Did you know that approximately 50% of all produce in the United States is thrown away annually? This amounts to a whopping 60 million tons (approximately $160 billion) worth of produce every single year. For an average family of four, the amount of wasted produce amounts to nearly $1,600 a year. 1 Think of everything you could do with that extra money!
A lot of this food waste is a result of how we shop. Although composting is a great sustainable option for uneaten parts of produce such as peels, stems, and seeds, it is not an excuse to get rid of uneaten food. By shopping responsibly and composting scraps, you can reduce your food waste and save money in the process.
Reducing Food Waste
When was the last time you found a moldy, shriveled old zucchini in the back of your fridge? Or last week’s spaghetti dinner, or … you get the picture. All too often food goes forgotten and uneaten, only to end up in a landfill.
Here’s the worst part - all of those old apple cores, banana peels and orange skins that were thrown in the trash aren’t actually biodegrading . In order to be composted, they really truly need to be thrown in the compost. Food waste needs oxygen in order to properly biodegrade. Most landfills are so tightly packed that they create an oxygen-free environment, significantly slowing the process. When organic materials begin to break down in anaerobic environments, methane gas is released. Composting food waste allows the process to happen much quicker while enriching the soil.
A simple solution is to purchase less. Search around to see if your town has a local farmers market. These often occur once or twice a week and offer a wonderful opportunity to get package-free produce while meeting the farmers who grow your food. You can buy the amount of produce you need for the week, and then return the next week for more. Buying seasonally and locally saves money, reduces your carbon footprint, and gives you a sense of community.
Apart from uneaten food, plastic packaging is a huge problem in grocery stores. So many of us are so removed from the farm to table process that we often associate wrapped in plastic with ‘clean’, forgetting that our food initially came from the dirt.
One of the easiest ways to zero waste grocery shop is to shop at stores that offer a bulk section. If no bulk food stores exist in your area, choose paper or cardboard packaging whenever possible. If there is a product in plastic you simply can’t live without, always purchase the largest container available and find a way to either recycle or reuse it.
When you are able to shop in bulk, bring your own glass jars, cloth bags, stainless steel tins - there are plenty of options depending on what you’re purchasing. Even your jars and tins can be purchased from thrift stores or reused. Save old jam jars, pickle jars, etc. A simple wash and they are good as new! And of course, always bring your reusable bag to carry all of your groceries. Keep an extra in your car or purse so you never forget.
Going Zero Waste in the Kitchen
If you have a green thumb, the process of turning your rotting food scraps into nutrient-dense soil is extremely rewarding. If you don’t have a green thumb, you may wonder what on earth you’re going to do with a pile of compost.
For those who are less keen on following through with the process, keep your food scraps in a covered bowl or container until you can properly dispose of them. Perhaps your neighbor has a backyard garden, or a local farm collects compost. Some cities even collect compost at no extra charge! Do a bit of research on options in your area and save those scraps. Keep a big bowl next to you when cooking to toss in food scraps that may otherwise get tossed in the trash. Coffee filters, tea bags, and even wine corks (made of real cork) can get thrown in the compost bin.
Although it may feel overwhelming at first, zero waste grocery shopping can be fun and easy. By opting against pre-packaged meals, you may even learn a new recipe or two!
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