If you haven't heard, food waste is a major issue and major contributor to climate change, especially in America. I mean, think about it, how many times do you buy something from the grocery store because you think you're doing to eat it and then never do? Probably a few times, not multiply that by the nearly ~330 million people living in the US. You might be thinking that's a lot of food in the trash, or you might be thinking that's not so bad. Although now consider all of the fast food and restaurants in the US, do you think they use everything they order? No, we know they don't, and I'm sure we've all seen the TikTok of a ton of donuts being thrown out. Oh, and what about your preferred grocery store? Do they use or sell everything they have? Probably not, right? First, let's take a look at the stats...
Food Waste Statistics
"Americans discard more food than any other country, nearly 40 million tons — or 30-40 percent of the entire US food supply." - RTS
That's the most commonly used statistic when educating consumers on food waste, but we don't really know what that means or how it compares to the rest of the world. It's about 80 billion pounds or 219 pounds per person or about 650 average apples every year. Combined, the world wastes about 1.4 billion tons or 2,800,000,000,000 pounds of food every year. Yes, that's trillions of pounds every single year. That's quite a sad fact when they are millions of people starving to death or food insecure. Almost a quarter of waste going to landfills is food. And not only does this contribute to those going hungry, but it also destroys our planet. Food waste totals at around 11% of the world's emissions, not to mention all the water and resources used to transport the food are also wasted and contribute to emissions. If you still don't really care, I'm sure you care about money. Well, food waste is also a huge waste of money, about $200 billion worth. Most of the waste does, in fact, come from households, with restaurants, stores, and other services being a close second (RTS).
Dairy items are one of the top culprits of being wasted and thrown out. If you don't realize, is an even bigger issue because what do cows need to live? Food and water. How do dairy farms survive? Government subsidies. So some of the most commonly wasted items have an even more significant impact on the planet, and your wallet, than you realize. Produce is the second most disposed of product and amounts to about $1,600 worth per year.
Some Reasons Why
Why do Americans throw out so much dang food? One simple reason is that many of us are confused by expiration dates, or we follow very, very strictly. A best by date is different than an expiration date, and a sell-by date is different than both of those. A best by date means that the product is likely to be good after that date, but it will start going bad. An expiration date means that the product is most likely no longer good after said date. A sell-by-date is similar to a best by date, but it is more for the retailer. If you buy something on its sell-by date, you generally have some time to eat it before it goes bad, depending on the product. Hopefully, that clears up some confusion around what these things mean, but to now add to the confusion, sometimes these dates don't even matter if you've opened the product. You might see some text that says or use 7 days after opening for many refrigerated things, which can be even more confusing for some people. I personally do not tend to follow expiration guidelines super strictly, especially with products that I know tend to have a longer shelf life, like tofu and almond milk. I have used each of these products well after their expiration date and have not gotten sick. The best way to do this is to smell or taste a small amount before eating a lot of it. I would suggest the same to you for anything you might have at home, but of course, only do what you are comfortable with!
Another reason why is because we tend to throw out produce whenever it starts looking ugly or going bad. I know I used to be extremely guilty of this. The first and best way to prevent this is to store each fruit and veggie properly, actually look it up and see the best way to store whatever you have because you might be surprised by some techniques. After you've done this, please don't throw out something because part of it has gone; cut around it, and use the rest of the product. Then compost the bad part. If you can't compost for some reason, then save veggie scraps to make a broth. Also, you can prevent other produce from going bad by separating it from whatever is starting to rot. For example, if you have spinach getting a little too wilted, take out those pieces to prolong the rest of the spinach.
Lastly, we end up throwing a lot of food in America because we overconsume. The best way to avoid throwing out food is to stop buying so much! Only shop for a few days to a week in advance. If you stop buying too much food, then you won't need to worry about ways to prevent it from going to the landfill. This also applies when you go out to eat, don't order more than you can eat. If you leave anything on that plate, it's getting thrown out.
Come back next week to read more about what you can do to stop food waste. :)