Food waste is a growing problem in the U.S., with research suggesting that, on average, 27% of all edible food goes to waste.
Waste is a problem for not only the environment, but the economy as well. It’s currently costing us billions of dollars every year to both produce this food AND to dispose of the waste.
Food Waste By The Numbers
Timothy Jones, a former University of Arizona anthropologist, found that:
- Wasted food costs America more that $100 billion each year
- More than 40% of all food produced in America is not eaten
- Food scraps make up 17% of what we send to landfills
- The typical American throws out more than a 1/2 pound of food each day
- Restaurants in the US throw out more than 6,000 tons of food each day
- While food decomposes in a landfill, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more lethal than carbon dioxide
- The average American family of four wastes about $600 a year on food that just goes to waste
So What Can You Do?
Fortunately, there are simple steps that we can all take to cut down on the amount of wasted food in our households.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides a helpful tool with the Food Waste Recovery Hierarchy. Following some of their recommendations will reduce food waste and environmental impact, help to feed the hungry, and also save you a lot of money.
The hierarchy points to “source reduction” as key to keeping waste to a minimum (source reduction is their fancy way of saying: generate less food waste in the first place).
One way to effectively do this is by planning your dinners ahead of time, making detailed shopping lists, and then sticking to them. When eating out, order wisely (don’t order more than you can eat) and ALWAYS take home the leftovers.
From Trash To Tasty
Once you’ve generated food waste, however, there are further steps you can take to reduce the amount of that waste you send to the landfill. Planet Green, has a helpful list of seven foods that are frequently thrown out, but that can be put to good use in the kitchen.
- Citrus Rinds are, in fact, edible and digestible. They can be use in a variety of ways to “zest” up some of your favorite dishes.
- Vegetable Waste – make a heavy vegetable stock with your veggie scraps and keep it in your freezer. When it comes time for stew, you’ll have the stock already prepared.
- Leftover cheeses from a party can be melted together to make an amazing cheese dip.
- Grease And Fat – save your bacon grease and fat after cooking. Just pour it into a jar, let it cool, then place in a refrigerator. Then, use it to add flavor to cooked greens, eggs, potatoes, or a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Seafood – just like you did with your vegetable scraps , you can do the same with seafood. Take any leftover craw fish, shrimp peels, or fish ends and “bag” them in a freezer. Then, break them out when it comes time to make fish chowder or seafood gumbo.
- Potato Peels can make for a tasty appetizer. Roast them in the oven. Then, sprinkle them with cheese and place under the broiler for crispy potato skins. They also taste great with ranch dressing.
- Meat Bones – next time you make spaghetti sauce or chicken noodle soup, throw in a meat bone to give it that extra bit of flavor. Just remember to take it out before serving.
You can also reduce the amount of food waste you generate by heeding this advice about expiration dates and not throwing your food out before you absolutely have to.
- Expiration Dates Don’t Necessarily Indicate Expiration
- Eat Your Trash to Improve Your Cooking (Planet Green)
- Food waste: out of sight, out of mind (Culinate)
- Using Contemporary Archaeology and Applied Anthropology to Understand Food Loss in the American Food System (Report, PDF)
Update: Next Generation Food has a great infographic visualizing the size of the food waste problem in the US and the UK.