First up in our Sustainability for Beginners is the feeding ground of our nation’s waste and pollution problem: the kitchen. In 2016, The Guardian published that Americans waste about 60,000,000 tons of produce every year, that’s roughly $160 billion a year… So, what gives?
Well, turns out we are super shallow when it comes to food. It seems we have a perfection problem, if a berry has even the slightest blemish or broccoli turns a tinge of yellow – what do you do with it?
If you throw it out, you’re part of the problem! No worries, we didn’t know either :/ But, we changed our trashy ways. And, you can to. Here are 4 tips to make your kitchen an eco-friendly oasis.
1. Only buy what you know you’ll use
Make a list and stick to it
The best way to avoid food waste is not to let it go bad or uneaten. Plan out your meals for the week, or a few days at a time, and follow a strict grocery list – this method works wonders for your wallet and (if you eat healthier – see #3) your health too.
When it comes to food, trying new things is great. But, it’s not financially or environmentally responsible to buy an entire package of something you may not like. Instead, ask to try it in the store – attend sampling days/events and take advantage of “Try before you buy” policies like Trader Joe’s has.
2. Keep it fresh
Don’t let your food go bad
The EPA has published some great tips on reducing food waste on their page Reducing Wasted Food At Home. By the way, storing your food in produce bags makes it go bad quicker. So next time you’re at the store, just skip the baggie. It’s not much more difficult because your groceries will get bagged anyway (hopefully you bring your own) but if you really like produce bags, try these.
Here are our favorites for keeping food fresh:
- It is easy to overbuy or forget about fresh fruits and vegetables. Store fruits and vegetables for maximum freshness; they’ll taste better and last longer, helping you to eat more of them.
- Find out how to store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer inside or outside your refrigerator.
- Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables – especially abundant seasonal produce.
- Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other nearby produce spoil faster. Store bananas, apples, and tomatoes by themselves, and store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
- Wait to wash berries until you want to eat them to prevent mold.
- If you like to eat fruit at room temperature, but it should be stored in the refrigerator for maximum freshness, take what you’ll eat for the day out of the refrigerator in the morning.
Redefining your definition of “fresh” may also help. Ignore expiration dates and use your senses – as long as it doesn’t smell bad, look moldy, or turned a totally different color, it’s probably still OK to eat. Here’s more on that: How to Tell When Food Has Gone Bad
3. Shop naked
You may have heard it a hundred times, but you really shouldn’t be eating processed food. Nearly all food that comes in bags and boxes is processed. Limit the use of these foods, for the earth and your health.
Now that you know how to keep produce fresh, buy it unwrapped. So many fruits and vegetables have their own natural protective packaging: skin and rind. There’s little to no reason why manufacturers need to add plastic or why you need to put it in a produce bag. So next time you’re in the produce isle, intentionally look for produce that comes unwrapped. Eventually, grocery stores and big brands will get the message that we don’t need the plastic.
In fact, keeping food in produce bags actually makes them go ripen (or go bad) quicker because they release gases that cause ripening. If you’re picking up less than 5 of something, go ahead and keep it unwrapped. Typically buy more? Check out these reusable produce bags.
Try your best to avoid fruits and vegetables that have an added layer of plastic. As you shop around, keep in mind which stores have the least wrapped up produce and shop there. Farmers Markets and local markets usually keep it naked. We can’t stress this enough: shop local!
4. Compost your food scraps
Put it all in a big container, take it outside
Whether you’re in an apartment, home, van or trailer – if you eat fresh food (which you should) you can compost. The easiest way is to grab a countertop kitchen compost bin like this one or use the biggest sealed food storage container you already own, remember the best way to be sustainable is to use what you already own (we’re only here for when what you have doesn’t cut it). Use our compost guide to know what is compostable. The trick to smell-free compost is a good balance between nitrogen and carbon. Look out for our next post on composting.
✌🏽 to all you Heckin’ Humans out there!
Got some tips and tricks of your own? Let us know in the comments below!