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9 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste & Lower Your Environmental Impact

  • 9 min read

You know how the story goes – you’ve put two peppers down on your shopping list, but now that you’re standing in the veggie aisle at the store… why not buy a few extra, just in case? 

Or maybe, your story goes more like this: After two days of eating the same tomato pasta, it just doesn’t look that appetizing anymore… so you make something else, and the next time you see those leftovers? They’ve grown fur. Yikes. 

Food waste is nothing new – we’ve all heard of it, and honestly, we’ve all done it. But according to a recent report by the UN, 931 million tonnes of food goes to waste every year – that’s 17% of all food produced globally. The figure is even higher in the US, with an estimated 30-40% going straight into the bin. 

That’s a lot of food.

What’s more, is that a baffling 61% of this waste happens in households. All those people saying that the real problem is with restaurants and grocery stores? Well, they’re not exactly wrong – unnecessary waste definitely goes on there, too. But more than half of the food wasted globally is actually what we bring home with us in our own shopping bags.  

According to a recent report by the UN, 931 million tonnes of food goes to waste every year – that’s 17% of all food produced globally.

While these statistics are unsettling, they’re actually good news – often, lowering our environmental impact in ways that make a real difference can feel like an impossible task. Much of the change needs to happen on a grander scale, and our attempts to do good can feel... futile. 

But here, we can make real change happen. And the best part? It really isn’t that difficult.

How Does Food Waste Impact the Environment?

Simply put? Badly. 

When we waste food, we’re not just tossing broccoli in the trash. We’re wasting precious resources – the land, energy and water used for farming, the materials used for packaging, and the transport itself all put a strain on the planet’s limited resources. And since we’re slowly depleting Earth’s reserves, this is bad news.

But more than that, the actual food that ends up in landfill has a negative effect, too. Because it doesn’t get enough oxygen to decompose properly, it instead begins to rot, and goes on to produce methane. If you’ve heard of this particular greenhouse gas before, you might know it’s even more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. 

Again: bad news.

A baffling 61% of global food waste happens in households.

Of course, the effects of food waste go beyond the environment – it has social consequences, too. Did you know that enough food is actually produced in the world to feed everyone? And still, the Food Aid Foundation estimates that about 11% of the world’s population goes hungry. 

Decreasing your food waste may sound inconsequential, but in the long run, it really can bring positive change. 

And not just for others, but for you, too – all that money spent on food that doesn’t get eaten? When you stop throwing away your leftovers, you begin to take it back. 

And like I said, wasting less food really doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s a lot easier than you might think. So let’s get into it – here are 9 easy ways to stop wasting food that you can implement today.

1. Reflect On Your Habits

We all have slightly different tastes and habits. A good way to start decreasing your food waste is to consider what actually makes you to waste food. Perhaps you buy more food than you actually eat. Or maybe, the problem is you don’t actually want to eat certain foods when it comes down to it, and end up picking something else. 

Either way, you gotta know. 

So open your fridge, and take out one thing after the other – consider when you bought it, why, and if you’ll actually eat it. Remember that most of the time, the foods we don’t like, we’ve cleverly shuffled to the back of the shelves. These are the foods you really want to look at, because they are your enemy in the battle to reduce waste. 

So don’t stop until you’ve raided your entire fridge, and while you’re at it – why not the freezer and cupboards, too? And make notes as you go.

2. Make A Plan

This one’s key to better food habits. If you don’t know what you need when you walk into the shop, chances are you’ll buy a bit of this and that – or everything if you’re hungry – and then walk home with bags full of food you won’t eat. 

So make a plan before you leave the house. What are you cooking this week? Check your fridge – some of what you need might already be in there, or maybe some veggies from last week needs love pronto. If you’re cooking something with a rare ingredient, consider if you can make another dish with the same one, too, to avoid it going to waste. 

And most importantly – how much will you actually eat? Be realistic about it. Overshopping is one of the most common causes of food waste, and quitting this nasty habit is the single best way to reduce your waste.

3. Store Foods Properly

Should eggs be in the fridge, or the cupboard? What about avocado? And how do you make lettuce last longer? 

Storing foods in the wrong conditions is more common than you’d think, and could cause them to go bad before you get a chance to eat them. So, learning how to best store different kinds of foods could massively impact how much you’re forced to throw away. A great resource to start with is this guide from Love Food Hate Waste.

Overshopping is one of the most common causes of food waste.

But even food stored properly goes bad at some point, so try to keep tabs on what’s in your fridge. Moving older foods to the front of your shelves is a quick and easy way to ensure they get eaten, rather than forgotten.

4. Show Your Leftovers Some Love

Taking care of your leftovers, like anything, is a habit – and one that will save you both money and time. 

If you don’t finish off all the food you’ve made, simply pop it in the fridge to enjoy in the coming days. A good rule of thumb is to store it in an air-tight container and put it away within two hours – this way, it’s definitely fine to eat again. 

But don’t stop there – on your journey towards less waste, your freezer is your best friend. Make use of it! Most foods are perfectly fine to freeze and reheat, so if you don’t get to those leftovers in a couple of days, don’t let them go bad needlessly.

And remember, your freezer can do more than just freeze full dishes. Herbs and certain veggies do well in there, too, and if you chop them up before you ice them, this little hack can actually save you lots of time. Win-win. 

