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The recent news around the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to reduce food waste in the United States is music to the ears of anyone that knows about this dirty little secret in America. In fact, given some of the statistics around food waste in the country, some may even feel this action is way over do.
The average American citizen throws out roughly 20 pounds of food per month. That amounts to roughly 30 million tons of food waste entering the waste stream every single year in the United States. Food waste is actually the second largest component of our waste stream, just behind paper, and encompasses 18 percent of the material handled by our waste management system every year. Sadly, only three percent of this organic waste ends up diverted away from landfills and into composting systems. The majority is sent to a hole in the ground with the rest of our garbage.
Now, what’s so bad about burying food waste? A lot. As food waste decays in a landfill, methane gas is released in the process. The methane escapes and enters the atmosphere where it acts as a greenhouse gas. We talk an awful lot about carbon emissions, but methane is really important too, being 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is. This makes the throwing away of food more than just a social and moral dilemma – it’s also a very timely environmental issue as well and very worthy of attention from the EPA.
What’s the Plan?
So, it may be obvious why the topic of food waste is one of interest to an environmental government entity. But what exactly is the EPA planning to do about it?
The EPA, partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has stated a very clear goal: reduce food waste in the U.S. by 50 percent by the year 2030.
And while not all the details appear entirely in place for how they’ll hit this target, the agency has been forthcoming with general ideas on what needs to happen. Recognizing that food waste happens at multiple levels of the supply and consumption chain and that consumers interact with a variety of organizations, the EPA and USDA are planning to partner with a host of participants. That includes charities, faith-based organizations, tribal governments, individuals at the federal and state government levels, and members of the private sector.
By including so many unique players in the discussion, the plan has a better chance at reducing food waste across the board and in a variety of ways. Changing how food is produced, packaged, transported, distributed, and consumed, are all manners in which our food waste problem in America can finely and more completely be addressed within the next decade and a half.
6 Ways to Reduce Food Waste Today
While it is certainly thrilling and encouraging to live in a country where the government is finally taking food waste reduction seriously, we need not wait for those higher up to help us take action. In fact, there is an awful lot we can do within our own households to get the ball rolling on this important subject. With all that you now know about the environmental damage that food waste does, why not get started right away? Here’s how:
1. Plan, Plan, Plan
While it may be tedious to sit down to plan your meals for the week before heading out to the grocery store, it can be very helpful in reducing food waste. When you know exactly what you should be buying for all of your meals and snacks, you’re less likely to make mindless food decisions and buy things you won’t end up eating. You’ll also have a plan to use all of the perishables like fresh fruits and veggies before they spoil. If you know they’re going into a stir-fry this Tuesday night, you won’t have to worry about finding them molded in the crisper drawer next Sunday morning.
Whether or not your waste management service collects organic waste, you can put your food scraps to good use with an at-home composting system. Capturing the nutrients you’d otherwise send off in a truck and saving them instead to feed your flowers or herb garden is a wise choice to reduce your food waste.
3. Eat Your Leftovers
Chances are the food you have left over from dinner tonight will still be just as good tomorrow. You can also change them up to make a new meal. Maybe toss those cooked veggies from dinner into a tortilla with beans for a burrito at lunch the next day, or make breakfast smoothies with the leftover fruit salad you have. If you buy or make something, try to eat all of it and resist the urge to toss is.
4. Help Someone in Need
Routinely go through your pantry to check dates on your canned beans, dry pastas, and soups. Do you see something in there you might not be able to or want to use within a reasonable amount of time? Food banks would love to take your extra food off your hands and send it home with someone in need. Find a local food bank and ask about their policies on what they’ll accept for donations as well as their rules around expiration dates. Donating your food is a much better social and environmental choice than throwing away food or letting it decay away in the back of your pantry.
5. Get Preserving!
Pickling, drying, canning, and freezing are just a few ways to preserve food and add some flare to them in the process. This can be especially helpful to get the most out of your bumper crops of tomatoes or apples from your home garden before they go to waste. It’s also a great way to get creative with fruits and vegetables, giving your diet some more diversity. Before the raspberries, you bought have a chance to mold, freeze them for pies or smoothies later. And utilize that great sale on apples to make dried apple rings you can snack on throughout the day. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a ton of safety tips as well as instructions to get you started.
6. Use the Refrigerator Wisely
Not properly utilizing your fridge and freezer can lead to food waste with things spoil. Luckily the National Resource Defense Council has come up with an infographic to help you out on topics such as setting your fridge at the ideal temperature (40 degrees or below to prevent bacterial growth), how to arrange your fridge shelves for optimal safety and freshness, and which items can be stored in the fridge door where the temperature is warmest. Keeping your food fresh and safe is a great way to reduce waste.
Hopefully, you’re feeling invigorated by the EPA’s new plans as well as these tips, and you’re ready to get serious about reducing your contribution to food waste!
Lead Image Source: Mr.TinDC/Flickr