According to the USDA, 31% of food is wasted on a retail and consumer level. This can be damaging to the environment and economy as it wastes land, water, labor, and energy required to produce this food.
Most Americans are unaware of why this is so harmful to the environment. Intuitively, food breaks back down into soil, how can that be bad?
Throwing away food in your garbage is bad for the environment because it most likely does not actually get broken down into soil. That food waste is mixed with all kinds of “waste” that consumers throw away- such as clothes and plastic just to name a few. Food waste that sits at land fills contributes to a significant amount of methane emissions. If you were unaware of the dangers of methane emissions, the release of methane is responsible for the rapid rate in climate change.
If there is not enough space in landfills for the food waste, it gets incinerated, releasing more toxic chemicals into the air. As you can imagine, food that breaks down in landfills or incinerated cannot actually be used for soil and is basically wasted to produce chemicals.
What About Composting?
Composting is a wonderful alternative to reducing methane emissions. The process of commercial composting is aerobic, which prevents methane-producing microbes from being active. Ultimately lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Although I highly recommend composting as it puts your food back where it came from, I also think it’s incredibly important to reduce food waste before it even gets composted. One reason, is because commercial composting can still require labor, land, and
CO2 emissions from transportation.
Another way to think about is the more you repurpose food scraps, the less you have to consume of similar products. This may reduce your consumption of waste such as plastic. An approach I’ve learned from the Zero-Waste Movement, is to repurpose first, and compost last.
If you’re looking to learn more about composting, visit my blog posts that feature it:
- A Simple Guide to Apartment Composting
- Backyard Composting: How to Start a Compost Pile
- What Can You Compost?
- Why Compost? The Benefits of Composting
- Types of Compost Bins
1. Dehydrate Fruit Peels for DIY Projects
Before your throw away fruit peels, consider what else you might be able to do with them. I like to dehydrate the peels of limes, lemons, oranges, apples (when I don’t eat them), and bananas. Dehydrated orange and apple peels can be added to mulled wine or cider.
Dehydrated citrus peels can be very useful in cleaning products. Once dehydrated, grind them up into a powder and mix into vinegar for an all-purpose cleaner that smells refreshing.
Dehydrated bananas can also be ground up into a powder, and mixed into potassium-depleted soil.
2. Make Vegetable or Animal Stock
It fascinates me that so many people buy bone broth and vegetable stock considering how easy it is to make at home. Making stock or broth at home is super simple, saves you money, and reduces plastic waste. If you think about it, there is less plastic wrapping a whole chicken, vs. the plastic that wraps multiple packages of cut chicken plus chicken stock.
Before throwing away vegetable scraps, consider what can still be saved. Produce such as onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, parsley, garlic, and leeks are all delicious in stock. Produce such as greens and brassica should not be saved for stock as they will create a bitter and sulfuric taste.
When I’m cutting off the ends of onions, celery, carrots, and leeks, or trimming the stems off of parsley, I’ll put whatever I’m not going to cook with in a plastic silicone bag. This bag is stored in my freezer until it is full. When the bag is full, I’ll simmer it in a pot of water for a couple of hours to make stock. If you want to learn more about how to make vegetable stock, check out this blog post.
Believe it or not, making your own bone broth or animal stock is just as easy- it just takes more time. Whenever I eat meat off the bone, or buy whole cuts of chicken, I’ll save the bones in their own separate bags. You can mix different animal bones, but I personally don’t like to. When you’re done cooking the broth, discard the leftover bones in the compost or garbage. It’s generally not recommended to dispose of animal bones in your residential compost, as it attracts wildlife and needs high temperatures to completely break down. If your town/city collects food and yard waste, you can typically put bones in your food and yard waste container. Check your local refuse page for more information.
You can learn more about making your own bone broth by reading this blog post.
Tip: when you’re making bone broth, include different bones from the animal, as opposed to just one type of bone. This will balance and enhance the flavor.
Making stock does not stop at vegetables, beef, and poultry. The easiest stock to make is definitely seafood stock. After I peel a bag of shrimp, I’ll boil the peels and tails in a pot of water for 30-60 minutes and then drain and freeze. It is super quick, and the most delicious stock you’ll make!
3. Get Ahead of Food That Might Go Bad
I’m sure we all try our best to prevent food from spoiling, but food can still spoil even with the best planning. If you notice that some of the food in your fridge is nearing it’s final days, but you don’t have the ability to cook or eat it, consider extending it’s lifespan for a different purpose.
For example, if there is celery in my fridge that is about to wilt, and I don’t have the time or interest to eat it, I’ll throw it in a silicone bag in my freezer to save for stock. I try to freezer any vegetable that I know I’m not going to eat in the near future. Then I’ll pull it out at a later day to use in a stew, sauce, or soup. This might include corn, celery, onions, garlic, broccoli, spinach, kale, tomatoes, and more.
Fruits that are nearing their final days can be stored in the freezer to be used later in smoothies, jams, or desserts. Personally, I love throwing softened fruit in a sauce pan to make compote or sauce.
If you have an abundance of herbs that you may not get to, dehydrate them in your oven and store in an air-tight container for later.
4. Replant Your Food Scraps!
Replanting food scraps is such a fun activity that gets both children and adults excited. You can place the pit, seeds, or cuttings of lettuce, celery, avocado, onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and more! Keep them in a window for a few weeks until they sprout, then transplant outdoors if the weather permits. You’ll have more of your favorite fruits and vegetables, with none of the cost.
5. Save Puree’s for baking
Carving pumpkins? Save the “guts” and make a puree. This can later be used for pumpkin pies, muffins, and oatmeal. Some other purees that you can make include apple butter for breads, strawberry puree for “ice”, and more!
If you have more citrus peels then you know what to do with, you can also use them for aromatherapy. Add orange and lemon peels to a pot of water with spice to let a beautiful scent fill your home. You can also make your own essential oils using citrus peels.
There are so many different ways in which you can reduce your food waste. These are just a few ideas to inspire you on your low-waste journey. Reducing waste is a communal effort, so I’d like to hear how you reduce food waste in the comment section!