Do you have a squishy cucumber lingering in your fridge?
We’ve all done it... thrown away those uneaten leftovers, soured milk, or mouldy fruits and vegetables.
The next time you come home from grocery shopping, instead of putting all your groceries in the cupboard, just throw 1/5 of them in the garbage.
Might as well, 20% of groceries end up in the landfill anyway.
How do we waste so much food?
Food is wasted in various stages through the food chain and households are the second-largest contributors to avoidable food waste in Canada.
How much food does your household waste?
Most people don’t realize how much they waste every day. A good way to understand why you are wasting food is by conducting a household Waste Audit.
Environment Lethbridge has created a Waste Audit that you can complete over a week to see what is going into your waste. From there, you can take steps and find suitable solutions that will help you to reduce your waste.
As Canadians, we throw away over $10.4 billion worth of food every year - approximately 21% of the food we buy (Second Harvest, 2019). That works out to about $1,766 per household every year. That is a lot of money that you could be saving.
...Help the Environment
Food waste is bad for our environment. In the landfill, food waste releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has 86 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide (IPCC, 2013). Producing food takes resources such as water, fertilizer, fuel, and land — generating greenhouse gases at every stage (Project DrawDown, 2017). Throwing food in the garbage is an indirect waste of these resources and the human effort of growing it.
...Reduce our Guilt
A 2016 poll found that 77% of people feel guilty about wasting food (Qi and Roe, 2016). Reducing food waste will save money, help the environment, and reduce that guilty feeling.
With a bit of effort, we can still eat well while reducing our food waste.
Meal planning is one of the most effective ways to save food and money.
Being a savvy shopper will help you to only buy what you need.
Improving food preparation and cooking techniques can help you make the most of your meals.
Storing food properly makes food last longer.
Make a Food Inventory
Remind yourself of the food that you already have before buying more. Make an inventory of the foods found in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. This will help prevent you from buying duplicates and will help you to assess what may spoil so that you can plan meals around those foods first.
Some grocery stores allow you to do your shopping or create lists through their store app. Your list will already be sorted by department for easy shopping, you can see what is on sale while you are still at home and meal planning.
In Lethbridge, Save-On-Foods, Superstore, and Walmart all allow you to build lists and do your shopping online. Safeway and Sobeys allow you to build lists and look at deals but require you to purchase in-store. Some grocery stores, including Superstore and Save-On-Foods, will even deliver or have your groceries ready for pick up if you are tight on time.
Plan Your Meals
Meal planning is asking “what’s for dinner” for the whole week, instead of every night. By planning out your meals and recipes you will be able to reduce your food waste significantly as you will know exactly what ingredients you need. In the middle of a busy week, there will be less stress if you already know what is for dinner.
Many convenient apps will help you create a custom plan based on your household needs. Some apps include additional features like automatically generating a grocery list, recipes, and nutritional information. The more you can plan, the less you waste.
Create a Grocery List
Once you have considered the ingredients you already have in your home, create a list of what you need to buy to complete your meal plan. Having a grocery list will help reduce impulse buying or buying too much. Many meal plan apps and meal plan templates also include a place for a shopping list.
Budget Your Purchases
Set a budget for how much you plan to spend while food shopping. This will help you to reduce the spontaneous purchases. It will also help you to refine your grocery list so that you buy what you need and do not overspend.
Recognizing the cost of food will make wasting it extra painful.
Focus on your List
Avoid being distracted by novelty items, specials or bulk sales that don't fit into your meal plan. These are more likely to be wasted or cause you to waste perishable items that become overlooked as a result.
Comparing costs and buying substitutes for items that are not available or too costly is good practice, but don’t buy more than you need.
Help Your Grocery Store Reduce Food Waste
Choose Items Close to Expiry
When shopping for items with an expiry date, select the items at the front of the shelf rather than the back as these are the most likely to be thrown out by the grocery store. Be willing to pick the last produce item – the produce that no one else wanted or was the display. Pick the brown, spotted or crooked ones. If you know that you are going to eat produce items right away, try to select items that are just ripe. If you are buying bananas try to purchase the single bananas and bunch them together yourself. These are all foods that are often overlooked and discarded. By selecting some of these foods while shopping you are helping to reduce the food waste that is generated by stores.
