Five Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste in Your Home
by Madison Cavallaro
If you are reading this, then chances are we probably have more than our student loans in common. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) estimates that 30-40% of food supply ends up being wasted. Research shows 31% is at the retail and consumer level. While the USDA has made efforts to reduce food waste by 50% before 2030, food is wasted all the time due to transportation, appearance, and spoilage all before it hits the market 1. Like many consumers, we feel guilt whenever a food item spoils and wasn’t used as planned. Whether it is right or wrong to feel that guilt, there are many ways consumers can reduce their waste and reuse typically single use produce that I guarantee will make you feel like a sustainable guru. Here are just five ways to reduce food waste in your home:
- Turn veggie scraps into vegetable broth
If you find yourself eating a lot of vegetables, one way to reuse your vegetable scraps before putting them into your compost is to freeze them to make vegetable stock. This can really be done with almost any vegetable scrap. My go-to’s are:
- Onion (top, bottom, and skin)
- Celery (tops and bottoms)
- Carrot (skin, tops and bottoms)
- Garlic (top, bottom, and skin)
- Potato (top, bottom and skin)
- Mushroom stems
- Parsley stems
These items are pretty common for frequent veggie-eaters and storing them in the freezer allows them to stay good for 6 months. Don’t use these items regularly? Totally cool. Pretty much any vegetable scrap works (peppers, beet, lettuce, asparagus, thyme, basil, corn cobbs) and the list is practically endless. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the door of possibilities that has just been opened, just think sweet; vegetables like brussel sprouts or broccoli can add a bitter taste.
Once you feel like you’ve generated enough scrap, toss it into a pot and add water until the scraps start to float. Bring the water to a boil and just let the pot simmer for 30 minutes. You’ll have a delicious homemade vegetable stock and never need to buy it again. To add a little spice to your stock, nutritional yeast will add great flavor. Tasty and Minimalist Baker also have great recipes for homemade broth. Now that you are a sustainable main character, toss those scraps into your compost.
- Use banana peels to fertilize your plants & other crazy things you never thought about
Not many people think about banana peels past if they are slippery or not. I’m here to tell you that they are one of the most versatile tools in your kitchen. Depending on the ripeness of said banana, many different health benefits can exist. Greener bananas can help your digestive tract as a resistant starch because they are high in fiber while riper, blackened bananas have shown to help white blood cells fight of disease and infection2,3. Blending the peel into smoothies, baking them with cinnamon and sugar, or caramelizing them are just a few yummy ways to add them to your diet and keep them out of landfills. Seems like a win-win considering they are also rich in vitamin B6, B12, magnesium, potassium and protein4. This is great way for plant-based eaters to get vitamins and nutrients meat-eaters get from chicken or other meats.
Eating a banana peel is a line you just can’t cross? No worries, banana peels can provide nutrients to your garden or house plants. As they decompose, they will add nitrogen, phosphorus, and magnesium to the soil acting as a great fertilizer5. This can easily be done by just laying the peels on top of the soil making sure to leave some space from the plant stem (about 2-3 inches). This is another great way to get multiple uses out of your produce and reduce food waste. The only downside to this method is that decomposing banana peels can attract some unwanted bugs6. My advice for this process is to make sure you have a method to keep bugs out if you will be using the peels for indoor plants.
- Propagate herbs and vegetables
Growing your own produce from kitchen scraps is one easy way to save money, cut down on food waste, and it may even become your favorite hobby. Garlic, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and many other vegetables and herbs are easily grown from notable “inedible” parts of plants. For most plants, the steps to propagate are as easy as taking the base, bulb, root, and seeds of the vegetable or fruit and placing it in a shallow bowl of water. Once roots have sprouted, you can transfer the plant into soil and begin your garden journey or keep it in the bowl of water as long as the water is kept fresh. If you keep up with propagation, you could have a fully stocked garden in no time. You’ll find yourself spending less at the market because everything you need is growing in your home. For more detailed descriptions on propagating fruits, vegetables and herbs, head to Empress of Dirt and Missouri Botanical Gardens for a breakdown on all things second-hand gardening. Next time you head to the market I challenge you to try this and not get addicted to it.
- Plan out your meals and freeze what you don’t get to
I don’t like to be the person that hypes up organization but when it comes to food prep and waste reduction, it really makes a difference. It seems over-simplified but it’s true that when you can plan out your meals, you will often find yourself using your produce and foods more efficiently. Before you run to the market, take an extra second to think about your week ahead. A good rule of thumb is to think of at least two ways you will be using the food item; maybe you’ll be preparing a deconstructed sushi bowl one night and snacking on carrots and cucumbers throughout the week. Viewing food as a multipurpose tool in your food journey opposed to one-and-done is the best way to get into the mindset of reducing food waste and getting the most bang for your buck. No one is perfect and sometimes you really want to try that new Thai restaurant, evidently, one of the best things about produce is it freezes well. If your bananas are on their last leg, you can freeze them for a smoothie or banana bread. Overestimated how much pasta salad you’d eat? Freeze it for lunch in a few weeks. It might be overwhelming at first but the savviness you feel when you have less and less waste every week, is worth it.
- Turn coffee grinds into a body scrub
Coffee has been heavily debated for years, and whether or not you are for or against coffee it’s more than just a drink to wake you up in the morning. For starters, coffee has been noted to have potential benefits for your skin. The NIH (National Institute of Health) has claimed that because of the caffeine content, coffee can even help reduce cellulite on the skin by dilating blood vessels beneath the skin and improving blood flow7. When using coffee grinds as a scrub, you are exfoliating your skin and improving its smoothness. Other proposed topical effects of coffee grinds are anti-aging, calming, reduction of inflammation, treatment of acne, treatment for dark circles, and after-sun care8. So before you send those grinds down your garbage disposal or into your compost, consider holding onto them and turning them into a super-scrub. I combine old coffee grinds with coconut oil but if you want to add a little spice, Healthline and Karissa’s Vegan Kitchen have great recipes for coffee grind scrubs. This is another way to get multiple uses out of a food item that is usually used once before getting thrown out.
Reducing food waste not only will keep foods out of landfills that might of otherwise had a purpose, but it’s also a great practice for sustainability and lowering the demands of commercialized food supply; one of the bigger contributors to America’s high carbon footprint. This article isn’t to blame consumers for climate or waste realities but rather to inspire creativity in your kitchen that benefits your wallet, the world, and your health.