I waste food. Not because I want to, but because I let leftovers sit in my fridge without eating them for way too long. Then, every few weeks, we go through the painful process of cleaning out the fridge only to find a bowl of chili, green beans, two shrimp and more being tossed in the trash. It literally hurts my heart, but every month I find we have made the same mistakes again!
About 40 percent of food in the U.S. and about one third of the food produced in the world every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. Much of this is wasted during the transportation, grocery and restaurant supply process, but a lot of it happens in your home and mine. Being an environmental writer, I am rightfully held to a high standard of sustainable living from readers, friends and family. This is probably the area I struggle with the most. I have a compost bin, but do not compost meat and grease, which ultimately most of my fridge leftovers contain. Our household can’t seem to create a no waste food stream … yet.
But leftovers aren’t the only items thrown out from refrigerators around the country — many people throw items out because of the dates on the labels. The truth is, most date labels are not designed to indicate safety. They are designed to make money. The faster you throw out the product, the more turnover increases company profit. Most labels are posted not to indicate safety but instead to indicate peak quality. Americans throw out an estimated $29 billion worth of edible food every year. Wow.
The proposed bill in Congress, the “Food Date Labeling Act,” is seeking to create a uniform national date labeling system with just two labels: one for quality (best if used by) and one for safety (expires on). A report found that more than 41 different date labels were being used on food products, clearly confusing consumers. The bill has received support from environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund. Pete Pearson, director of food waste for the World Wildlife Fund said, “When we waste food, we waste the land, water and energy used to produce it. We need to conserve these resources so future generations inherit a planet where food production and consumption exist in balance with nature. The Food Date Labeling Act will ensure more food reaches people who need it, heighten consumer awareness on food waste and clarify confusing expiration dates so that we waste less and save more. This is a win-win for consumers and the environment.”
OK, so what do we do? How do I create less food waste in my house? It starts at the grocery store with a motto, “Take what you need and eat what you take.” Make a list prior to going to the grocery store and stick to the list. If you plan out your meals, you waste less food. The second step is to stop cooking for plenty and cook for the people you have. Our culture is one of overabundance — we must make sure to have heaping piles of food available. This creates leftovers no one will eat. And lastly, think about downsizing your fridge. Have you noticed the size of refrigerators gets bigger and bigger? We fill our empty fridges with more food than we can eat in a week, and in turn, end up with food gone bad. Imagine having a small college-sized dorm room fridge and sustaining only what you need.
Are you a commercial business looking for ways to reduce your food waste? Attend a solid waste conference. The North Central Texas Council of Governments Solid Waste Workshop Series was held on July 26 to help local businesses get background information on food waste, food waste collection studies and findings, and the best management practices for large institutions and food generators.
This gal vows to do better and produce less food waste – how about you?