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.

Single-Use Plastics are Turning the Ocean into Plastic Soup

It’s week eight of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Already in recent weeks we’ve quit using some of the most common forms of single-use plastics; plastics that are made to be used once and disposed of, and are generally not recyclable. If you’ve missed any of those challenges, or found yourself slipping; that’s okay! This week we’re going to stop using any and all single-use plastics.

Plastic is so commonplace in today’s society people don’t always stop to think about how huge an impact our consumption of it has on the planet. 700 million tons of plastic is produced every year, and half of that is made for single-use. Under the right conditions plastic will break down over a hundred years, but there’s no sustainable way to provide those ideal conditions to the enormous amount of plastic constantly being produced.

This means all this plastic is likely to exist on earth in some form for many more centuries to come. Over that time an inconceivable amount of plastic is likely to be washed into the ocean. Already, every year 8 million tons of plastic waste leak into the ocean, and over the last decade we’ve generated more plastic than the previous 100 years. This rate of production, consumption, and disposable is far from sustainable.

It takes plastic 400 years to degrade in water. During that time plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, or microplastics. The millions of tiny pieces of microplastics mixed with water becomes a kind of plastic soup. And while you may have seen some of the many great projects working to retrieve plastic debris from the ocean, it’s a far greater challenge to remove the virtually invisible microplastics from the water.

Why is it so important to protect our oceans?

Oceans are the largest ecosystems on earth and are vital for not only marine life, or human life, but all life on earth. 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants, and more than 97% of the planet’s water is in the ocean.

A sixth of the animal protein mankind eats come from the ocean. However, microplastics in the ocean leak toxins into the many marine animals who are unknowingly ingesting them. And those harmful toxins transfer and increase as they go up the food chain, eventually ending up on our plates.

So what can we do?

Stop contributing to this problem by quitting single-use plastics. Amazingly, for something so prevalent in modern life, a lot of single-use plastic isn’t even necessary, and is simply made and used out of convenience. Luckily this makes quitting easier than you may think! Already we’ve discussed quitting plastic straws, beverage cups, bottles, bags, cutlery and packaging, so in addition to those, take a look at your personal consumption habits and identify other sources of plastic you buy, or are given, and use for less than a day. For example, zip lock bags, single-serve sauce packets, food wrappers, take out containers, synthetic tea bags, produce bags, and much more.

Once you’ve figured out the wasteful items you use, think creatively how you can remove this from your life. For example, often plastics can be avoided by choosing to eat-in instead of take-away. Choosing an alternative product wrapped in paper, glass or foil. Wrapping your own food in cloth or reusable container. Bringing your own cup, plate, utensils or container to a party, event, take-out place or bulk aisle of the grocery store. There’s a lot of alternatives available, and google is a great resource for finding one that will suit your lifestyle!

With Plastic Free July right around the corner this is the perfect opportunity to get a head start on life without single-use plastic! You can find out more about Plastic Free July and register for the challenge on their website.

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Breaking-up with Plastic Cutlery is Easy with this Simple Advice

It’s week seven of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. And this week’s challenge is an easy one! Let’s quit using plastic cutlery, by bringing reusable cutlery with you.

Already we’ve quit the habits of single-use plastics like straws and coffee cups, so extending that too plastic cutlery should be too far a stretch. Like with quitting those disposables, all it takes is a little forethought and pre-planning. Simply replace all those single-use cutlery items you might use in a week, (each with a life span of hundreds of years on the earth) with their reusable metal counterparts.

You can pick up cheap single pieces of cutlery from the thrift store. Choose something small, so it can fit into whatever bag you’re taking, or even a pocket. What utensils you’ll need depends of what you eat. I, for example, carry a small flat-screen fork with me, and a straw. The flatness means it can occasionally be used with softer foods, in place of a spoon, and anything too liquidy I would either use my straw, or just drink out of the container. I also don’t eat meat, so I don’t find need for a knife on-the-go, but add one to your pack if you think you do.

Multi-tools like a camping utensil might be useful to you, but I warn that these items can sometimes prove less convenient and functional than the individual items. I also encourage you to choose products purchased second-hand and plastic free.

