This article was updated on April 28th, 2021.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that the US throws away nearly 40% of its food every year, amounting to $162 billion in waste annually. These numbers are staggering, especially when only in 2018, 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food*.
At Eco18, we decided to investigate why there’s so much food waste in America and what we can do about cutting down on wasting so much food.
Why we throw away food?
- A lot of produce isn’t pretty enough for us picky US consumers. It never makes it to market but instead gets tossed out or turned into the soil.
- Portion sizes have grown much more prominent since the ’70s, plus many restaurants feature buffets that encourage people to take far more than they can consume.
- According to NRDC research, people are uncomfortable with empty white space, whether on a plate, in fridges, or grocery carts. In fact, there’s an urge to fill these spaces with food that we don’t want or need.
- In our culture, throwing out food is acceptable.
The types of food we waste the most include:
1st place – Fruits and vegetables
2nd place – Dairy products and bread
3rd place – Meat
While meat is in third place, it has the most significant impact. Throwing out a hamburger, it’s the equivalent of taking a 90-minute shower in terms of the water it took to produce it – think about that the next time you order a burger bigger than your appetite!
What can we do? Here’re 6 Tips to Cut Down On Food Waste.
- Shop sensibly. If you only need small amounts of fruits or veggies for a recipe, buy frozen versions or shop at the salad bar.
- Shop conscientiously. Always prepare a shopping list and if you don’t think you will eat the fresh items soon, then cross them off your list.
- Be realistic. While you think you might be able to cook a dozen things over the weekend, chances are you will run out of time and energy, so plan for that, and you’ll waste a lot less fresh produce. You can always pack meat and bread in small portions and freeze them for another time.
- Write it down. If you conduct a “waste audit” even for a couple of weeks, you can pinpoint why you are throwing out food. Maybe it was on sale, and you bought twice as much as usual. Perhaps you ate out more times than usual. Whatever the reason, once you add up the cost, you may think twice.
- Understand expiration dates. A “use by” or “best by” date is not set in stone. They are, in fact, a suggestion as to when the product will be at its best. There may be a slight change in taste, color, or texture, but the product will not be “bad.” There’s a misunderstanding that when food is old that it will make you sick. The main reason for the illness is pathogens like salmonella and E. coli that contaminate food at the farm or proceeding plants. However, it would be best if you were careful of mold and rotten meat, oil, or nuts (your nose will tell you).
- Get creative in the kitchen. There are many ways to use up produce in omelets, frittatas, tortillas, or fried rice and pasta salads. Left-over cooked vegetables make a great “Bubble and Squeak” check out recipes on Google. It’s delicious.
Food for thought: The environmental impact on all this food waste is enormous—about 70% of our water and 50% of our land area is devoted to agriculture. When we don’t consume that food, we waste valuable resources—think about 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases produced to grow the food we never eat!
*According to Feeding America in 2018, 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food