10 Cool Ways to Reduce Food Waste, Save Money
Every year, about 40 percent of edible food is wasted in the United States alone, according to the National Resources Defense Council. On top of that, 1.3 billion tons of food is discarded around the world each year by consumers and retailers. What can you do to reduce waste and save money on food both on a personal level and a global one?
How you can save money and food at home
If you consider yourself to be an average American, you throw away between $28 and $43 worth of food each month—and that’s the figures for just one person. One study estimated that if Americans wasted just 15 percent less food, the result would be enough food to feed 25 million Americans, which is half the number of people currently classified as food insecure, a term that means a person’s consistent access to enough food is limited by a lack of resources at times throughout the year.
What can you do on a personal level to reduce food waste and save money at the same time?
Buy items from the bulk bins. This approach is both a food waste reducer and a money saver if you want to purchase only a certain amount of an item and it is not available in the desired size on the shelf. For example, if you need only a tiny amount of a spice for a recipe but you will probably not use it much again, why buy a $4 or $5 bottle of the item when all you need is a small amount? The same is true for nuts, grains and cereals, beans, and teas.
Use the garbage. I’m referring to parts of vegetables and fruits you may toss away yet they are perfectly good for cooking. For example, do you use broccoli stalks? Radish and beet greens? Citrus peels? The outer leaves of cabbage, onions, and lettuce? The water in which you cook vegetables? All of these and more are useful. For example, water from cooking vegetables and chopped outer leaves, simmered, is a nutritious soup base or broth.
Share. How many times have you bought a big bag of potatoes, apples, or onions or just too much of any produce and then thrown away much of it because it spoiled before you could use it all? Fruits and vegetables make up 35 percent of the food wasted by Americans, according to the NRDC. Buying large quantities of produce can be economical, but only if you use it. One solution is to share and split the cost of such large portions with family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers and everyone saves! Or you might give extras to an elderly neighbor or struggling family.
Freeze it. If you know you will be unable to use up food items before they spoil, freeze them. It is possible to freeze just about anything. In fact, you can save money if you buy items on sale or in bulk with the intention of freezing them. Canning is another option. Either way, you can enjoy summer’s produce harvest all winter long!
Use a doggie bag. Restaurants waste an incredible amount of food (see tip below) and if you eat out and leave food on your plate, you are wasting both food and money. So bring a doggie bag (a reusable container from home with a tight lid; Styrofoam is not recyclable in most places) and ask for your leftovers. On your way home, plan in your head how you will use them and attach a note when you refrigerate them so you won’t forget!
Compost. Nearly 13 percent of items going to the landfills is food waste. Why send your spoiled or unused produce, egg shells, coffee grounds, and other similar items to the landfill when you can create wonderful soil at home?
Learn about “use by” and “sell by” dates. Are these dates on foods an indication that the items are unhealthy or bad after those dates? No! Learn what these terms mean and why the industry uses them, and you will probably stop throwing out perfectly good food.
Now, what can you do to help prevent food waste outside your home?
Talk to your company. If you work for a company that is involved with food in any way, such as a supermarket, school, sports arena, or restaurant, talk to management about participating in a program by the Environmental Protection Agency called the Food Recovery Challenge. More than 200 organizations already are involved, from the Boston Red Sox to the University of Arizona and Whole Foods. This program connects individuals and businesses who have excess food with families in need via shelters, food banks, and other social services.
Donate your time. Your local food bank functions because volunteers make it happen. You could be one of them!
Spread the word. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers about food waste and actions everyone can take to save money (usually a good selling point!) and help others and the planet at the same time. If you belong to a church, social group, or similar organization, talk to them about how its members can help reduce food waste. Information from a campaign called Think, Eat, Save, a global effort to reduce food loss, can help you get started.
Food waste is everyone’s problem, because everyone needs to eat to survive. Will you do your part to reduce food waste?
Bloom J. American Wasteland. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2010.
Environmental Protection Agency
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Global Food Losses and Food Waste
Hall KD et al. The progressive increase of food waste in America and its environmental impact. PLoS ONE 2009; (4):e7940
National Resources Defense Council
Think, Eat, Save