Plastic cutlery is not recyclable and is one of the top disposable plastics contributing to polluting our oceans and filling landfill. Luckily, it’s an easy item to go without when you come prepared with a reusable cutlery alternative. Remember to refuse disposable cutlery when you make your food order or are picking up your food. Doing so might feel a little awkward at first, but just remember you request to go plastic-free doesn’t just go unheard, hopefully one day the businesses we frequent will make the eco-choice to stop using plastic cutlery and disposables altogether!

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All that Plastic Packaging Might not be as Recyclable as you Thought

It’s week six of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Over the past four weeks we’ve talked about plastic and some of the many terrible impacts it’s thoughtless consumption has on our planet. So, it should come as no surprise that we’ll continue to reduce our consumption of plastics. This week, we’ll start choosing products that are, or come packaged in, recyclable materials; like glass, metal and paper, over plastics.*

So many of the products available to us come wrapped in plastic packaging, we don’t often stop to consider how wasteful and excessive this packaging can be, or consider the long-term impacts that buying so much plastic can have, on the planet, and our health. There’s a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions about the plastic recycling process out there, and its over-consumption has normalised the problem for the majority of people.

Plastic is not truly recyclable, it’s quality grade is decreased in the process. For example, under average recycling processes, clear plastics, like water bottles and food containers, once sent to recycling won’t have every label and food scrap removed, meaning that when it’s all combined, it’s not so clear anymore. In today’s consumerist culture, this non-clear plastic makes it harder to sell the product inside, so it’s not reused for its original purpose; AKA not truly recyclable.

Lightweight plastics, like your average chip wrapper of pasta packet is a lot harder to recycle. Some grocery stores collect certain thinner plastics, like plastic grocery bags, but again the plastic grade is decreased in this process. There’s far less demand for recycled plastics, so these usually become products such as door mats, park benches and textiles, which all eventually end up in landfill.

Virgin plastic must continue to be produced en mass to keep up with the current demands, using huge quantities of petroleum and other resources to do so.

To reduce the amount of plastic waste you produce you can make a conscious effort to choose products that come in glass, metal and paper over its plastic alternative. You may be sacrificing the best deal possible, but if you can afford it, it feels a lot better than sacrificing the planet to save a buck.

Glass and mental are the best options for products and packaging, as they can both be fully recycled to what they once were. Paper is also a better choice than plastic, as it’s compostable, but it’s also not truly recyclable. Again, greater resources have to go in to the production of paper, and there’s less demand for recycled paper products. But, choosing products made of actual recyclable paper (not just paper that’s been printed with a brown texture for greenwashing) is a good way to show manufactures there is a demand for it.

If you can’t find an alternative to a product which doesn’t come wrapped in plastic consider whether you need to buy that product in the first place. Is there a way you can make it yourself, buy from the bulk sector, or from a local producer (like a bakery, for example) that you can buy from without the plastic?

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Are Plastic Bags Really the Legacy You Want to Leave on Earth?

It’s week five of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. This week we’re tackling the last of the ‘big four’ plastic polluting items; plastic bags. It’s time to start bringing reusable bag to put an end to wasteful plastic bags.

Perhaps the ultimate symbol of our throwaway culture, plastic bags, like those you get from the grocery store, are used around the world in such alarming rates; about 2 million plastic bags are used worldwide EVERY MINUTE. And each bag is used for an average of just 12 minutes; the time it takes for you to carry that bag from the store to your car and then to your house. But that 12-minutes-of-convivence bag will actually exist on Earth for up to 1000 years. Far longer than all of us. Is 300 1000-year-old bags per year of your life really the legacy you want to leave behind?

Each of these bags are made of petroleum, and 8% of  our total oil supply goes to making plastic. It’s estimated only 3% of plastic bags are being recycled, the rest going to landfill, or their lightweight nature makes them easily taken by the wind or water outside of that intended destination. Instead littering our streets and countryside, eventually making their way into waterways and finally the ocean. Once there, plastic bags are easily mistaken for food by marine life, such as sea turtles; up to 86% have already been affected by plastic. More than 44% of all seabirds have ingested or become entangled in plastic. And tragically, this figure is predicted to rise to 99% by 2050.

Luckily there’s movements around the world to reduce the consumption of bags, either by charging a fee per bag, or banning them altogether. If this isn’t the case in your town, luckily you don’t have to wait for government policy to reduce your use; Bring your own bag, carry what you can, and refuse because you don’t need one. Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags, so invest in a hardy natural-fabric bag today, give them as gifts (or as gift wrapping), or just to the stranger behind you in line who’s forgotten theirs.

