Food waste that occurs in the home is the biggest part of the problem.
A year ago, France made headlines when it became illegal for grocery stores to toss edible food in the garbage. To conform to the country-wide food waste ban, grocery chains partnered with charities to distribute the food to those in need. In another move to combat food waste, European grocery stores were the first major chains to sell “ugly” produce, the fruits and vegetables that look less-than-perfect but taste perfectly fine and are nutritionally equivalent to their better looking cousins.
It’s estimated that 30% to 50% of all food that’s produced goes uneaten. In Canada, that amounts to $31 billion worth of food ending up in the garbage (or compost) each year, according to a CBC report last fall that referenced a 2014 study by Value Chain Management International.
Food waste happens all along the food chain. Some produce rots in the field if the cost to harvest is more than what it can be sold for. Some food is discarded during processing, some food spoils during shipping and food is tossed by grocery stores. There’s the food that goes bad in our fridges and food that is left on our plates at restaurants and home.
Food waste that occurs at home is the biggest part of the problem. According to the Value Chain Management International study, consumers are responsible for almost half of all food waste.
When did it become okay to put food in the garbage?
The environmental impact of food waste is huge when you factor in all of the resources that it takes to grow, harvest, process and transport food. And then food that goes to the landfill, instead of being composted, produces methane (a potent greenhouse gas) as it decomposes.
And then there is the social cost of food waste.
As far as the household budget goes, it’s estimated that the average family of four in the U.S. throws out about $650 worth of food each year.
The more you’re aware of food waste at home the easier it becomes to reduce the amount of food that goes in the compost.
- Plan to use tender greens like lettuce and herbs within a couple of days of buying them since they’re more perishable than other produce.
- Save leftovers and store them in glass containers in the fridge so you can easily see what needs to be eaten.
- Leftovers can go in wraps, omelettes or into basic homemade soups. Make stock out of chicken and beef bones.
- Serve smaller meal portions (especially to kids), so good food doesn’t get left on the plate.
- At restaurants, share dishes and have your children share if you know that not everything is going to get eaten. Take restaurant leftovers home.
- Use your freezer to salvage food before it goes bad. Freeze ripe fruit for smoothies or baking. Put your bread in the freezer if it often goes stale or mouldy on the counter. Slightly stale bread can be whirred in the food processor to make bread crumbs and then frozen.
- Remember, many refrigerated foods can be safely eaten past their best before dates if they have been stored properly and still taste and smell okay. (“Use by” and “expiry” dates on perishable foods like meat, fish and poultry should be followed.)
- Mould on firm cheese, fruits and vegetables can simply be cut off (cut an inch around the mould or rot.)
- Non-perishable packaged foods can be safely consumed past their best before dates. (Canned goods should be tossed if the cans are leaking or bulging.)
- Food that is beyond eating, from table scraps to rotting lettuce, should be composted not thrown in the garbage.