Reducing food waste is good for the planet and your wallet. Here’s how to do it more effectively.
“Best by” dates on food packaging tell the consumer when the quality of the product will start to decline, not when it is unsafe to eat.
The statistics are sobering: In the United States, we generate approximately 35 million tons of food waste every year, and as individual families, we waste about 30 percent of the food we buy. For the average four-person household with a monthly food budget of $1000, that’s like throwing $300 straight into the garbage every month.
It’s not just our personal budgets that are affected by food waste, either — it contributes to the ongoing climate crisis as well. The yearly amount of water and energy wasted from uneaten food in America every year would be enough to power 50 million homes, and the amount of greenhouse gases produced from food waste was equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants, according to a 2021 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At home, the core issue is that we buy too much food and then we throw so much out because of spoilage, perceived spoilage, the ingredients “do not match food preferences” or we can’t prepare them, according to a2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
It’s true that there are far more factors that contribute to waste within the food system than just our consumer behavior. “It’s so much bigger than a consumer problem,” said Pamela Koch, associate professor of nutrition education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
But that doesn’t mean our personal efforts can’t still have an impact. “There’s so much that consumers can do,” said Roni Neff, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and one of the co-authors of the National Academies report.
The process starts with “recognizing what we’re throwing out and what led to it,” Neff said. “If we understand our own patterns and what’s going on in our homes,” she continued, the next step is “figuring out how to set up [our] environment to make it as easy as possible to avoid food waste.”