It’s simple to say ‘no’ to plastic bags, especially when you come prepared with a reusable bag. And when you consider just 20 years of ‘normal’ plastic bag use could equate to up to 6 million total years of life for those bags, the sooner you quit the better for the planet you’ll leave behind.

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P.s. if there’s no action against plastic bags in your community, you can start a movement petitioning your local council or government to ban or start with a tax on plastic bags. Check out this post by 1 Million Women on the subject.

Why you Need to Switch your Bottled Water for Tap Water Today

It’s week four of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Last week we tackled disposable coffee cups, and this week it’s time to put an end to the rest of your single-use plastic beverage use. Let’s stop buying plastic water bottles!

With the markup of bottled water being up to 3000x the cost of tap water, it seems crazy in the first place that companies have convinced you to pay for the INconvenience of a single-use bottle of water.

This billion dollar industry has terrible impact on our planet. Consider the emissions caused by the production of plastic for bottles, the water bottling process, transportation of water to the factory, and then bottled water to you. Only 20% of water bottles are recycled, the rest go to landfill and have become the 3rd highest item responsible for ocean litter. The industry is also responsible for causing water shortages in the communities they’re bottled in.

So what possible reason could make someone pay this high cost, both financially and impact on the planet, just for bottled water?

A. It’s convenient.

Hardly! The effort taken to purchase a single-use bottle, break the seal, consume before finding a way to dispose of the bottle (hopefully to recycling, where transportation and treatment processes are undertaken for it to be turned into a lower-grade plastic (not used to make more water bottles)), and then having to purchase another bottle next time you’re thirsty surely outweighs the simplicity of just turning a tap to fill your reusable bottle for free whenever and wherever you please.

It takes three times more water to produce a plastic water bottle than it does to fill one.

A. It’s better for you, or it just tastes better.

Bottled water is held to food standards, meaning its factories are checked and regulated far less frequently than modern water treatment plants. Plus, the cheap plastics used for disposal bottles are leaking toxins into the water you’re consuming. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, try a filtered water pitcher.

22 percent of bottled brands tested contained chemicals at levels above state health limits in at least one sample.

The solution to plastic bottle use is just like your new reusable coffee mug; you just need to get a quality reusable bottle to take your water with you. I encourage you to choose a bottle made of glass or metal, over plastic. This is because they’re truly recyclable materials, and are easier to clean and maintain. But if it’s a plastic BPA-free bottle you already have, use that!

The bottled water industry has some of the worst impacts on the planet. Luckily, quitting this wasteful habit is easy, and even comes free from the tap!

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It’s Time to Start Getting your Coffee Fix To-Go and Guilt Free

It’s week two of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. Following last week’s challenge to quit single-use plastic straws, this week’s challenge is about cutting more single-use waste from your life! It’s time to get a reusable coffee mug, and use it. 

Take away coffee and other to-go beverages are served with plastic single-use lids, which, like straws aren’t recyclable, have a life span hundreds of years longer than yours and are a leading cause of plastic waste littering our oceans.

Not only are the lids sent straight to landfill, but the seemingly paper cups that come with them are actually coated in plastic or wax making them virtually unrecyclable, meaning they too go straight towards our ever-growing landfill problem.

Luckily there’s a simple solution to contributing to this wasteful practice, and that’s to bring your own reusable coffee mug or container when you get you coffee or beverage fix. There’s so many fantastic options on the market in every shape, size and colour, so there’s sure to be a reusable to-go mug out there to suit you. I would encourage you to choose something not make of plastic, as they’re more likely to stain or break and more difficult to repair and maintain. Whatever you choose in the end doesn’t have to be fancy, even a simple glass jar will do the job!

Now that you have your mug, you just need to keep it handy for everyday use. Make it a part of your routine to bring it with you when you start your day, when you head to the coffee shop, and then to be cleaned and put back wherever you will remember to bring it with you next time.

Now, nobody’s perfect and we all forget things at times, or find ourselves in need of an unplanned caffeine fix, if you’re craving a coffee and don’t have your mug on hand I dare you to think creatively for an alternative, like a simple glass jar, or take the time to enjoy your coffee to stay instead. Failing these, if you need to rely on their to-go cups, opt out of a lid, to save this unnecessary single-use plastic.

