As of 2019 the United States was ranked as the second most wasteful country in the world (yikes). The average person wastes 612 lb of food per person per year. Australia tops the list, but I don’t think pointing fingers is what’s important here. Instead, today I’m going to be talking about food waste solutions. Why household food waste matters, and how we can all work to reduce our individual food waste.
So let’s get into it. Let’s tackle food waste solutions together!
Small note, many of the statistics and research I did for this blog post is focused on relevancy to the U.S., my home country. I use global statistics in certain sections, and take note of them when I do.
Food Waste Statistics, The Bad & The Worse
First, I think I should answer a pretty basic question…
What Is Food Waste?
Any food that is discarded, lost, or uneaten is considered food waste. The causes are numerous, and occur at every stage of production. This includes producing/farming, processing, retailing, and consuming. Here’s the main problem though: global food waste amounts to between 1/3 and 1/2 of all food produced. That’s why food waste is a problem.
According to the USDA, we throw away more than 25.9 million tons of all the food we produce for domestic sale and consumption.
When we throw this food away, we think it just decomposes naturally, gets absorbed back into the earth and the natural process of breaking down begins. But this is far from the truth.
The Food Waste Problem And Landfills
Food waste solutions need to start with sending less food to the landfill in general, and here’s why.
Landfills in the U.S. are not only massively overfilled, but they’re also massively inefficient. They weren’t designed to scale properly to handle the volume of trash we’re now giving them, and so most landfills are heavily overburdened with all that they’re receiving.
What this means for food waste specifically, is that nothing is decomposing as it should. William Rathje’s famous Study of Trash discovered that food in landfills remains in an almost mummified state. There is biodegradation, but its pace is measured in centuries, not decades. Organic materials, such as food scraps, were found unchanged after 30 or 40 years.
This happens because once food gets to a landfill, and gets buried under tons and tons of more trash, oxygen is trapped which is a crucial component to the decomposing process. So instead, it sits there producing methane, which is a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Here are a few more food waste statistics that should get us all thinking critically:
- It is estimated that about 815 million people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment, or hunger.
- All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe.
Clearly food waste isn’t just an environmental problem, it’s a humanitarian one as well.
What Food Waste Solutions exist right now?
So if sending things to the landfill isn’t the solution… what is? Learning to reduce food waste is the solution.
Each of us needs to do our part to reduce what we consume, produce, and waste in order to make a dent in this problem. The good news is, learning to reduce food waste is actually pretty simple! I think you’ll find that these food waste solutions I talk about, and learning to tackle household food waste in general doesn’t have to become something you stress about. It doesn’t have to become something you obsess over every time you set out to cook a home meal.
Instead, with these simple tips you can feel empowered! At least, they make me feel empowered the more I work towards them.
I hope by now you can agree that working on food waste solutions in your home is a great way to make a positive environmental impact. Not only that, but you can feel good knowing you are doing your part to not contribute to the world’s hunger problems as well.
Come on, Is Household Food Waste Really That Important?
Yes! Now, you may be thinking, “what about restaurant food waste? Surely they waste way more than my home does?” You may be thinking about corporations, farms, and all the different aspects of food production that you can’t control.
You’re right, all of those things above are a part of the problem. But as individual consumers, I think we should actually feel motivated about the power we wield. Not only can we inspire change in others, those around us, but our consumer habits and decisions directly effect the bigger picture. How we live, what we buy, where we buy, how much we buy – all of these things impact the problem, and ultimately can be a huge part of the solution too.
So with that being said, you can work on incorporating these food waste solutions into your daily routine one at a time, or dive all in if you’re feeling inspired. Either way, every little bit helps. Every little step taken to reduce food waste and work towards no food waste should be celebrated!
Without further ado, these are my 10 creative food waste solutions for how to improve your home!
Food Waste Solutions #1: Reuse Scraps
This is a tip that I’ve talked about before when discussing the zero waste movement. There are many different ways to reuse your vegetable scraps, the one I use the most is for making homemade vegetable broth.
