It happens to the best of us: we forget a bag of lettuce in the fridge until it turns into a wilted black sludge, or a series of nights out means we never quite get to those leftovers. We might feel a twinge of guilt as we toss the spoiled food into the compost bin, “What a waste!” Still, we feel better about turning it into that nutrient-rich soil amendment, compost. After all decomposing food in landfills is the third largest producer of methane in the US. By sending it to the compost pile instead, we’re reducing our carbon footprint and helping to improve the health of New York City’s soils.
Composting food isn’t the only way to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, however. Nor is it the best. There’s an even easier way to reduce your environmental impact: don’t waste food. In the United States, we waste about 25% of the food we purchase. To put that into perspective, imagine returning from a trip to the grocery store and immediately throwing one quarter of your purchase straight into the trash. What a waste!
Of course, few of us intentionally waste food. Most of the time, food spoiling is an accidental consequence of lifestyle and timing. Fortunately, reducing the amount of edible food that you waste is a fairly simple matter. Here are a few quick tips for paring down your weekly compost contribution to only the inedibles.
- Plan your weekly meals. Buy only what you need for those meals, plus snacks of course.
- Check your pantry and fridge before going to the store. No need to buy more of what you already have. Instead, use it before it goes bad.
- Take a crash course in what food labels mean: “Best By,” “Use by,” and “Sell by” all mean different things.
- Tired of that large batch of soup you made? Do a food swap with friends and neighbors to eat something new without letting the old go to waste.
- Cook with normally discarded pieces of foods such as carrot and beet tops, apple cores, and even banana skins. Get inspiration and recipes here, here, or here.
- Bulk purchase and immediately cook end-of-shelf life foods such as overripe tomatoes for marinara and chicken for stock.
- Figure out the best ways to store food for longer shelf life. The fridge isn’t always the best option.
- When eating out, take home the leftovers–and don’t forget to eat them!
- Learn how to preserve food through canning, drying, and jams.
- If a fruit or veggie is bruised, don’t throw it out! Just cut off the bad bits, the rest is still fresh and safe to eat. (But please do compost that moldy bread!)