The Problem of Food Waste: How to Reduce Food Waste at Home
by Maureen Wise, on January 25, 2021
The Food Waste Problem
The leftover food scraps generated from preparing meals is a constant waste in just about every home. Prepared food leftovers also create waste when not eaten. A recent study from Penn State shows that an average family wastes about 30% of their food. Additionally, RTS (shorted from Recycle Track Systems) says that this 30% statistic means we’re throwing away 219 pounds of food per person! These are staggering numbers and we can do better. Wasted food is a misuse of people power, of oil needed for transportation, of water to grow the produce, and the list goes on. We should all aim to reduce any sort of waste to conserve resources in general.
According to the US EPA, we have approximately 565 active or operational landfills in the United States. This includes 19 landfills in Ohio and 23 in Indiana. Landfills are a necessary evil in our communities, containing and isolating the waste that we generate. Modern landfills are so good at containing the waste that very little breaks down but they still produce landfill gas, and landfill sludge. This landfill gas contains about 50% methane, which is a greenhouse gas 23 times stronger than carbon dioxide. When we can reduce the production of methane, we can reduce climate change and we’re all for that.
Dealing with Food Scraps
First, we urge you to work to reduce the food that your family wastes from the outset. Preserve food that you don’t eat in your freezer or by canning it or drying it before it’s past its peak. When you’re shopping for food, have a plan for how you will actually eat that food before it goes bad. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your family’s stomach at the grocery store! Also, set an already determined “leftovers dinner” night every week for your family to consume food left in the fridge from past meals.
Some ideas to use up food: freeze past prime fruit to blend into smoothies; make garlic bread, croutons, or toast out of stale bread; freeze veggies for future stews as well as your extra chicken or beef chunks.
Additionally, you can actually make use of those unusable food scraps from meal prep: make veggie stock from your recipe cuttings and end of edible life veggies! Save your carrot peelings, celery tops, herb springs, onion ends, mushroom stubs, squash ends, and even the skins of garlic and onions. Include limp carrots, dried out onions, and other past their prime veggies. Keep this “stockpile” of veg in the freezer as you generate them. Do not use cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts - they will make your broth bitter! Once you have about a gallon of veggies, put them in a large pot with just enough water to cover the veggies. Throw in a couple of bay leaves, whole peppercorns, and a teaspoon of salt. Let this all simmer for a few hours and then strain out the veggies. In the end, you have delicious homemade stock! Here’s our favorite recipe for fuller instructions.
Nevertheless, even though you are using your veggie leftovers, you will still have food waste at the end of this tasty stock making process. These over-cooked veggies are still waste in the end, after all. Composting your food leftovers and kitchen scraps is the next stage for your food waste.
Composting at Home
There are many ways and options for composting your food waste at home. By composting, you’ll be eliminating food waste and end up with rich compost, an earthy and nutrient-rich additive for your garden.
We’ve already covered how to start composting in your backyard on our blog. It’s an easy process that accelerates the breakdown of food scraps and garden/ yard waste into soil. Simply collect your kitchen waste and mix it with yard waste in your backyard. You can use a three-sided wooden crate, a tumbling bin, or just a hole in the ground. Composting often takes some tweaks as you go along, but it’s a simple and natural process. You do need to collect more than just kitchen scraps to make this process work. While whole grains are generally ok, you are limited to only organics as meats, processed carbs, and cheeses do not break down well.
If you have a small yard or don’t have the yard waste to add to your compost, vermicomposting is a great option. It’s a composting process based on red worms (not earthworms) and only requires kitchen scraps. A bin with small holes is stored in your kitchen with soft bedding (usually shredded newspapers) and at least a thousand wiggly worms. These worms will work hard to eat your excess food and then leave you with their worm castings, rich in nutrients just like compost. The ick factor is a bit high of having worms living IN your house, but the reduction of waste might be worth it for your family. In this process, meat and dairy products should not be included.
Another small space option is purchasing the Vitamix® FoodCycler® FC-50, a small appliance that does all the work for you. This kitchen appliance is just one square foot and works much like a Vitamix blender chopping up food. It takes food processing a step further however, and dehydrates the food scraps as well. The company encourages users to add the resulting compost to their garden soil. This product is great for small households and makes the whole process very easy. Dairy products are ok for this process but not meat. We sell the Vitamix® FoodCycler® FC-50 in our shop if you’re interested.
You can also hire out the composting of your food waste in some areas.
In Northeast Ohio, we work with Rust Belt Riders, a local food waste transport and handling business. The company works with many companies, schools, restaurants, communities, and individual residents in Northeast Ohio. They offer both weekly residential pick up of food scraps and food waste drop off locations. They will happily receive your food waste and make it into compost in an accelerated 45-day process. Rust Belt Riders do accept meat, dairy, and even certain compostable single-use paper plates, cups, and flatware. From all this waste, the company lets everything rot together, carefully mixing and churning it to create four varieties of soil and two kinds of compost. We offer their Seed Sprouting Potting Mix and Raised Bed Growing Mix in our own store.
If you're looking to compost your food waste in Columbus, try The Compost Exchange.
In some communities, food scraps are picked up with curbside trash and recycling every week. We are not there yet in our region but with local pressure, we could be. We urge you to talk with your own city’s elected officials to show support for curbside compost pick up.
There are many methods, habits, and processes to help you divert food waste from landfills. We encourage you to help reduce wasted resources and food while helping lessen landfill methane production.