January Sustainability Challenge: Zero Food Waste

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world? – Anne Frank

As part of our mission to support ecological stewardship in northeast Ohio and beyond, Crown Point’s new Executive Director, Dr. Monica Bongue-Bartlesman, Ph.D., will offer a monthly challenge with tips and suggestions for how to take better care of ourselves and the planet. This year’s first resolution takes a look at simple things we can each do to reduce food waste.

Throwing food away is a matter of conscience. As a culture, Americans are incredibly wasteful when it comes to food. According to a 2004 study from the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, on average, American households waste 14 percent of their food purchases,  that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened.

Timothy Jones, who led the study, estimates that an average family of four currently tosses out $590 per year, just in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products. Nationwide, Jones says, household food waste adds up to $43 billion, making it a serious economic problem.

To put this in perspective: 5% of Americans’ leftovers could feed 4 million people for 1 day. Can you live without producing food trash?  Will you challenge yourself to do better in the new year? There are a few simple things we can do to generate much less waste.

Examine your trash bin.  I find that most of the trash in my bin comes from food packaging and it is mostly plastic.  Take a look at what you throw away and see if you can find a better option. One of the options is to buy less.  In spite of (or just for the pleasure of embarrassing your children or friends) put the apples and oranges you buy in a re-useable plastic grocery bag. Place them right in your cart, or carry them inside your cloth shopping bags.  Make a big deal of letting others in the store know that you are using REUSABLE produce bags.  Display your re-usable organic burlap shopping bags at the register with great enthusiasm. Some stores will even make a donation or give a discount for people who bring their own bags.

Get Creative. We all love those plastic containers that our salad mixes come in, and I have learned that greens do keep better in those plastic boxes. Yes, it’s also very convenient.  So challenge yourself to find a use for the boxes. I sometimes use them to store stuff that might leak in the fridge, for storage of other things, or as little mini greenhouse seed starter containers.  Be creative, if you can’t avoid the packaging re-purpose it.   As a last option, recycle the packaging, but keep in mind that a lot of our “recycled” plastic still ends up in a landfill.

Fresh is best. The ultimate way to eliminate food packaging is to grow your own vegetables or sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture program. Participants in Crown Point’s organic CSA program, pick up their veggies straight from the farm, fresh and without any packaging. Find out more here.

Cook at home.  You can compost vegetable trimmings from preparing the meal. Buy enough ingredients to have leftovers (this means less packaging), which will also save you some time on busy weeknights.  A compost bin right in the kitchen is very handy.

Once you start thinking about food waste, there are often unexpected benefits, beyond the landfill. Being mindful of how you consume food and thinking about how you plan meals (including the clean up) will also lead to improved health and a lower shopping bill.

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