If you are like most Americans, the last six weeks of the year are filled with family, friends and food. Especially food. Usually more food than we can actually consume, meaning much of it goes to waste.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has identified food waste as a major global problem, estimating that more than 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted each year. In the United States, more than 30 percent of the food supply is thrown away, or 35 million tons per year. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates we waste 20 pounds per person, per month, with a national annual loss of more than $160 billion. According to the USDA, an average family of four leaves more than $1,500 worth of food uneaten annually.
Besides high economic costs, the impact on the climate is mounting. Food trash squanders water, energy and land; with recurring droughts, it seems foolish for farmers to pump water into crops and animals that are not eaten. Also, most food waste goes to landfills, making it the biggest component of municipal solid waste and a significant contributor to methane gas. In fact, it is the third-largest source of methane in the U.S., accounting for 25 percent of methane gas emissions.
While some food waste occurs upstream, at the levels of production and storage, a large portion of wastage occurs at the consumer level. Try these tips to reduce your own footprint.
1) Buy less food. We often overestimate the amount of food we need; planning ahead and checking your calculations will help with everyday meals as well as holiday gatherings.
2) Resist impulse buying. Food displays and sales may encourage you to buy extra, but stick to your list, especially for perishable items.
3) Use smaller plates and serving utensils to cut down on the amount of food that ends up on individual plates – and in the trash.
4) Encourage diners to serve themselves so they can determine what and how much they would like to eat.
5) Be aware of food safety. To avoid spoilage, do not leave hot or cold food out for more than two hours.
6) Store leftovers carefully. Portion foods into small containers so they are easy to access for a fast meal. Refrigerate just what you will eat in two or three days and freeze the rest. Label everything with contents and date.
7) Use leftovers creatively. Meats can be repurposed into soups, casseroles and salads. Overripe fruit is a great addition to muffins and smoothies, or can be simmered for a warm side dish. Extra bread and rolls become tasty breadcrumbs and croutons, and vegetables can be added to eggs, pasta sauce, chili and stir fry.
8) Consider composting. Egg shells, vegetable peels and other food scraps lend themselves well to composting. Check your Extension website for information and resources.
Since we waste three times more food between November and January than the rest of the year, now is the perfect time to make some changes. Taking small steps now is something we can all be thankful for.