Reducing Food Waste at Home: How you can contribute to saving the planet

With all the buzz around global warming, climate change and other environmental concerns, I’m sure you’re interested in learning more about these issues.  Most of us today are at least aware that one way to reduce damage to our planet is to reduce the amount of waste we generate. 

One of the principal sources of waste at home is food and you might ask, how can I reduce the food waste I generate at home?

In this article, I will share some of the general concepts around food waste management and leave you with some practical tips on how you can reduce food waste. Not only does it help save our planet, it is a good feeling and can also help you save money! 

There are plenty of reasons why we throw away food in our homes, but there are plenty of things you can do to reduce the amount of food that goes in the trash.  One of the basic principles we should be aware of is the concept of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

This is the fundamental principle of how we can reduce waste in general, and reduce the food waste we generate in particular. 

I will group the tips on reducing food waste at home around these three principles. First, let us get a definition of each term;

  1. Reduce: this is simply reducing the sources of food waste even before we generate the waste. Think, buying the right quantities, cooking the right proportions or buying food products with less packaging.
  2. Reuse: this principle focuses on reusing waste items. In the context of food waste, it could be reusing leftovers for new recipes, storing them properly for another meal later or finding ways to get the food to the people who might need it as long as this can be done hygienically.
  3. Recycle:  when you cannot reduce or reuse then the third option is to recycle. In the context of food waste, this would mean recycling the food waste through composting for use as manure rather than just dumping it in the garbage which goals to the landfill and eventually release greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming

Let’s dig in and explore how you can reduce food waste at home using these principles. 

1. Plan meals to prevent over-purchasing.

We have all been there! You look through your fridge and you find soggy vegetables or canned food products that are way past their use-by date and we chuck these in the bin. With a little thought and planning, we can reduce these occasions by planning meals. Planning meals helps prevent over-purchasing of perishable items, which can lead to wasted food. Not only do you reduce food waste, but you also save on food products you would have bought and eventually thrown away. 

For example, if you are buying vegetables to cook dinner, plan a meal for the next day that would use the leftover or unused vegetables from your dinner last night. That way you do not throw them away or store them for too long before use.

2. Designate a “use first” shelf in the fridge.

Out of sight, they say, is out of mind. Just like on supermarket shelves, where products are arranged FIFO(First in, first out) to encourage shoppers to buy the older stock first before newer ones, you can adopt a similar concept with the way you organise food items in your fridge.

Designate a “use first” shelf in the fridge. If you have trouble using things before they go bad, then it’s time to start reorganising your refrigerator! Your goal is to put the items you use most often in the front of your fridge so that when you open it up, those foods are right there for easy access instead of hidden on one of those upper shelves. If an item sits at eye level, chances are, you’ll remember to use it before its expiration date or before they go bad.  

3. Keep track of what you waste, not just how much food you throw out.

A simple fridge notepad on your fridge door would do.  What we throw away in the bin is obvious. What is less obvious is what we waste. For this reason, it is helpful to keep track of how much food you waste, which items are most likely to go bad? Which ones might be easy for you to use up in a recipe?

With this approach, when you’re planning your meals or grocery shopping, you’ll have a better idea of what types of foods need special attention. For example, I would always throw away an open pack of milk after it’s been open in the fridge for a few days even though it might still be good. I just feel it’s no longer fresh. To fix this, I started buying smaller pack sizes that I could consume quicker. 

 

4. Create a “use now” list for what’s about to go bad.

On the same fridge notepad, I suggested earlier for tracking what we waste, we can add a “use now” to remind us of items we need to use up before they go bad. This is particularly helpful with vegetables that might go soggy if stored just for a couple of days in the fridge. 

If you find yourself throwing out food on a regular basis, the next step is to try to limit waste. One way to do this is by creating a “use now” list for what’s about to go bad. Other ways to track this include:

  • If you are geeky, use a spreadsheet or mobile app that allows you to input the date you purchased an item and when it expires so that you can keep tabs on how long something has been in your fridge. 
  • You may also want to use labels on containers or bags, especially if they’re kept in the pantry or another location where it’s hard for everyone in your home to know what’s in them at any given time.

5. Make freezer space for leftovers.

Freezing leftovers is a good way to cut down on food waste. We often have our freezers full of food and we do not have room for the leftovers. When your freezer is full, you are more selective about what you freeze.  It becomes hard to know what should stay and what should go. Here are some tips to help you use your freezer space more efficiently to reduce food waste:

  • Freeze things in smaller portions if possible. This can mean buying single servings instead of an entire bag or jar at a time.
  • Store foods with similar characteristics together so they take up less room in your freezer (e.g., store all your meats together).
  • Freeze items that would not be difficult to thaw or keep frozen (e.g., soups).

6. Make fresh meals out of leftovers and unused vegetables. 

Instead of throwing away leftovers, you can get creative and make fresh meals out of the leftovers and other unused food times. You can use your scraps to make broth, which is a good way to use up vegetable scraps that might otherwise go down the drain. 

7. Make extra portions that can be frozen as individual meals.

  • Cook once, eat twice by making extra portions that can be frozen as individual meals.
  • Cook bigger portions for the family and immediately freeze a portion for later. This ensures you do not waste food and the meal is still fresh when you defrost it.  This is an easy way to reduce food waste and ensure that there is always something for everyone in the household to eat.
  • Consider buying in bulk if you have the freezer space, as this will allow you to buy less-perishable items like fruit and vegetables at a lower cost per kilogram (or pound).

8. Compost or donate food waste.

When you do have to throw some food away, consider donating them if they are unopened and safe to share. You can also compost food waste for use in your garden. There are simple composting bins that you can install at home for composting food waste. 

  • Donate to a food bank or other charity
  • Composting is a great way to recycle food waste
  • Composting can be done at home or at a community composting facility
  • Compost helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food waste

9. Reducing or Reusing Food Packing

Food packaging always contributes significantly to waste as most of them are rejected by recycling facilities due to contamination with food waste. It is not worth the hassle of trying to clean them up to recycle them considering the economic value of recycling. 

To help reduce this type of waste, you can consciously buy food products in packaging that are reusable domestically rather than food products in disposable packaging. Bottles and plastics are suitable for this type of reuse. It is more effective for bigger product packaging, so the empty containers are big enough for reuse in storing other food items. I often reuse food product containers like glass and plastics to re-store food items like nuts or to pack snacks to carry. 

Conclusion

I hope these tips have given you some ideas for how to reduce food waste at home. Remember that it is important to do what works best for you, your family and your budget. It is easier to adopt if it is practical. 

Give it a bit of thought, and I am sure you will find creative ways to apply some of these tips to reduce food waste in your home. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, let’s all contribute to making the earth greener!

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