Everyone’s talking about how much food we all eat, but we hear less about how much food they don’t. In most countries, we throw out about 40 percent of our food every year. In fact, the amount of global food waste produced each year is more than enough to feed the nearly 1 billion hungry people in the world.
Instead of filling empty plates, that wasted food usually ends up in landfills and eventually turns into a destructive greenhouse gas called methane. What’s more, wasting food means squandering the resources (like water and energy) that went into the production of that food.
Luckily there are many easy ways to be more careful about our consumption and reduce the amount of food waste we produce on a daily basis.
Most of us know not to hit the supermarket hungry, but tackling the aisles with a list can also prevent us from loading up the cart with items we’re just going to end up throwing away. The best idea is to plan the week’s meals in advance, figure out what ingredients are required for each, and write them all down on a list. As long as you actually stick to the meal plan, there shouldn’t be much food left over!
Start logging a weekly record of every food item you toss in the garbage. That way, you can notice patterns (e.g., every week you throw away half a little of spoiled milk or rotten vegetables) and you can then tweak your shopping habits accordingly.
If you haven’t yet tailored your weekly food purchases to your eating habits, think twice before trashing all that food away. Unfortunately there are individuals and families in need all over the country who would really appreciate the head of lettuce you were just about to toss. Start by finding a local food bank or soup kitchen and asking what kinds of food donations they accept. In Lagos (Algarve) for example we have the “Mustard seed” (they feed about 200 people every week), so look for the local food banks or soup kitchens in your own town.
It’s important to understand what expiration dates on food products actually mean, so that you don’t end up throwing away a perfectly good loaf of bread. Expiration dates actually refer to the product’s quality, not safety. And there’s a difference between the “sell-by” label (the deadline for retailers to sell the product) and “use-by” (the date when the product starts to lose its quality and flavour.)
There are a bunch of techniques you can use to extend the shelf life of everything in your kitchen, like keeping the fridge and freezer cool enough and unpacking groceries as soon as you get home from the store.
(Some products you can’t do that obviously – like some dairy products for example)
Few people want to eat the same thing for dinner five nights in a row, but throwing away the remainders of last night’s meal just to avoid boredom isn’t the most eco-friendly option.
Instead, try getting creative in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes to use whatever’s still hanging around. Or freeze leftovers so you can eat them down the road.
Even those who don’t live on a farm or in a house with a backyard can do the eco-friendly thing with their trash. Composting means recycling nutrients back into the ecosystem, which keeps food out of landfills and waterways and enriches the soil. Even if you live in an apartment, there's some techniques you can use to have your own odour free compost pot. (Just Google it - lots of examples around)
As restaurant portion sizes get larger and larger, it’s getting harder and harder for some of us to finish the food in our plate. Ask your waiter for a “take-away” box or take your own container with you. (Otherwise, the restaurant is probably just going to throw away your leftovers.) Bonus: That’s one more meal you don’t have to cook this week.