Mom always said our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. And at least on a national level, it appears she was right.
In 2013, Americans created 35 million tons of food waste ranging from spoiled produce to uneaten leftovers, according to the most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Such wastefulness has many ethical, economic and environmental consequences, says Jonathan Bloom, creator of WastedFood.com and author of “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (and What We Can Do About It).”
“It’s a waste of the land, energy and water used to grow that food,” he says. “It’s a missed opportunity to feed those in need, and it’s a plain old waste of money.”
About 95 percent of the food we toss ends up in landfills or combustion facilities, according to the EPA. Major urban centers are having a hard time keeping up with all that trash, according to recent reports.
In addition, the waste of food that ends up in landfills breaks down and produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Fighting back against food waste
For decades, the problem of food waste has grown steadily worse, increasing by about 50 percent per capita since the 1970s, according to the National Institutes of Health.
However, people finally are starting to fight back. Last fall, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.
City leaders in Philadelphia have tried to keep more food out of the trash by implementing a new law that requires in-sink food waste disposers in all new residential construction.
Other cities considering similar initiatives include Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and Tacoma, Washington.
More recently, workers at Starbucks raised such a fuss about food waste that the coffee chain announced a plan to donate 100 percent of its unsold food to charity within the next five years.
You, too, can fight the growing trend of food waste. Bloom says households can stop wasting food by:
Not buying too much food.
Buying in bulk is only a bargain if you consume the food before it spoils.
Storing food properly and visibly.
The right storage helps food last longer, while keeping it visible ensures you don’t overlook it until it goes bad.
Treating expiration dates as guidelines.
The USDA notes that labels such as “best if used by” or “sell by” generally refer to a food product’s quality, not its safety. You typically can eat foods after those dates.
The USDA has a couple of handy charts that can give you a better sense of how long a food is safe to eat.
Not preparing too much food at a single meal.
“Serving reasonable portions to friends and family also helps,” Bloom says. If you occasionally cook too much food, be sure to save and eat the leftovers, he adds.
The EPA also urges you to consider food waste before you shop. Think about the meals and ingredients your family enjoys, and make a grocery list with those items only.
For more insights into how to combat food waste, check out the EPA’s webpage on the subject, as well as its “Food: Too Good to Waste Implementation Guide and Toolkit.”
Bloom says more food is wasted at the household level than at any other part of the food supply chain. While that sounds grim, it comes with a silver lining: Household-by-household, changes in behavior can make a real difference.
“Simply being aware of how much food and money we’re wasting will encourage us to do better,” Bloom says.
Editor’s note: For more tips and tricks for reducing food waste (and creative ways to use fruit and veg that are “on the edge”), check out our Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative.