How to reduce your household's food waste

Nadine Kalinauskas
Shine On
Canadians spend more money on wasted food than the GDP of the world's 32 poorest countries — combined. (Thinkstock)

Food waste is a huge problem.

According to some estimates, as much as 40 per cent of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That’s $165-billion of wasted food. 

The Environmental Protection Agency says that 35 million tonnes of food was thrown out in 2012 alone, 20 per cent more than the food tossed out in 2000. In fact, more food now ends up in landfills than plastic, glass, paper and metal, and comprises more than a fifth of America’s garbage. 

Considering food waste accounted for less than 10 per cent of total waste in 1980, the numbers are unnerving.

According to the Washington Post, “The most obvious problem with this waste is that while Americans are throwing out their food, an estimated one in every nine people in the world still suffers from chronic hunger — that is, insufficient food — including more than 200 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and more than 500 million in Asia. Even in the United States, where that number is significantly lower, some 14 per cent of U.S. households still struggled to put food on the table for a portion of last year, according to the USDA.”

The United Nations recently noted in a report on world hunger that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. We just need to do a better job preserving and distributing the food we’re producing. 

"Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)," the U.N. notes on its website.

The food-waste problem also poses a threat to the environment. Landfills filled with organic waste are the largest producers of methane emissions in the United States. 

Canada is no better off. Every year, we waste $27-billion worth of food, or about 40 per cent of the food we produce. According to a 2010 study by Value Chain Management Centre, we spend more money on wasted food than the GDP of the world’s 32 poorest countries — combined. 

While business contribute 50 to 60 per cent of food waste, consumers — that’s us! — are responsible for about 45 to 50 per cent of the uneaten, wasted food. 

In fact, about $13.4-billion of that waste comes from refrigerators across the nation — about $384 per person annually. 

So, how can we reduce food waste in our homes?

Shop smart.

Take stock of what you already have, create a meal plan for the week, make a list, and buy exactly what you need. Impulse shopping isn’t good for your wallet or landfills.

Wait until your perishables are used up before buying more, buy loose produce so you get the number of carrots (for example) that you need rather than a bag you’ll only consume half of. Don’t over-buy. 

Get creative.

Instead of throwing out extra ingredients or leftovers, play Chopped in your own kitchen and create something new out of them. Find a new recipe. Freeze leftovers. Make soup or omelettes out of vegetables past their prime and smoothies or muffins out of softening fruit.

Greatist’s Laura Newcomer suggests assigning one night a week as “use it up” night. 

Use more of your produce.

We often discard “unusable” parts of our fruits and veggies that are, in fact, usable.

"Broccoli is a great example. Most people only cook the top part, the little green trees on top. But the broccoli stems are totally edible and totally delicious," Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for Words to Eat By, a Toronto-based nutrition communications company, tells CBC News

"Watermelon rinds can be used in stir-fry – there’s a lot of stuff that gets wasted that’s actually edible."

(Do a little research before you start eating “new” parts of plants. Rhubarb leaves, for example, can be poisonous.)

Keep track.

Most of us aren’t even aware of how much we’re tossing out. If you make yourself write down everything you throw out on a regular basis, you can better assess how to fix the problem. Maybe you buy too much food. Maybe you can’t resist a sale. Maybe you buy foods for making your lunch but keep eating out instead. 

Store better.

Learn how to best store foods in the fridge, freezer and on the counter. Get airtight containers to keep cereals and crackers from becoming stale. 

Preserve it.

You can really extend the life of your food by drying, freezing, canning, sugaring, salting or pickling it. Learn more at Think Eat Save.  

Don’t be hasty to toss.

Some people will throw out a sour cream container because it’s one day beyond its expiration date. Not every “use by” date is a “toss” date. It’s usually the “optimal consumption date.” If the food tastes, smells and looks OK, it usually is, with some exceptions. 

Compost.

Your garden (and wallet) will thank you

How do you cut down on food waste in your home? Tell us in the comments below.