Turn Food Waste Into Homemade Vegetable Broth
All those ends off of vegetables and fruit that you trim. The heads off carrots, the stems of broccoli, the slightly blemished looking tips on asparagus or green beans… save them all!
I started taking all of these vegetable scraps and just putting them in a large bag that I store in my freezer. When the bag gets full, I make homemade vegetable broth.
Simply take that large freezer bag, empty the scraps out in an Instant Pot, pressure cooker, or large stove pot, and cook them in water until they reach your desired flavor.
How to Make Homemade Broth
For the Instant Pot, I fill the pot up to the Max line with frozen vegetable scraps and water, then manual-mode pressure cook for 30 minutes. Depending on how flavorful you want your vegetable broth, you can go for as long as 40 minutes, or as short as 15 minutes.
Some other add-ins to give your broth some extra flavor are:
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 TBS soy sauce
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3-4 TBS miso paste
- 4 cloves of garlic
Once your vegetable broth is ready, you can use it right away in recipes that week, or simply transfer it to jars and stick it back in the freezer to cook with later.
I think it’s really cool that I now know how to make my own vegetable broth from scratch. I like knowing that I control 100% of the ingredients going in it. I also like knowing that I’m making a positive impact on my household food waste too. Out of all my food waste solutions ideas, I think I like this one the best! Probably because I love soup, salad and bread as a meal.
You can either reuse these vegetable scraps again (by freezing once more), to try and get another batch of broth out of them, or you can compost the final remains.
Either way, learning to reuse what we would otherwise consider “scraps” or “garbage” can ultimately make a positive impact on reducing our food waste by making us rethink how we think about our trash.
Food Waste Solutions #2: Home Cleaning Products
Did you know that you can make your own DIY home cleaning products? I started going down this road when I created my DIY zero waste laundry detergent recipe.
Learning to make your own household products feels pretty empowering once you get started. Learning how to make one product with success gets you to start thinking about what other products you could make for the home, and before you know it you’re little-house-on-the-prairie-ing your life, DIYing everything in sight and turning into a self-sufficient sustainability warrior.
Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but still, learning to DIY can feel really good for a lot of reasons!
How To DIY Home Cleaners
Back to the topic at hand though… To make zero waste all purpose cleaner, simply combine equal parts white vinegar, water, and then let this mixture soak/marinate with some citrus scraps to give it a scent.
That’s where the scraps come into play! I’ve been making this simple vinegar solution for awhile now and using it to wipe down counters, various surfaces, mirrors, sinks, etc. It was a game changer when I thought of saving my citrus scraps though. Now all of my lemon, lime, and grapefruit peels go into my cleaner bottle to give my cleaner a fresh citrus-y scent! It really does make it smell a lot better. Not that I mind the smell of vinegar – I don’t at all actually. But having my home smell lemony-fresh is good with me too!
Another way to reduce food waste would be to add your herb scraps to the mixture as well. Rosemary, or loose-leaf tea scraps could be added to your mixture to marinate and give your cleaner a different kind of scent.
Food Waste Solutions #3: Turn Household Food Waste Into Juice
If you’re a reader on my blog, you know I love fresh juice. Celery and cucumber juice is a common go-to for me, but depending on whatever vegetable scraps I may have at the time, they can make it into my juices too! Not all scraps work for this, but if there’s any way you can sneak them into smoothies or juices for extra fiber and reducing food waste, I say go for it.
Food Waste Solutions #4: Buy Less
Tackling food waste problems at home doesn’t just encompass reusing what you already bought. It also means buying less. Buying smaller portions, of items, and potentially shopping more frequently.
Food Waste And Over Consumption
I think at some point in our lives, every one of us has experienced that “eating with your eyes” phenomenon. You go to the grocery store starving (your first mistake), put way too many things into your cart (not to mention one too many dirty treats we know we don’t need), and the next thing our fridge is packed to the brim.