If you’re someone who doesn’t usually eat leftovers – when you plan out your food for the week, give yourself a night off from cooking to finish off those last bites. And start bringing lunch boxes to work – it’ll have your leftovers melting away like butter in the sun.

5. Best Before vs Use By-Dates

Blindly throwing away food because the packaging tells you to could be causing lots of needless waste in your household. The dates put on food packaging often have safety margins, and while they shouldn’t be ignored, use your common sense. Veggies are individuals, too. Some may last shorter than the packaging says, but some also last longer. 

So get to know your favorite foods. How should they look, smell and feel? A small wrinkle in the skin might not mean you need to throw it away – but it might be a sign you’re either storing it wrong, or that it needs to be used up soon. 

And when you do look at the packaging – scan for the “Use By”- dates, rather than the “Best before”. That is the actual expiry date of your food.

6. Use The Whole Vegetable 

Have you ever found yourself chopping off the bouquets on the broccoli, and then tossing the rest in the trash? Often, we throw away perfectly good parts of foods, simply because we don’t know how to make use of them. Changing this habit can quickly help you reduce the amount of food you throw away, and bonus: lower your weekly shopping fees. 

Don’t toss that broccoli stem – chop it up, and use it in the dish. It’s surprisingly delicious. Got potato peels? For most fruit and veggies, the majority of the nutrition is actually in the skin, so don’t throw them away. If you don’t want them in the dish, save the peels. Roasted in the oven with some salt and olive oil, they make brilliant snacks! They are also great for making your own broth.

So – before you toss something in the trash, consider if there’s anything you could use it for. If you find yourself throwing away the same things again and again, do a quick search online – guaranteed, you’ll be surprised by the wide range of things you can make with it.

7. Favor The Unsymmetrical Veggies

 It’s simple, really. We pick the ones that look extra shiny out of habit, or perhaps because we want maximum value for our money. 

But it’s estimated that about 20% of veggies and fruit produced by farmers end up in the bin before they ever reach stores – simply because their shapes are unusual, or they don’t fit the conventional weights or sizes. These are perfectly fine to eat!

The same thing happens in the grocery store. Veggies that look a little different don’t get picked, and end up being thrown away. But let’s be honest – veggies and fruit destined for the chopping board don’t need to be Instagram-worthy. Oftentimes, the unsymmetrical ones are just as tasty – so adopt them! Otherwise, they’ll needlessly end up in landfill. 

An estimated 20% of veggies and fruit produced by farmers end up in the bin before they even reach stores.

Eager to adopt those that don’t make it to the store, too? Check out vegetable delivery services that specialize in taking these wonky fruits under their wing. A few to look at are Misfits MarketImperfect Foods, and Perfectly Imperfect Produce, but there are many more out there!

Farmers' Market

8. Buy Naked Food

It’s astounding how much food is needlessly wrapped in packaging. If you’re serious about decreasing your food waste, consider reducing your waste beyond the actual food you throw away, by also looking at what food you buy. 

Can you pick naked fruit and veg over those wrapped in plastic? Are there alternatives to the product you’re wanting that’s packaged in paper, rather than plastic? As you get familiar with the options in your local grocery store, this mindset will become automatic very quickly.

And if you’re wanting to really go the distance, a quick google search will let you know of any farmer’s markets in your area. These are not only lovely to visit, but a great way to support your local community and get your foods with minimal packaging and transport. 

Even better, farmer’s markets are a great way to learn about what’s in season at different times of year. It requires much more energy and resources to produce food out of season, so making an effort to eat in tandem with the planet’s natural rhythm is another way you can lower your environmental impact.

But remember, this one is not entirely in your hands, so just do the best you can. Depending on your area, you might not have many great options, but look around. There’s usually at least a better alternative.

9. Compost Properly

 Even if you consciously work to stop wasting food, some of it will inevitably end up in the trash. And when it does, one thing you can do is compost and recycle properly. 

Separating the food waste from packaging is the best way to ensure both get taken care of the way they should. As I mentioned before, when food ends up in landfill, it can’t decompose properly and produces harmful methane. 

Likewise, when food is mixed into the recycling bin, the entire process is contaminated and can’t function as it should. Despite having sorted your recyclables into the right bin, if they’re not clean from food, they might not actually get recycled. 

So, a golden rule: Separate food waste from recyclable materials, and rinse packaging thoroughly before putting it in the bin.

Depending on your area, the way you recycle and compost might look different. If you’re unsure of what options are available, check initiatives in your local community. And if you’re curious to try a home compost, check out this post all about it. Trust me – your garden will be thrilled. 

And that’s it – easy, right? Remember, it’s not a perfect science, and be kind to yourself. Changing habits is a process, and sometimes it's a wonky road. But if you begin implementing these steps, you’re sure to bring down the amount of waste in your household in no time. 

Psst… Curious about regrowing your own vegetables? Check out this handy guide for getting started!

Resources:

Nathalie Brundell

Nathalie Brundell is a writer and copywriter with her heart set on a greener future. She splits her time between Stockholm and London, where she studies Creative Writing and the art of gracelessly losing at board games. In her free time, she loves to discover new places and cook pasta to her heart’s content.

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