7 Ways to Reduce Food Waste That Help Combat Climate Change

A November 2019 paper published in BioScience, produced by a global team of researchers and with the signed support of 11,000 scientists, has declared a climate emergency.

To help reduce food waste at home, try buying perishable food items more often and in smaller quantities. (Image: Tassii/E+/GettyImages)

"Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have generally conducted business as usual and are essentially failing to address this crisis," said William Ripple, PhD, distinguished professor of ecology in the Oregon State University College of Forestry and co-lead author of the paper. "Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected."

What We Can Do to Combat Climate Change

The paper paints a dismal picture of the Earth's future, but it also outlines six specific areas in which humanity should take immediate steps to slow down the warming of our planet. "While things are bad, all is not hopeless. We can take steps to address the climate emergency," states Thomas Newsome, PhD, a lecturer at the University of Sydney and co-author of the paper.

Most of the proposed steps are higher-level policy changes (e.g. stabilizing the global population, converting the economy's reliance on carbon fuels, etc.). But the good news is, there is one area we have direct control over — and that's the food we put in our mouths. Laid out in the their plan, the scientists address diet, focusing on two main facets: reducing meat consumption and food waste, stating:

"Eat mostly plants and consume fewer animal products. This dietary shift would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural lands for growing human food rather than livestock feed. Reducing food waste is also critical — at least one-third of all food produced ends up as garbage."

When it comes to taking care of Mother Earth, many of us have heard the "eat less meat" message loud and clear, but the seriousness of the food waste issue and its critical impact on our environment is often overlooked. As stated in the report, at least one-third of all food ends up in our landfills; other sources like the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) estimate the number could be closer to 40 percent. If that's hard to wrap your head around, imagine this: 1,250 calories per person are thrown away each day, per the NRDC. Another way to look at it: Picture yourself walking out of the grocery store with five bags of groceries and leaving two in the parking lot.

Unconsumed food ending up in a trash can is a waste of resources in and of itself, but once that food begins to rot, it produces methane gas, furthering the environmental issue, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This gas from our landfills is the "third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S.," according to the EPA.

So what can we do? It turns out, quite a lot. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 40 percent of the wasted food happens at the retail and consumer level, meaning we have a lot of power and opportunity to help turn this around.

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7 Steps to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Here, we've outlined seven things you can do to help lessen your impact on the amount of food waste reaching our landfills.

"Ugly" vegetables are just as nutritious and delicious as their more aesthetically pleasing counterparts. (Image: moisseyev/iStock/GettyImages)

1. Eat Ugly Fruits and Veggies

Fruit, vegetables, roots and tubers (think sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots, etc.) have the highest wastage rates of any food — they make up 40 to 50 percent. One reason? We're pretty shallow when it comes to picking and choosing our produce. We'll bypass an apple because of a harmless blemish and that apple eventually makes its way into the garbage. To help reduce food waste, stop putting so much emphasis on appearance and consider all of the good that's on the inside.

2. Consider the Whole Fruit and Vegetable

Have you ever thrown away carrot tops? Beet greens? We're guilty as charged. But the leafy greens found on the tops of veggies like turnips, carrots and beets are indeed edible, and they're good for you! You can sauté them, use them to whip up a pesto or mix them into a homemade veggie burger.

Along those same lines, if you tend to throw frozen strawberries into a smoothie, consider leaving the tops on for a little extra green and a little less waste.

3. Shop More Frequently

Hit up the grocery store more than once a week (if you're able) to buy more perishable foods like berries, seafood, tomatoes, lettuces and fresh herbs in smaller batches. This way, you'll be more likely to use them before they go bad. (Don't even get us started on avocados.)

4. Give Your Pantry and Fridge the Marie Kondo Treatment

Much like your closet or desktop, you need to keep your pantry and fridge organized so you know what you have and where you have it. Otherwise, mayhem can ensue, which in this case means fruits and veggies being pushed to the back and forgotten, or half-eaten boxes of crackers sitting on a pantry shelf for months until they go stale. To reduce food waste, try organizing by food group, i.e. beans, pastas, soups, cheeses, meats, etc., so like foods are kept together and you're less likely to lose track of something.

Stick to a list or at least a general meal plan when you go grocery shopping. (Image: gilaxia/E+/GettyImages)

5. Shop Your Plan

One of the worst things you can do for your wallet, the planet and potentially your waistline is head to the grocery store without a plan. Instead, outline a general plan of what you're going to eat for the week so you know what to buy instead of buying what sounds good in that moment. And when you get to the store, stick to your plan. This will help you be more disciplined, which may help save you some cash and eat a more balanced diet while cutting down on waste.

6. Store Foods Properly

There's a lot of misinformation or lack of information when it comes to storing certain foods, which can lead to things spoiling quickly. Here's a quick run-down of storage tips to help reduce food waste:

  • Olive oil: Buy in a dark bottle and store it in a cool, dark place, i.e. don't leave it sitting out on your counter or near the stove. Don't store it in the fridge, either.
  • Nuts and seeds: They're full of healthy fats, which is one reason why we love them so much, but those fats can also go rancid if not stored properly. Put nuts and seeds in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator.
  • Eggs: Do not use the egg tray in the door of your fridge. Read that again. Why? The door being repeatedly opened and closed causes temps to fluctuate in this part of the fridge. Instead, store eggs in the back of the fridge, where it remains cold all the time.
  • Berries: Store berries in the fridge to help them last longer and don't wash them until right before you eat them.
  • Flour: Forget the cute containers for your counter — when it comes to flour, you want to use an airtight container and store it in the freezer if possible. But if there's not room, the fridge will do.

7. Designate Kitchen-Sink Meal Night

One night a week, scavenge through your fridge for any leftovers or food about to go bad and get creative. Combine grains, veggies and proteins to pull together a meal. You'll save money and you'll end up throwing out less at the end of the week.

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