I’m 100% guilty of this, and trying to get better. One thing that has helped me in this regard though, was learning how to meal-prep.
Food Waste Solutions #5: Get Into Meal Prepping
Meal-prepping has become pretty popular in recent years, and I think it’s a great idea to get behind. You think through your whole week’s worth of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), plan out each menu item, and them make the appropriate amounts in portioned containers to be eaten throughout the week.
I find that when I meal prep it not only helps me with personal portion control, but also helps me with over-buying at the grocery store. Now, planning out meals for my husband and I every Sunday is just another normal part of my weekly routine. It’s actually something I really look forward to now! I like thinking up tasty meals that him and I will like, what fruits we’ll have for the week to snack on, and what little healthy desserts I may whip up for enjoyment. I guess once a foodie always a foodie though – it’s no wonder I love planning food!
Food Waste Solutions #6: Shop More Often
My next tip is to grocery shopping more often. You may be thinking wait… didn’t you just warn us about buying too much when we go shopping? Now you want us to buy more frequently?!
Hear me out. If you cook frequently at all, chances are you like to use a lot of fresh ingredients like I do. Fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc. Well, the problem with “fresh” is that “fresh” only lasts for a few days before it’s bad.
Most of us are probably used to going grocery shopping once a week, and buying enough to last us a whole 7 days. Instead, consider doing 2-3 mini grocery shopping trips throughout the week. If you’re making a recipe that calls for asparagus, and you buy 7 days worth of asparagus, but a third of that goes bad by day 5… well that’s not good.
By buying for only a few days at a time, we’re more likely to use up our fresh ingredients before they go bad, and therefore produce less waste!
Often times the best way to tackle food waste, is just to make less of it in the first place.
Food Waste Solutions #7: Turn Household Food Waste Into DIY Beauty
I think this one definitely belongs on the list for creativity! The internet is full of recipes for DIY beauty and self-care routines. You can learn how to make your own soaps, lotions, lip balms, face peels, scrubs, hair masks, etc.
Those avocados that you couldn’t eat in time, and now they’re mushy? Try a nourishing at-home avocado hair mask! There are recipes online for using bananas in deep conditioning hair masks too. I’ve tried a few avocado ones before, and I have to say, I think my hair liked it!
Bought way too much oatmeal, and you just learned that you don’t like oatmeal? Try a DIY face mask! Oatmeal is actually a very common ingredient in facial products, as it’s soothing, can reduce redness, and moisturize all at once. I’ve tried DIY oatmeal masks before, and it definitely made my skin really soft afterwards.
These are just a few small ideas, but if this category interests you, I bet you could find a DIY beauty recipe for TONS of common food items that would otherwise go to waste!
Food Waste Solutions #8: Learn How To Preserve
I think this food waste solution is really fun – getting familiar with different kitchen tricks for preserving food!
A few that come to mind are:
I’m actually really excited about getting into the world of jarring and canning. I like to make homemade pasta sauces, and things of that nature. I also don’t really know how to cook but in industrial sized batches, lol. So taking my passion to reduce food waste + my interest at learning new things + my deep rooted desire to cook large batches of food at once = preserving!
When it comes to food waste solutions, freezing is a really important tip to remember. Make too much of something? Just freeze it! You’ll probably find use for it later, or can make another meal out of it another time.
Food Waste Solutions #9: Find A Friendly Farmer
This one will be a bit easier for those living out in the country, but I think it still belongs on the list. Farmers often feed vegetable scraps to their animals such as chickens, pigs, etc. If you have a neighbor or friendly neighborhood farmer with livestock, you could consider knocking on their door and seeing if they are interested in your food scraps.
You may be surprised by their answer! And it’s always worth an ask.
Similarly, if you have a yard, you could set up an area where fruit scraps could go towards attracting butterflies. Bread scraps could be left out for the birds, etc. Just because we won’t eat something that has “gone bad” doesn’t mean nature won’t still find a use for it!
