No one likes to be called wasteful. Wasteful people are thought of as careless—they leave lights on all night, run water faucets too long, and spend frivolous amounts of money on things they don’t need.
Unfortunately, many Americans are especially wasteful when it comes to their food.
Whether it’s the moldy cheese, limp lettuce, or the long-forgotten leftovers in the back of the fridge, chances are that you’ve wasted food at some point. A report published by the NRDC states that nearly 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. goes to waste each year.
This waste affects all sectors of our environment and economy and is especially troubling when 1 in 6 people in our communities struggle with hunger. Regardless of whether it is intentional or not, food waste is a growing problem that we must confront.
So what exactly is the impact of all this wasted food? Here’s a small summary of the issue, examining how it affects our environment, our people, and our money.
‘Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. We are putting an incredible amount of effort into an industry that we don’t take full advantage of.‘ – NRDC
When we waste food, we also waste the resources used to produce, pack, cool, and transport it. For example, 25 percent of American freshwater and 4 percent of the total U.S. oil consumption is wasted on food that no one eats. Of all the food that is lost at different stages, only 3 percent gets composted. That means the majority of food, 33 million tons, ends up in landfills where it decomposes and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide and a significant factor in global warming.
According to the USDA, nearly 50 million Americans, including 16 million children, are food insecure, meaning they lack the money to secure adequate food and nutrition. Wasting food means we also waste nutrition opportunities for others in need. NRDC reports that if we saved just 15 percent more food annually, we could feed 25 million more Americans each year.
Food waste is incredibly expensive. American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy, costing the average family of four anywhere from $1,365 – $2,275 a year. As a whole, Americans are throwing out $165 billion worth of food each year in food, which costs $750 million annually in disposal fees. That’s a lot of wasted food!
What Can You Do?
While food waste numbers include losses during production, most food waste in developed countries happens in homes and restaurants. This means that making some small changes in your own home can have a significant impact!
Use the following tips to cut down on your food waste:
- Plan ahead. Save time and money by checking what’s in the cupboard, fridge, and freezer. Plan your meals for the week ahead and make your shopping lists before going to the store.
- Know your expiration dates. Foods can be eaten or frozen right up to the end of the ‘use-by’ date. ‘Best before’ dates are for quality. That means that foods can be eaten after this date, but they may not be at their best (eggs are the exception).
- Store properly. Knowing the best way to store your food will help you make the most of it. Most fruits and vegetables will stay fresher longer if you keep them in the refrigerator. In the fridge, leftovers will be good for up to two days as long as they are well-wrapped. After opening, wrap or store fresh foods in air-tight containers.
- Start measuring. Remove the guesswork when it comes to portioning. A mug of uncooked rice is enough for four adults, kitchen scales can measure exact portions, and spaghetti measures can help you avoid cooking too much spaghetti.