Did you know I have an entire ebook on how to reduce food waste available? It’s a topic I’m actually very passionate about. Growing up in an Italian American household, I was always encouraged never to waste my food. We love our Sunday pasta, and we especially love getting every last drop of the sauce using Italian bread. There’s an actual word for this in Italian: scarpetta, aka sopping up all the sauce left on your plate (or in the pot) with bread.
Suffice it to say, I love food. And I hate seeing it go to waste. But there are honestly so many forms of food waste it can get tedious to think about. Food waste isn’t just when you toss leftovers into the trash instead of saving them and eating them at a later date. It’s also the bananas that never even made it to the grocery store (maybe they fell out of the truck transporting them or went bad on the huge journey they had to make overseas); It’s the unsold (but perfectly good) food that grocery stores toss if not sold by a certain date; Or it’s the carrot, onion and strawberry tops you don’t want to eat that get tossed in the trash. Food waste has many faces, and it all contributes to climate change.
Food doesn’t not biodegrade in a landfill. Instead, it emits methane gas which is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This only speeds up the process of climate change. If we’re to solve the climate crisis, we all have to do our part. And that means limiting the amount of food that goes to landfill! There are so many ways to do this, but I really wanted to share with you some ideas you might not have thought of to make a difference. Here’s 5 unique ways to reduce food waste.
5 Unique Ways to Reduce Food Waste
Why reduce food waste to begin with?
Before I dive in, it’s important we talk about why we should reduce food waste in the first place. This might surprise you, but a third of the food grown in the US doesn’t make it to the fork.
In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases. To solve the climate crisis, we must start taking food waste seriously.
The worst part is we have enough food to feed everyone on the planet, yet still have starving people due to mismanagement and greed (to be frank). A lot of fresh healthy food is super inaccessible and out of budget for low income, BIPOC communities. That’s why it always grinds my gears when I see good food going to waste – someone starving could’ve eaten it.
Not to mention, food waste doesn’t break down in a landfill. It’ll generate methane gas which is another greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.
I hope these tips help inspire you to think outside the box and find unique ways to salvage food – be it in your own kitchen or in your neighborhood!
1. Shop at the reduced produce section
My grocery store has a section where they place discounted produce on trays wrapped in cellophane. What’s on display changes day to day – but one day I saw peppers and limes, the next lemons and onions.
My mom and I decided to buy the lemons and onions because we cook with those a lot. Thing is, the reason for the discount? They’re imperfect produce items that would’ve gone to waste.
Now, when I say imperfect, I’m talking several things – a few blemishes, a wonky shape, a few browning parts. Nothing that makes it inedible, just not picture-perfect like American shoppers are used to.
In truth, it’s such a shame I couldn’t buy out the whole shelf because everything looked good. But I’m glad I was able to save as much as I was able to. So I really encourage you to do the same! Or ask your farmers market vendors for any slightly damaged/imperfect/ discounted produce.
We went back another time and were able to salvage bananas, two huge eggplants, and a mix of zucchini and cucumbers.
Here are some recipes I whipped up using these would-be-food-waste items:
- Bananas: Peeled and chopped some, stored it in a Rezip bag and froze the slices to easily add to smoothies. Also made these decadent 2-ingredient banana pancakes with chocolate chips. SO delish I must make them again! Snacked on a few just as they were too.
- Eggplant: Peeled and chopped up one to add directly to our pasta sauce to give it extra flavor and texture. Used the other one to bread, fry and make eggplant parmesan. The secret to any tasty eggplant parm is to bread and fry the eggplant first with two eggs, some milk (can use vegan milk) and of course bread crumbs!
- Cucumbers: Used one to make infused cucumber/lemon water. Another I chopped up and added olive oil, salt + pepper to as a snack. Another I saved for a salad.
- Zucchini: My dad used one in a Asian-inspired dinner dish with noodles, pork, broccoli and (you guessed it) zucchini slices. It was quite tasty but because he made it I don’t have a recipe to share/link to here. The other I’d like to use in a nice pasta primavera-type dish.
- Lemons: Added a few to a cucumber/ lemon water infusion. Used one in my Butterfly Pea Lemongrass tea from Arbor Teas (it changes the tea color from indigo to purple!). Used a few to season our food. Some still stored in the fridge for later use.
- Onions: Chopped off the bad parts and then peeled and chopped some of them for easy storage/adding to dishes. Others are left as-is in the fridge when we’re ready to use them up (we love having onions on hand for our meals!).
2. Go dumpster diving
I haven’t quite worked up to this one, admittedly. But I have respect for those who do. The picture above is ALL food that was salvaged from a grocery store dumpster by @Hero_to_0 – does that look like trash to you?
You wouldn’t believe the amount of food grocery stores toss out that’s still edible. And no, obviously I’m not encouraging you to eat anything from a dumpster that’s loose (like unpackaged lettuce, etc.). But there are a lot of packaged food items that are tossed simply because they didn’t sell by their “sell by” date. This doesn’t mean they’re bad at all!
Lets go over some misleading labels they put on food so you have a better idea of what they really mean:
Tells the store how long to
display the product for sale
for inventory management. It
is not a safety date.