Choose Imperfect Produce
Picking foods by aesthetic criteria only can contribute to food waste. Imperfect produce are the fruits and vegetables that are blemished, too small, too big, bruised or not aesthetically pleasing. The produce will still taste good and be of good quality. Often sellers do not accept these fruits and vegetables as they believe that consumers will not select them. This means that many of the fruits and vegetables that do not look perfect are either left to rot in the field or they are thrown out. It is estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation that one-third of the fruits and vegetables that are produced globally are wasted due to imperfections.
There are many ways that consumers can prevent this produce from being wasted. You can find grocery stores that will sell imperfect fruit at a discounted price. Grocery stores like Loblaws and Save-On-Foods have both started to sell some imperfect fruits and vegetables. If your local grocery store does not do this, then ask them!
Reduce Other Forms of Waste
Remember Your Reusable Bags
Lightweight, washable bags are a good alternative to single-use plastic or paper bags for carrying produce and other groceries. Keep your reusable shopping bags handy by the door so you won’t forget them. Make it a habit to have ultra-compact reusable bags in your car, pocket or purse for unexpected visits to the grocery store. If you have forgotten your bags, using (and reusing) plastic bags is better than buying more cloth or plastic bags which take longer to offset their lifecycle cost.
Avoid food with unnecessary packaging.
Much of the food packaging ends up in the landfill. Try to avoid food with unnecessary packaging.
Produce Bags are available at:
Use a Recipe Generator
Sticking with familiar recipes is easy when planning and cooking meals. If you find yourself wanting new ideas, try using a handy online tool that generates recipes from a list of ingredients that you choose. This tool is especially handy if there are ingredients in your fridge or cupboard you want to use up to avoid wasting them.
Use More of the Vegetable or Fruit
A new way of cooking has become popular among chefs and home cooks. This style of cooking is called “Root-to-Stalk Cooking” where no part of the vegetable or fruit goes to waste. People are rethinking how vegetables and fruits are cooked and are coming up with inspiring recipes that utilize turnip greens, carrot tops, kale stems, broccoli stalks, and so many others. If you are interested in learning more about this and how to get started there are several cookbooks that have been published on the Root-to-Stalk Cooking Movement. A couple of recommendations are “A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals for the Garden” by April Bloomfield and “Root-to-Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable” by Tara Duggan.
You can also use leftover vegetables and scraps to make soup stocks and broth.
Prepare Meals Ahead
Cook enough food for a few days ahead when you have time such as on a weekend. These cooked meals (e.g. chili, lasagna, stews) could be stored in the fridge or freezer and easily heated for dinners on a busy week-night. Accompany these pre-cooked dishes with a salad easily made using fresh produce from the fridge.
If you liked a meal the first time, you can enjoy it again as leftovers. Saving and eating leftovers is a great way to reduce food waste. If you like a lot of variety in your meal plan, there are websites that can help you to plan new meals from your leftovers. If you are feeling really stuck there are leftover generators where you enter in what leftovers you have and they will provide you with recipe ideas!
Use leftover meats and vegetables to make soup stocks and broth. Visit Savory Lotus to learn more.
All leftovers should be stored in airtight, leak-proof containers. The leftovers containers should be labeled and dated so that you know what is in your fridge or freezer and how long it has been in there.
You can refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours of cooking. There's no need to wait for piping-hot foods to cool down before storing them―modern refrigerators can handle the heat. Don't stuff the refrigerator too full. Cool air needs to circulate to keep food at a safe temperature.
It is recommended that most leftovers are used within two days if they have been refrigerated. If you have put your leftovers in the freezer then storage length varies greatly. Refer to the storage guides below for more information.
