Over the past year or so I’ve become acutely aware of how much food waste was occurring in our home. This all started when we moved back to California and were presented with garbage, recycling and compost bins. Compost has become a game changer for us. Mainly because it offers the chance to really separate out food from everything else. And when I saw how much food we were wasting every week, scratch that, every day (!), it made me take pause and think about some ways to reduce food waste.
The USDA estimates food waste at roughly 30-40% of the food supply. That’s approximately 20 pounds of food waste per person per month! That is crazy. Seriously, think about how much 20 pounds is, a month, per person. It’s enough to make me sick.
This has huge environmental and financial impacts on both the planet and ourselves.
As a family, we’ve definitely gotten better over the past year but we’re still nowhere near as waste savvy as we could be. A few crackers, a chip or two, a wilted stalk of celery, a moldy piece of cheese, it adds up.
I’ve said it before but I truly believe that zero waste starts at the grocery store, then trickles into the home. Once the food is in your home, it’s your responsibility to use it, but if we don’t bring it in in the first place, well you get the logic.
With that in mind, here are a few tips I’ve implemented in our home over the past 12 months to help reduce food waste and become greener about our lifestyle. We can’t live in a bubble. We need to protect Mother Earth and it starts here, with us, everyday, making small changes for good.
Hopefully some or all of these will resonate with you. Even just one is a start.
- Save your receipts. I save ours and keep them on the fridge. Every few weeks I go through and cross off the things we ate and circle the things we wasted. I get as detailed as crossing off half the item and circling the other if we ate half and wasted half. After you’ve done this a few times a pattern may start to emerge. For example, we kept buying yogurt but no one was eating it. So we stopped buying yogurt, so simple yet really efficient and economical.
- Watch what goes into your compost or your trash if you don’t have a compost bin. (Side note: our city supplies compost bins to all residence but in many places you have to request one directly from the city, I know this was the protocol in Denver). This is a really good way to keep track of your waste. I don’t worry much about banana peels and egg shells, although I’m sure there are things I could do with both. But, I do need to get better about separating out veggie scraps for stock and being less lazy about Noe’s broken crackers and pretzels. I’m sure there’s a recipe brewing there.
- Michael always mocks me but tea bags can be reused. I don’t like to steep my black tea for more than 15-30 seconds. So I use my tea bags twice, sometimes three times, before throwing them out. To be even more waste conscious I should probably buy one of these and some loose tea, like I said, baby steps.
- My friend Julia gave me a tip for stale, broken chips. Don’t throw them out, pop your leftover chips under the broiler for a minute or so and they’ll crisp up good as new. Throw them on top of a soup or salad if they’re too small for holding or dipping.
- Get creative with your pantry odds and ends. I have a recipe coming up that will address just this thing. But in short, take stock of what you have and create around it.
- Don’t buy in bulk. I’ll caveat this, if you know your family will be eating every single gold fish cracker in the huge carton, then go for it. But don’t buy big just to save upfront and waste on the back end.
- Freeze! I freeze food scraps all the time. The end of a zucchini from the spiralizer, a strawberry that Noe took two bites of? They all go into a big bag in the freezer destined for a smoothie some other day. Yes, we have a bag of half eaten strawberries in the freezer!
- Meal plan. Now I’m terrible about this but if you really want to get serious about buying just what you need you have two options. 1.) Shop everyday. My sister and her husband do this. They buy just enough for a day or two’s worth of meals then they do it again the next day. This isn’t realistic for most people but it really cuts down on the food waste in their household. 2.) Meal plan. Come up with the five dinners you plan to make for the week, buy the ingredients, make the meals and freeze the leftovers.
And, since we’re on the topic of waste. Here are a few other non-food related things we’re doing to clean up our household.
- We bought these and they’re amazing. Washable, reusable and greener than plastic bags. We also have reusable grocery bags that we’ve been using forever.
- We’re also moving away from plastic garbage bags as soon as our massive Costco roll from 5 years ago is done. We use these for the recycling and compost bins and also bought some sandwich sized ones to eventually replace our Ziplocks.
- Michael and I both have electric toothbrushes. We bought one for Noe too but she deemed it the “scary toothbrush” so while we warm her up to electric, we’ve been trying to phase out plastic brushes with these bamboo brushes.
We are so far from perfect about all of this stuff. Our footprint is still too big and I’m definitely not someone who can put an entire year’s worth of trash into a coffee tin. I did see this in a documentary a years ago, it’s possible. But, we’re working on it, every day, little by little. And with every step we take, there is another and another that leads us to an even greener existence.
I think if we can all be a tad more conscious and make a few changes to our wasteful ways, we can make a difference. We simply can’t throw our hands up and say “oh well”. We can reduce food waste, packaging waste, etc., it’s possible and it starts on the individual level.