Sustainability, waste-free, compostable straws, environmentally friendly — these are all buzz words floating around the news, gearing the public to fight against the compounding waste building up on our planet. With major industries publicly joining in on the journey like coffee shops and restaurants redesigning their plastic lids and cities enforcing a plastic bag ban, it seems that the reduce waste campaign is at full force. But are all these efforts truly necessary? And if we do have a problem on our hands, what difference can these small changes truly make?
Food waste by the numbers
First, let’s look at some of the data.
- 133 billion pounds of food waste are produced annually.
- 7% of that waste contributes to overall greenhouse gas emissions.
- Of all the produce that’s grown, processed and transported within the U.S., 25-40% goes untouched and unconsumed.
- The amount of food waste produced per person per day roughly totals to 1,250 calories.
The numbers present a valid case — waste is an issue and will continue to compound if actions and attitudes don’t change. Although the environmental and sustainability campaign seems like an unbearable feat for any one person to truly make a change, there are certain things that anyone can do to begin making their own impact.
19 ways to shop and eat more sustainably
Here are a few areas where you can begin to cut down on your own waste production today.
How to reduce food waste
Food is an area of waste that is of vital importance. Whenever we eat, drink or grocery shop, we can’t overlook food waste. Why? Food waste not only affects landfill pile up and gas emissions, but it also impacts areas of food insecurity. A 15% reduction in total food waste would be enough to feed 25 million Americans.
The biggest contributor to food waste is leftover and uneaten food. Overbuying at the grocery store and throwing out rotting food at the end of the week not only impacts the environment but your wallet as well. Adequately preparing before a grocery trip is one of the best ways to begin to reduce individual food waste. The best way to combat this is to know how to buy, store and prepare food properly. Adequately preparing before a grocery trip is one of the best ways to begin to reduce individual food waste.
1. Scan the fridge. Know what you have in your fridge before grocery shopping.
2. Make a list. Write down the things you absolutely need to buy.
3. Store it right. Keep food at or below 40 degrees F. Anything above that is known as the “Temperature Danger Zone,” where bacteria grow the most rapidly and the risk of getting a foodborne illness increases.
4. Freeze it well. Any food or leftovers that aren’t currently being eaten can be packed and stored in the freezer for up to about three months. Be sure to use freezer-safe glass dishes with an airtight lid and mark the date on it.
5. Pay attention to quality. The “use by” and “sell by” dates refer to the quality of the food. Most foods can be eaten after those dates. Use your nose and better judgment when consuming those foods.
6. Shop in season. Not only is shopping for seasonal produce better for your wallet, but produce in season is at its peak ripeness and freshness, perfect for your taste buds!
7. Eliminate food waste. Compost any food scraps or leftovers.
How to ditch the plastic
How can you reduce plastic use? Plastic is in our grocery stores, in our homes and everywhere you look. Realistically, there’s no way to eliminate all plastic from our lives, but we can decrease the amount we use daily. Here are some tips to transition from plastic to reusable products. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect at eliminating plastic. There will be times you forget your bags or can’t use your reusable products. Just remember that if everyone tries, it can make a positive impact on our overall plastic use.
8. Carry reusable bags with you. Keep them in your car!
9. Stop using plastic bottles. Reusable bottles are great, and there are so many different kinds to choose from. Just fill it up before leaving the house, and you’re ready to go!
10. Buy from the bulk section. Flour, sugar, spices, nuts and seeds can be bought from the bulk section. Bring your own mason jar or container and scoop away! Most stores will subtract the weight of your container from the cost, so you don’t have to pay more.
Reusable bottles are great, and there are so many different kinds to choose from.
11. Use reusable sandwich bags. There are many options that are well worth the investment and easy to wash and use on the go. Use them for packing snacks or storing freezer items. Varying sizes and options are available both online and in stores.
12. Try mesh produce bags. They work just as well as those plastic ones in the store.
Related: Feeding your family on a budget
A quick refresher on recycling
Recycling is a great way to minimize trash going into landfills, but what’s recyclable and what’s not? Here are some quick recycling tips.
13. No food, liquids, straws, plastic cups or plastic dishware can go in the recycling bin. Compost all food and food-soiled paper when possible.
14. No plastic bags. Never put recyclables in plastic bags and never put any plastic bags in your regular recycling bin. Plastic bags and wraps can jam recycling equipment.
15. Do not put oily pizza boxes in the recycling bin. The oil, cheese and sauce on the box can contaminate the cardboard.
16. Empty and scrape out the food or materials from all bottles, jars, containers and cans before putting in the recycling bin.
17. Know your numbers. Plastic bottles and jugs with #1 or #2 on the bottom are recyclable.
18. Recycle all clean paper and all clean, flattened cardboard boxes.
19. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out! Better to throw out the item than risk it contaminating other good recycling.
It’s important to remember that incorporating one small change is more than enough to begin this journey. Perfecting the steps right away also isn’t necessary; part of the journey is learning and making mistakes along the way. The conscious decision to begin to reduce waste will still make an impact in the long run — and maybe one day, those large statistics of global food and plastic waste will begin to decline.
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This article was contributed by dietetic interns Annie Lee, Heather Jones, Hannah Wang and Miao Lin.