Is the last date recommended
for the use of the product
while at peak quality. It is not
a safety date except when
used on infant formula.
Indicates when a product will
be of best flavor or quality. It
is not a purchase or safety
As you can see, these labels can confuse a lot of people and lead to A LOT of food waste. That’s why it’s totally okay to dumper dive and ignore these labels when you come across them (especially sell-by dates!). Unless it’s a safety date or expiration date, you should be in the clear.
If you are planning on going dumpster diving, there’s something you must consider: Your own safety. Dumpster diving tends to be frowned upon and stigmatized. It’s important to go prepared.
- Try to take someone with you and go with a friend.
- Make sure you have gloves and a sturdy bag that can hold everything you acquire.
- Only dumpster dive in dumpsters that are open, not locked.
- If a dumpster is against a building or inside a fenced enclosure marked “No Trespassing,” you could be questioned, ticketed or even arrested by the police. Please be mindful of this.
- Dumpster diving is legal in the United States except where prohibited by local regulation. So make sure to do your research first!
For some dumpster diving inspo, check out The Trash Walker on Instagram! You’d be amazed at the stuff she finds – and it’s not just food!
You should also definitely watch the documentary Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. The main gist of the documentary is about how a couple explores the truth about food waste and vows to quit grocery shopping, only living off of discarded food. It’s really mind-blowing and one of my favorite documentaries on food waste to date.
Would you give dumpster diving for food a try? I’m curious – let me know in the comments below.
3. Setup your home as a food scrap drop off center
A lot of food waste comes from the fact we’re chucking our odds and ends into the trash bin. Food waste DOESN’T break down in a landfill though, so this only adds to the problem. But here’s the thing – not everyone has access to composting schemes.
That’s why I think it’s a totally rad idea to setup your home as a food scrap drop off center! If you have the space and the means to compost, why not share it with others?
Offer this to your neighbors, or even go so far as to post yourself as a host on sharewaste.
If you’re not comfortable with this, or just don’t have the space, consider advocating for your neighborhood/apartment complex to get compost bins for curbside.
At the very least, I highly recommend starting composting for yourself and your own household. FYI, here’s a mega list of food recycling options, what you can compost around the home, and how to compost in an apartment.
4. Get your school or work place on board
Schools and work places produce TONS of waste – and that includes food waste. Walk past a school and look at their garbage bins if you don’t believe me. You can probably smell it down the block too.
Workplaces also are guilty of food waste – maybe your coworker always tosses their half-eaten lunch out, or someone’s moldly lunch takes up space in the lounge fridge.
What if we could change this dynamic?
See if they have any food rescue plans already in place. If not, see if they’d be open to composting and/or creating a food rescue plan. For grades K-12, check out FoodRescue.net. For colleges, check out Food Recovery Network.
Food rescue plans can look like a lot of different things. Maybe that means assembling a volunteer team that take any uneaten cafeteria food and donating it at the end of the day. Or, contacting a non-profit to come in and take the uneaten food. Maybe setting up curbside compost bins or even a big compost bin on school grounds that teaches children about composting their food scraps. Either way, get creative!
I’d also love to give a speech or demonstration at a school one day about composting/food waste! Maybe soon (fingers crossed).
5. Start a community fridge (or add to it!)
A lot of people don’t have access to or can’t afford fresh healthy food. Creating food security is also part of solving the food waste problem. That’s why joining/creating a community fridge is such a great way to provide healthy options to low income families.
Fresh foods tend to expire quickly so it’s very important to make sure they get eaten quickly. Providing access to free fresh food would benefit so many in your community, plus prevent food waste. Also, it’s a good excuse to see what you’re not using in your own fridge that might be better left to someone who could use it.
A community fridge is a great way to do this (FYI, we have one on Staten Island – check out their Instagram @forestavecomeunityfridge). See if you have one in your community already you can donate food to, or get involved in setting one up. Gather some people who would be interested!
Every community fridge is bound to be different, so make sure to see what kinds of food is accepted at yours. But I know some community fridges might even accept home cooked meals (as long as the ingredients are labeled for the sake of allergies). This is a great way to make sure leftovers don’t go to waste, plus you’re putting a meal on someone’s table!
Bonus: Cook with ends, scraps and tops
Want a bonus tip to help you reduce food waste? Don’t chuck your veggie peels just yet! You might be able to utilize them in your cooking somehow.
- One easy way I love using veggie peels is making my own veggie broth from scraps. It’s free and very tasty!
- Certain veggie peels (like potato skins) also can be cooked and made into crispy chips.
- Strawberry tops are actually edible and can be added to smoothies for an additional nutritional boost.
- Carrot tops can be made into pesto or used in place of parsley.
- Use the full herb, stems and all, in smoothies and pestos.
- Random half-eaten roast chicken or turkey? Make soup with it!
It’s all about getting creative with what you have and thinking “how can I use this up, or give it a second life?”
Want more ways to reduce food waste?
Want more tips on how to waste less food? Grab my ebook “How to Reduce Food Waste” and save $1500 every year! Plus, gain access to 14 delicious zero waste recipes (that also prevent food waste!).
What do you think of these unique ways to reduce food waste? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
For more food waste resources, check out my ebook How to Reduce Food Waste.
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