Reducing Food Waste 101 

Blog Contributor: Shannon Ruzgys

Agriculture is one the most environmentally impactful industries in the world, from growing and production  to distribution and eventually waste. Over 1/3 of all of the food produced in the world is wasted (Food Loss and Food Waste, 2011), which is annually valued at $1 trillion dollars. All of the world’s hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, the UK, and Europe.  

Over 25% of the worlds fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten (Hall et al., 2009). If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the US. And most shockingly, in most developed countries over half of food waste happens at home, on the individual level. Therefore, reducing the amount of food that is wasted at home is one of the most impactful individual actions that we can take to reduce our carbon footprint and lead a more eco-conscious life. The following tips can help you reduce food waste in your own life:

Store Food Correctly 

The way you store food can impact the shelf life of the food and improper storage can lead to premature ripening and increased rotting. Here are some tips for proper food storage: 

  • Items that should not be refrigerated:  
  • Potatoes  
  • Tomatoes 
  • Garlic 
  • Cucumber 
  • Onions  
  • Ethylene gas promotes ripening in foods and can lead to early spoilage. The following foods release ethylene while ripening: 
  • Bananas 
  • Avocados 
  • Tomatoes  
  • Cantaloupes 
  • Peaches 
  • Pears 
  • Green Onions  
  • Some foods are more sensitive to ethylene than others. The following foods should never be stored with foods that release ethylene: 
  • Potatoes 
  • Apples 
  • Leafy green 
  • Berries 
  • Peppers  
Understanding Expiration Dates  

Food expiration dates are confusing and can lead to consumers throwing away food long before it is actually expired. So, what do they mean? 

  • “Sell by” is used to tell the retailers when the product should be sold by or removed from the shelves.  
  • “Best by” is the suggested date that consumers should use the product by (note that this date does not mean that the food is unsafe to eat or expired.  
  • “Use by” mean that the food may not be at its best quality past the date and is usually the best date to follow. 

There is currently work being done to make expiration dates clearer to consumers, however, until then it is best to use your judgement and understand what different labelling terms mean! 

De-clutter Your Fridge  

An overly full or unorganized fridge can lead to food getting lost or forgotten and therefore wasted. Keeping your fridge organized helps you keep track of the food you have and can help you reduce your food waste. A great way to keep your fridge organized is by following the first in first out method. When you buy new food store it behind the food already in your fridge, which helps ensure that you eat the older food first.  

Eat Leftovers 

Leftovers can easily get lost and be forgotten in the back of the fridge, here are some tips for avoiding leftover waste: 

  • Store leftovers in clear rather than opaque containers so you can see what is in them. 
  • Plan out your meals and factor in leftovers to meal planning.  
Don’t Overbuy 

Buying more than you need can be a large contributor to food waste, with research showing that buying in bulk leads to more food waste. You can avoid overbuying food by making more frequent trips to the grocery store, especially for buying fresh produce. In addition, you can ask yourself, “have I used the food I bought from my last trip?” before you buy more. You can also try making lists before grocery shopping and sticking to it as this will help reduce impulse buys.  

Buy Imperfect Produce 

Many fruits and vegetables are thrown away simply because of their shape, size, or colour despite the fact that they are perfectly fine to eat. Choosing to buy these “imperfect” items at the grocery store can help stop these items from being wasted and thrown in the landfill.   

Compost 

As much as 50% of the garbage placed on the curb in Niagara is actually organic waste (i.e., food waste) and should be composted instead (Niagara Region – Public Works Committee, 2020). When organic material is thrown in the garbage instead of a compost bin, it ends up in a landfill. Organic material needs oxygen to break down and when it sits in a landfill, it cannot breakdown into the soil. Instead, organics sit in the landfill releasing methane gas which is a greenhouse gas that has roughly 28x the global warming potential of carbon (Methane, explained, 2019). Composting is so important because when you put your organics in a green bin, it is sent to a composting facility and is turned into valuable compost in only eight weeks! 

References

http://www.fao.org/3/mb060e/mb060e00.htm 

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0007940 

https://pub-niagararegion.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=8580 

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/methane