Food Waste Solutions #10: Grow It Yourself
This tip and the final one on the list go hand in hand. Starting a home garden is a great way to reduce food waste. Even if it’s as small as a windowsill herb garden.
Take this scenario: you buy some cilantro at the store, and you couldn’t eat all of it in time, so by the end of the week it’s turned dark and mushy in your refrigerator, or wilted, and you don’t know what to do with it.
If you had a small herb garden, you could have picked off enough cilantro leaves that you needed for that night’s recipe, and no more. The plant would have gone on living, growing, and making more leaves. You could return to it another night and pick more if you needed more. But you’re always only taking what you need.
And for those who are lucky enough to garden in a yard, you have even more options to you! Because whatever doesn’t get eaten or used, can get fed right into #10 on this list…
Food Waste Solutions #11: Composting
Finally, we’ve gotten to the section on composting! The one true tip to rule them all!
In all seriousness though, composting is awesome and more of us should be doing it. Especially those of us with access to a yard. I understand (firsthand) that it can be challenging while living in a highly urban area and tiny apartment. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Resources are everywhere these days that can help us learn to compost. I won’t go into too much detail right now (since I’m an amateur myself), but I will talk about its many benefits.
The obvious benefit, is that you’re reducing your food waste dramatically. If 100% of your biodegradable waste starts getting composted, you are making a MASSIVE positive impact on your global footprint!
All of those materials can be given back to the earth in the form of nutrient as it gets broken down. The soil afterwards can be used in gardening, to make more food. It’s a truly circular system that feeds into itself. The waste becomes food, which becomes waste, which becomes food again. Isn’t it a beautiful thing?
Can You Still Compost Without A Yard?
Yes! Do you know someone who has a yard? You could always ask politely if they would be willing to start a community compost area. You might be surprised how willing some people around you will be to such a suggestion. All of us like feeling good about doing our part. If the benefits were explained to a friend or family member, they might be thrilled at the idea of making a positive impact on the environment.
Even better yet, you may know someone already who is interested in composting! Someone in my family’s life recently got interested in composting, and they basically announced that it was “open season” on accepting food scraps from people (which I love, and think is awesome!).
So talking about sustainability and food waste solutions with others may open up opportunities for you to reduce your waste alongside others who are doing the same. You may know people right now who are already doing it.
For anyone who is able to and interested, here are some really great YouTube videos on getting started with composting.
I know for a fact that once I have a yard I am going to become a composting machine! I think it’s probably the number 1 tip on this list when it comes to reducing food waste.
What food waste solutions exist for those in apartments?
Of course there are! I think every tip on this list except composting can be done easily if you’re living in an apartment.
Even composting can be accomplished while living in an apartment, it just takes a bit more work. Plenty of people out there have discovered the world of vermi-composting and balcony composting as ways to still reduce their food waste while not having a yard.
Here is a helpful video that describe vermi-composting, a truly fascinating (and cool) food waste idea!
A Summary of Household Food Waste Solutions
I hope you enjoyed this post discussing all the many different food waste solutions that exist out there. And I don’t doubt there are many more. Overall, I think learning to reduce our food waste is extremely important. It’s something all of us can work towards.
I think most of the ideas I discussed here have a pretty low barrier to entry, and they’re tips that anyone can start doing right now.
I hope these ideas got you thinking about food waste in general, and all the different ways it can be conquered! Can it ever be conquered for good though? Is no food waste an attainable goal we should aim for?
I’m not sure I have the answer to that. But I do know that perfection should never be the goal with anything we do. That shouldn’t stop us from trying to achieve it anyway though. Because even though we won’t achieve perfection, we’ll be doing a lot better than we were the day before.
Thus concludes my post on food waste solutions. If you have additional tips on how to reduce food waste, I’d love to hear them! Please leave a comment below with your thoughts!
As always, thanks for reading.