If it is just you or you have a small family, a great way to learn more about food, try new recipes, and reduce food waste is by participating in a cooking event at a collective kitchen. A collective kitchen is where people can come together to plan a menu, grocery list and prepare several meals together that can be divided up and taken home. People are then able to freeze their meals or eat them right away. Most of these kitchens are operated in schools, churches or community centres but their popularity is growing. In Lethbridge, the Interfaith Food Bank operates a Communal Kitchen.
Making food in bulk means you can buy food in bulk as well, which reduces packaging.
Other food sharing activities can include classes or using a collective kitchen where preserving and canning is taught so that you can use all of the fruits and vegetables that you have or harvest from a garden.
General Food Storage and Preparation
Create a system for keeping your food organized – put older items in the front so you know what should be eaten right away. It also helps to prep foods that enable them to be eaten more easily, such as cutting carrot sticks, so that these foods do not go to waste. For non-perishable food items, organize your cupboards or pantry so that similar items are together. Keeping an up to date food inventory will help you to manage what foods you have and where they are.
- Freezing food only takes a moment and extends the life of what isn’t getting eaten up right away.
- A dehydrator is an easy, cheap way to preserve fruit and vegetables. You can learn more here.
- Preserve or can surplus fruit and vegetables - especially abundant seasonal produce. The Interfaith Food Bank hosts workshops that teach how to can and preserve food. Here is an online guide to help you get started.
- Prepare and package foods in the way that best suits your needs.
Meat, Fish, and Poultry
Keep all fresh meat, fish, and poultry in its store wrapping until you are ready to cook it.
In their original packaging, fresh meat cuts (e.g. steaks) can be safely stored in the fridge up to 5 days whereas 2-3 days is the recommended storage time for ground meats, poultry, and fish. Storage time increases when cooked. Stored in the freezer these foods can be kept indefinitely although the quality may decline after a few months.
Leave cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk, and cream in the containers they came in. But after transferring milk to a pitcher or sour cream to a serving bowl, don't return them to the original containers. Instead, tightly cover the pitcher or bowl with beeswax wrap.
Store hard cheeses in the store wrapping until you use them, then wrap them in wax paper, foil, loose plastic or a reusable container.
Milk containers should be kept closed and in the refrigerator.
Fruit and Vegetables
Keep fruits and vegetables separate and store like with like: apples with apples, carrots with carrots. Fruits and vegetables give off different gases that can cause others to deteriorate. Store fruits and vegetables susceptible to drying out in containers or bags that maintain a moist environment yet still allow air to circulate.
Don't wash produce before refrigerating it. The dampness can make it mold and rot more quickly.
If it’s still good - Donate Excess Food
Redirecting this avoidable food waste to food banks and other food rescue programs is one great way to reduce waste. Whether you are a large manufacturer, farmer, supermarket chain or an individual - anyone can become a food donor. Foods that are imperfect, have errors in labelling, or are close to the sell-by-date are all accepted by food banks and other food rescue programs.
There are several organizations that accept food donations in Lethbridge: Lethbridge Food Bank, Interfaith Food Bank, Lethbridge Soup Kitchen, Salvation Army Food Bank, University of Lethbridge Students’ Union Food Bank, Lethbridge College Students’ Association Food Bank and Streets Alive Mission. You can check with the different programs to see what they accept and what they need.
If you have excess pet food, the City of Lethbridge’s Animal Shelter runs a pet food bank where dog food, cat food, and cat litter donations can be dropped off for people with pets in need. You can contact the Lethbridge Animal Shelter at (403) 320-4099 for more information.
A solution for the food waste that you can’t avoid is to compost. Composting is the most effective way to get rid of your food waste and it will make a great soil conditioner for your garden and yard. While composting can seem like a daunting task, there are many great resources for you to follow that will help you get started.
If you do not have a yard or you have limited space another option is vermicomposting (worm composting).
Focus on adopting these 3 top strategies to reduce the most food waste in your household:
- 1. Make a grocery list based on a meal plan before going grocery shopping.
- 2. Cook with what you have available and use or save your leftovers.
- 3. Learn to store your food properly to keep food fresh longer.
If you can develop these habits - you will see a dramatic difference in your waste bin and your wallet.
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