs it. Check out this resource to locate a food bank near you.

17. Donate the gross stuff, too! Many farmers happily accept food scraps for feeding pigs or adding to a compost heap. To find farms near you, check out one of these resources.

18. Store food properly in the fridge. Learn how and where to store specific products in the fridge, and they’re likely to keep longer (hint: they don’t call it the “produce drawer” for nothin’!).

19. Store things properly in the freezer. Same as above: How and where we store products in the freezer makes a difference in how long they’ll last.

20. Can it. Got more fruit than you know what to do with? Try canning it so it’ll last for months to come. (Plus, who doesn’t love eating “fresh” peaches in winter?)

21. Pickle it. Both fruits and vegetables can be preserved through an easy pickling process.

22. Understand expiration dates. Turns out those expiration dates don’t always have to do with food safety; rather, they’re usually manufacturers’ suggestions for peak quality. If stored properly, most foods (even meat) stay fresh several days past the “use-by” date. If a food looks, smells, and tastes okay, it should be fine. If any of these elements are off, then it’s time to toss it.

23. Compost! Hate potato skins? Don’t feel like turning wilted vegetables into soup stock? No worries; food scraps still don’t need to be tossed. Just start a compost pile in the backyard or even under the sink, and convert food waste into a useful resource.

During Mealtime

24. Check in with your belly. Here it is, ladies and gentlemen: The solution to the “clean your plate!” issue. Simply take a moment to ask your body what it wants to eat, and how much — and then serve yourself that. Or simply start with less food on your plate. If you want more, you can always go back for it — but this way you won’t find out that you’re full and still have a heap of food in front of you. In fact, one study found that reducing portion sizes is an easy way to reduce food waste Reducing portion size reduces food intake and plate waste. Freedman, MR and Brochado, C. Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging Department, San Jose State University. Obesity, 2020 Sep;18(9):1864-6 .

25. Split the dish. If eating out, split a dish with a friend so you don’t waste half of the giant portion sizes found at many restaurants.

26. Take home leftovers. Even if you’re not into splitting meals, those portion sizes don’t have to be wasted. Just ask to take leftovers home (bonus eco points if you bring your own reusable container!), and you’ve got yourself a free lunch the next day.

27. Share. Made a quadruple recipe of a casserole you ended up disliking? Gift it to friends, family, or neighbors — they’re likely to be grateful for the saved money and time.

28. Go trayless. When eating in a cafeteria, skip the tray. Doing so is associated with a reduction in food waste, possibly because it’s harder for people to carry more food than they can actually eat.

29. Educate other people. Sure, nobody likes a Debbie Downer at the dinner table. But turns out simply being aware of the issue of food waste can help make people more attentive to wasting less Written messages improve edible food waste behaviors in a university dining facility. Whitehair, KJ, Shanklin CW, Bannon, LA. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietics, 2020 Jan;113(1):63-9 .

Originally published June 2020. Reposted November 2020.

Are you committed to reducing food waste? What are your favorite tips? Share in the comments below or get in touch with the author on Twitter @lauranewc.

How to Overcome Wasteful?

As the threat of the climate crisis grows more dire, there is an increasing effort by individuals across the world to play better roles in fighting the crisis. From activism to citizen science, more people are taking proactive action to tackle the climate crisis. A lot more are playing their parts through making conscious choices in consumption and their lifestyles; adopting a sustainable lifestyle.

But transitioning to an eco-lifestyle is quite frankly not an easy one. Like any other form of ideology or lifestyle concept, adopting a sustainable lifestyle is wrought with a number of challenges and barriers. Instagram influencers might make it seem easy, with their flat lays and bright pictures, but it really is not. This transition requires a dogged determination to always stay grounded enough to make the alternative eco-choice even when there is a more convenient, and cheaper alternative. And sometimes, you have to get your hands dirty. Literally.

These challenges are quite real. ‘Eco-shaming’ people who haven’t gone green isn’t the way to go. Advocates who have long jumped on the bandwagon must remember where they started their journey and acknowledge the barriers other beginners face, exercise empathy and put forward suggestions on how best to overcome them. In this article, we will try to do just that.

Say no to disposable plastic and use organic cotton produce bags. Credit: Sacked Store.

In discussing the barriers to sustainability, it is crucial here to understand that there is no one-size-fits all for sustainable living. Personally, I define the sustainable and ethical living as do better, don’t harm the environment, don’t harm animals and treat everyone fairly. From this definition, you see that there can be many facets to sustainable living. Going zero-waste, ditching plastic, or buying ‘pre-loved’ clothes are all means to a sustainable end; each necessary in relation to treating our environment better.

This knowledge will help you overcome the mental barriers and pressure to do some particular “thing” or buy some particular “eco-friendly products” or live in a particular manner in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle. You need to decide for yourself the route to take in this journey as each individual’s wants, needs, knowledge, budget, household and living situation is different.

