We’re Wasting Food at an Alarming Rate, but Far Worse is the Impact on the Planet

It’s week nine of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. The past eight weeks we’ve talked about reducing your waste, specifically single-use plastics as they have a long-lifespan and are surprisingly easy to live without. This week we’re switching focus a little, while still trying to reduce our waste; we’re focusing on organic waste. Let’s reduce food waste by using meal planning or visiting a food rescue.

Food waste is a natural part of the food cycle, however what’s not natural is the huge quantities of waste being produced and the way we dispose of that waste. One third of all the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. That’s approximately 1.3 billion tons annually. In the west, the average person discards up to 25% of food they purchase. Imagine purchasing 4 bags of groceries, while leaving the store you drop one bag and don’t even bother to stop and pick it up. That’s essentially what we’re doing.

Of course, throwing out food wastes the water, energy and fuel needed to grow, store and transport it, but you might not be aware of the greenhouse gases the decomposition process releases. Ideally food waste would be composted, where it is recycled into rich soil and fertilizer to grow more food. However, this process doesn’t happen when food is sent to landfill, as it decomposes without air. This anaerobic condition results in methane, a greenhouse gas more than 20x stronger than CO2 at trapping heat.

Food waste is responsible for the equivalent of 6-10% of all greenhouse gas emissions!

Here’s a couple ways to reduce your food waste:

Meal planning
It might sound a little housewife-y, but spending a few minutes at the start of each week planning your meals will not only reduce your food waste, but it’ll save you time, money and energy by the end of the week! To make a meal plan, look at what ingredients you have on hand, decide what you can make including those ingredients, and which nights you will make what, and then create a shopping list of missing ingredients. With this process, you can also plan to utilise leftovers, for example planning to make extra rice one night, means you can make a different meal with that leftover rice the next night, saving you time and wasted food.

The Zero Waste Chef has a downloadable menu planning template and some great advice, or there’s plenty of websites and apps that you can use to make meal plans.

Food Rescuing
Another way to reduce food waste is by diverting food heading towards landfill. You’ll be shocked and probably horrified at the amount of perfectly edible food grocery stores throw out! Overstocking, imperfections, and sell-by dates are some of the reasons stores are so wasteful. And tragically, it’s cheaper for a store to dispose of food, than donate it to those in need, due to logistics.

Luckily there are food rescue organisations popping up around the world tackling that process of collecting and re-distributing food that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. These organisations rely on donations and the work of volunteers to accomplish this. You can find out if there’s a food rescue service in your community by Googling “food rescue near me”. If there’s one in your community support it by going and claiming food (only what you need), donating to the organisation and even volunteering your time.

If your community doesn’t have a food rescue and you’re feeling adventurous you might even want to give dumpster diving a go! Like I said, you will be shocked, and now amazed at the good food grocery stores throw away every day. And you’ll soon come to realise a dumpster full of grocery store products is actually far less germ-ridden than the picture in our mind.

Reducing your food waste not only cuts your contributions to greenhouse gases and the wasted energy it takes to produce food, but it’ll save you money. There are many other ways you can reduce food waste, so if you want to go further, or find other methods that better suit your lifestyle, check out these 32 Tips for Reducing Food Waste Every Day on Global Citizen.