Food production, transport and waste are all big contributors to our carbon footprint as humans. One of the things I noticed in my own home recently was that we were throwing more in the compost bin than seemed necessary. In fact, our green bin is almost entirely full every week.
I realized that I was spending a great deal of time thinking about how the food got to our table but not a lot about how it left our house. I decided that cutting down on this waste would be our next goal.
It turns out that there is a lot to learn.
University of Guelph researchers have completed an in-depth study evaluating the multiple impacts of household food waste worldwide. The study demonstrated that 64 per cent of food waste (food that we would otherwise consider edible) is preventable.
Per week, the average household in the study generated about three kilograms (or about six pounds) of avoidable food waste. That amounts to 3366 calories a day. Enough to feed more than two children! That is 5,000 litres of water. Consider that the average five-minute shower uses 35 litres of water. Wasted avoidable food items represented close to 143 showers per week.
I believe that sometimes we feel less guilty if we’re throwing it in a compost bin — but it’s important to think about what it took to grow and transport the food (and the waste).
Luckily, there are lots of easy ways to cut our food waste.
What you buy:
This is something I’ve mentioned before — eating organically, choosing plant-based foods and eating as locally as possible are all ways to move toward sustainable eating. Also important and perhaps most challenging is to buy the appropriate quantities. Stores often don’t make this easy. When you do have to buy more than you need for a particular meal, try to plan how you will use the remaining amount.
How you store it:
The way you store your food can also have a big effect on how long it lasts. Different types of foods can be kept fresh using a variety of techniques. You can find a lot of information online about these techniques as well as useful charts. This made a big difference for me — such as storing dry zucchini and eggplants outside of the fridge and washing leafy veggies and wrapping them in a towel to keep them fresh and crispy a lot longer. Learning how to freeze extras can also be really helpful in avoiding food from spoiling.
Organizing your fridge:
Keeping things in a predictable order can also help avoid food waste such as moving newer leftover containers behind or below older ones so they are more likely to be used. I also create a plan for leftovers when I pack them up so they are less likely to be forgotten. Sometimes dinner is a hodge-podge of leftovers that can be quickly served in between events and activities (quick, easy and no planning.)
What you toss:
I started thinking about what I toss and why. Sometimes it’s from the kids’ lunches or something that somehow got lost in the back or bottom of the fridge. But mostly it’s those parts of the fruits and vegetables that I have learned over the years not to eat. I’ve gotten better at decreasing the former waste, so this month I started working on the latter.
The simplest approach to using the tops, tails and skins of most veggies is to throw it in the freezer and eventually use it to make a batch of stock. This is great, but still results in a lot of unnecessary waste. I began to reconsider why I was disposing of so many parts of the vegetables.
Some of the common ones include carrot and beet greens, cauliflower and broccoli stalks and kale stems. Add on to that carrot and potato peels, mushroom stems and broccoli leaves. I think that our society has been gradually becoming more and more particular about the portions of fruit and vegetables that we are eating.
What’s safe to eat:
Virtually the only parts of the plants that need to be thrown away are those that are unsafe to eat — such as rhubarb leaves (I always find it really bizarre that they are unsafe, but definitely don’t eat those!). Almost anything else you can think of can be eaten. Even orange and banana peels. Seriously, they contain health benefits and would cut down on a lot of waste. As with many other skinned fruits and veggies, the skin may absorb chemicals and pesticides so I would recommend sticking with organic if possible and giving them a good rinse.
Try being creative and using up many more of the bits you’ve been discarding. It may require some out-of-the-box thinking, research, time and care, but it can make a big impact.
Stacey Danckert is co-director of Waterloo Region Environment Network (WREN)