However you take your coffee to-go, make sure it’s not without thought to the lasting impact the single-use container will have on the planet.

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Let’s admit it, straws suck; it’s time to quit this dirty, ocean-polluting habit

It’s week two of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. As we ease into the challenge here’s another simple change to make; quit using plastic straws.

Generally, so little thought goes into a single straw you probably don’t realize that, based on the consumption of straws in the US, you may have used over 45 straws just in the last month. That 20 minutes of convenience before throwing it to landfill is a small fraction of the hundreds of years they’ll take to break down on earth. During that time, a straw might likely find it’s way into waterways, eventually breaking up into microplastics polluting our oceans and poisoning marine life. Straws are one of the top ten items littering beaches internationally.

So that’s hundreds of years on earth for something you never asked for, and for the most part, never even needed in the first place. The challenge to quit using plastic straws is easy (especially when you replace them when needed with your own personal reusable metal or glass straw), all you need to do is politely ask for ‘no straw’ with your drink order.

The only difficult part of this week’s challenge is remembering; up until now your straw use is probably something you’ve given very little thought to, so to achieve no straws coming your way you’ll have to be diligent. Every single time you order a drink, order it with ‘no straw, please’, loud enough for your server to hear, and register. Even if you’ve asked for just a water and every other table around you doesn’t have a straw in their water glass; if you don’t ask for no straw you’re still quite likely to be given a straw. Trust me, I know this from experience…

Once you commit to no longer using plastic straws you’ll start to notice just how out of control this problem is. The amount of pointless waste is so huge you’ll start wondering how it’s even possible, or legal, in the first place. Luckily there’s groups all over the world working to change that. So if you want to go further than just stopping your own use, you can support one of those, or start a movement in your own community to encourage businesses to stop enabling this bad habit. Or at the least start a conversation with your friends or servers about why you’re opting of no more straws.

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The Easiest Thing you can do to Reduce Your Waste

It’s week one of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. And for the first week we’re starting easy! With the simple challenge to reduce your waste by learning to refuse free things you don’t need. Sounds simple, right? Let’s dive in.

It’s been said that nothing comes free in this life, and I think that’s true of corporate freebies, like promotional pens, and other little knick-knacks companies give out.

To the company producing these items the price the consumer pays is having that brand name planted into their consciousness. But more importantly when you accept this item you never even needed, you become responsible for what happens to it. And when you think of the full lifecycle of an item, that responsibility doesn’t make that item feel so free anymore..

These free items are produced as cheaply as possible, usually made out of plastic with a very short functioning lifespan. Once broken or the gimmickry wears off, the item is usually discarded; banished to a junk drawer to serve no purpose, or thrown in the garbage to end up in landfill, or often, the ocean. These plastic items, taken as flippantly as they are discarded, can actually take about 100 years to decompose.

Each time you’re offered a freebie, think about the fact that it’ll outlive you on this earth, politely refuse the item and if you like, tell them why.

It may seem futile while these items continue to be created en mass, but your choice can make a difference; if a company finds themselves unable to give it away for free, hopefully they’ll take that as hint to stop producing them.

While I’ve used promotional freebies as an example here, there are many other items which we should apply this idea to. Hotel toiletries are another example; you’re not likely to use the whole quantity of a small shampoo bottle, the remainder and plastic container will go straight to landfill. If you think you will need shampoo during your travels, invest in some small glass travel containers and fill with your preferred shampoo, leaving the hotel’s disposable freebies untouched.

Let’s stop using things merely because they come ‘free’; no thing is free from impacting the planet.

What else will you choose to refuse?

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Bonus advice: if you’re responsible for the production of promotional products for your business or company and are sure the company cannot go without, I’d encourage you to think creatively about what people need, the materials it’s made out of, and the full lifecycle of that item.

Items like metal drinking bottles, and well-constructed non-synthetic fabric bags will not only be of continual use to the consumer (longer exposure to your brand name!), but can also reduce their consumption of the disposable alternatives it replaces!

Or, a creative idea could be a printed promotional card with seeds in the paper so the consumer can then plant the item and watch it grow. Include a tearable tab with the plant care information and your logo to place in the soil, to continue your brand exposure. You can also rest easy knowing a compostable item like this won’t outlive you, whether it’s planted or discarded.