The average U.S. family of four wastes 1,000 pounds of food—at a cost of roughly $1,500—every year. As a nation, up to 40 percent of our entire food supply goes uneaten. A staggering amount of waste occurs throughout the supply chain, often a little bit at a time and in ways that may feel insignificant but it adds up to a huge amount of food.
With that wasted food, we’re trashing all of the resources it took to grow, process, and transport it, all while losing money and accelerating climate change. In fact, more than 20 percent of the water used by U.S. farmers grows food that ends up in the trash.
These issues hit particularly close to home here in California, where drought often plagues the water supply and where almost half of the nation’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables are grown. So to help combat the problem, the state is recognizing this week, March 5-9, as its inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week.
During the week, a range of partners, including Governor Jerry Brown and a host of state agencies, are raising awareness about the need for us all to get on board with changing the behaviors that lead to squandered food. All week, we are encouraged to talk about the barriers that keep us from fully utilizing the food we buy and the activities we’re taking part in to avoid waste. Use the hashtag #SaveTheFoodCA to join the conversation.
The state’s focus on food waste prevention is the right one. Similar to the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a guide for prioritizing different strategies for managing food waste. The actions at the top of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy have much greater environmental benefits than do those toward the bottom, and often have financial and social benefits as well. The most effective actions for addressing food waste are prevention (also called source reduction) strategies.
Preventing food from becoming waste in the first place typically offers the greatest financial and environmental benefits. Prevention reduces the cost of purchasing, handling, and ultimately disposing of food that isn’t eaten. It also helps avoid the use of water, agricultural chemicals, energy, and other resources used to produce, process, transport, package, and dispose of that food.
It may seem like our actions are just a drop in the bucket but consumers are by far the largest source of food waste—tossing more than grocery stores and restaurants combined. So small steps we take in our daily lives can add up to a big impact. That’s why NRDC teamed up with the Ad Council to launch our Save The Food campaign to empower people with tips, tricks and tools to combat the problem in their own homes—and save serious money in the process.
Here are some of my favorite waste prevention tips from Save The Food:
- Shop wisely: Plan your meals for the week in advance. Shop with a list. Stick to the list and avoid impulse buys.
- Proper portions: Don’t buy or serve more than you need—Save The Food’s handy portion calculator can help! Skip the bulk items, which encourage excess, as it may not be such a bargain if you’re going to toss half of it.
- Love your leftovers: While you’re planning your meals in advance, plan for nights when you’re likely to go out to eat and when you might have leftovers from earlier meals. Get creative to give leftovers another life—could they be the start of a casserole or soup the day after?
- Freeze it: Frozen food will keep longer. Almost anything can be frozen! But portion out, label and date your food so that it’s easy to serve later.
- Shop your kitchen before the store: Check the fridge, freezer, and pantry for items that need to get used up before you splurge on new items.
- Don’t fall for date labels: Food doesn’t magically spoil as soon as the label on the package is passed. Sell-by, use-by, and best-by dates are generally manufacturers’ suggestions for when an item is likely to be at its peak quality. Ideally, the federal government should standardize food date labels to reduce confusion—and we’re working on getting them to do that! But in the meantime, learn how to understand these labels and rely more on your own senses to assess food quality.
- Spread the word: Engage friends, family, community, and businesses in food-saving practices. Share your favorite tips with your friends and family. Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to avoid excessive portions and package sizes; and tell them it is ok if they run out of an item at the end of the day (so that they can avoid over-purchasing). Teach kids to value food and not to waste it.
Check out SaveTheFood.com for more.
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Sitting on the Governor’s desk are two bills that will help cut through confusion and encourage getting good food into people’s bellies instead of tossed into the trash: AB 1219 (Eggman) the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act and AB 954 (Chiu) Food labeling.