Now below are a few of the under-emphasized challenges in the transition to sustainable living and suggestions on the best ways to overcome them.

1. Breaking old habits

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard for a chain smoker to quit nicotine? The power of habit my friend! One of the most difficult challenges in transitioning into an eco or ethical lifestyle (or any lifestyle for that matter) is breaking our old habits. Why? Because habits are the details that make up who we are. Now experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit so, the challenge here is to dedicate yourself to breaking your habits for that entire period of time.

A tactic I have found very useful as I became more ‘eco-aware’ is to form new little habits rather than trying to break the old ones all at once. I took small steps and continue to build on them. It may also help to draw up a timetable and tick off your sustainable accomplishments, day by day. That way you can see for yourself the progress you’ve made and celebrate the little ‘wins’ as your old habits slowly wither.

The key to getting rid of old unsustainable habits though is make the decision to get started. Exercise this commitment by saying it out loud, or writing it down, or telling a friend or family member or announcing it on Facebook. And then by all means work at it. If you need support as you start your journey, join Facebook groups, sign up for eco lifestyle newsletter or follow eco lifestyle influencers on social media who offer daily tips and guidance.

Breaking old habits is hard but not impossible. Going zero waste takes the commitment to start and a little discipline. Credit: Shutterstock.

2. Cost, pricing and accessibility

Cost is one of the biggest challenges to living a sustainable life. From paying higher for thermos flasks to electric vehicles, going green can often bite down hard on our budgets. This challenge is even greater in sustainable fashion where the cost of some fast fashion items is literally a penny on the dollar when compared to ethically made clothes.

My advice here is for you to explore offline options or to shop within your neighbourhood. Even though your favourite Instagram account might have inspired you to adopt ethical fashion, you will find that buying the brands advertised there may often be expensive. The good news though is that those brands are not the only ethical brands available. You may not know this, but buying from the thrift shop in your neighbourhood is also a good form of slow and ethical fashion. When you go offline, you discover that a lot of the things we project to be the ideal components of an eco-lifestyle are quite readily available in our neighbourhood.

For instance, I live in Nigeria. Ordering a pack of hemp t-shirts from a brand that I really love say, in New Zealand is bound to be difficult. However, if I visit the open-air markets in my area, I most certainly find t-shirts, handmade by artisans in my neighborhood.

3. Convenience and availability

The biggest trojan horse that corporations have offered is convenience. Products like plastic sell in the billions because they offer convenience. You walk into a cafe, get your coffee and throw away the cup, no strings attached. No need to carry anything.

Now an eco-friendly lifestyle may not offer such seamless (and destructive) convenience, but the good news is that you can tailor your sustainable choice to your peculiar convenience. For instance, if you are making the transition to reusable cups, you can create a system where there’s a reusable cup in your home, one in your car and another in your office. That way, there is always one within reach when you need a coffee to-go.

4. The herd mentality at work

As far as I know, there is not one office rule, policy or regulation that works to prohibit employees from acting sustainably in their workplaces. The problem here is that for most of us, an important aspect of work in our offices is the ease of assuming personalities we are not. I have seen individuals waste resources in the workplace because it would seem odd to their colleagues if they didn’t. And this worry is valid in a sense; the herd mentality in the workplace is a lot like the movement of a faceless mob. Still, despite the frustrating attitudes of our co-workers and employers, we can still make a difference. The key here is to do so at your own desk, in your own cubicle keep the green torch burning. I have written here on how you can achieve this and possibly win the company over, even if you are a junior employee. Kate Hall has also written an excellent article on this influencing work colleagues to go green.

Bring a simple zero waste kit to work and insure your colleagues to do the same. Credit: Jennifer Nini

5. Feelings of shame or humiliation at being different

This is the barrier that no one wants to talk about; the fact that we might be ashamed to go green. No one wants to be the guest that refuses to eat meat served at the dinner table. Or the killjoy who interrupts the meal to ask the waiter why there are so many plastic straws. Nobody wants to be that guy or girl because that guy or girl is weird. Being that guy is not cool. And truth be told, while the sustainable lifestyle is gradually gaining prominence, vegans and eco warriors don’t always have the best reputations when it comes to being cool because their seeming moral ‘superiority’ can induce eye-rolls instead of awe.

The only way to overcome this is to always keep the big picture in mind, and to be confident in your own skin. Taking this approach means it will become easier for you to remember why you choose to make greener choices and will feel less awkward when explaining to others about your choices when they ask.

At the end of the day, the transition to a sustainable lifestyle is not an easy one. The choice needs to be personal and the going wouldn’t always be smooth. Take each day as it comes, know that no one is perfect, surround yourself with the right support network and share what you learn, the wins and the fails. Each day you do this and you’ll get better at it until you finally have a sustainable lifestyle that works for you.

Recommending reading:

All images via Pexels and Unsplash.

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