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Food Waste & The Climate Crisis

The holiday season is upon us, which means spending time with friends, family, and loved ones. For many, it also means spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking. But one aspect of cooking and preparing meals during the holidays that we don't think about as often is food waste.


While no one likes to throw out food we forgot about, or old leftovers, or even scraps from cooking – it happens more often than we realize, especially when cooking large meals during the holidays.

So, what does food waste have to do with the climate crisis and what kind of impact does it have on the environment? When we throw out food or leftovers, it goes to a landfill to decompose, which releases methane – a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat within our atmosphere over 20 years.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), around a third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. To put this into perspective, WRI says, "If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter—surpassed only by China and the United States." That's a lot of food.

So, what can we do to prevent food waste all-year, and even as we're preparing our Thanksgiving and holiday meals? Here are five easy to follow tips:

1. Perform a Food Waste Audit

One of the best ways to know how you can help fight the climate crisis is to be aware of your own impact. This can easily be done by performing a food waste audit. While we all want to be able to reduce waste and even spend less money at the grocery store, it can be hard to know how much food we really need when we go to the store. This is where food waste audits come in handy.

Ready to start your audit?

For a week, keep track of the amount of food you use and consume through cooking and performing your normal weekly routine. At the same time, keep track and record how much food you're throwing away.

Then, with this new information in hand, spend the next week trying to only buy and consume the amount of food you’ll actually use. This can give you an idea of how much you need to live your daily routine, without altering anything besides the amount of waste.

Once you see how much you use compared to how much you don't, it’ll not only help you save the planet but save you money too. And let's be real – having some extra cash during the holidays is a nice perk!

2. Go to the Grocery Store Prepared

Now that you have an idea of the amount of food you actually use in a week, it's easier to head out to the grocery store, farmers market, or wherever you buy your food.

A great way to prevent food waste is to plan ahead (and don't go to the grocery store hungry). Before you get to the grocery store, try to plan out what you'll be cooking, how much you'll be making, and the number of ingredients needed.

Planning ahead allows you to both buy the amount of ingredients needed and save money, especially when buying a lot of food to prepare your favorite holiday dishes.

This also is an opportunity to go through your cabinets, pantry, and fridge to see what you already have at home. Why buy food that you already own? This is a really easy way to go green and save some green. If you're someone who buys food in bulk, think about the shelf life for those items, how much you have at home, and when you would need to re-stock or if you'll be able to use it all. After all, you only save money if you use food before it goes bad.

3. Get Creative and Repurpose

Another easy way to reduce food waste and have fun in the kitchen is by being creative with how we use our food. Instead of throwing out lonely or mismatched ingredients, get creative!

Food scraps and leftovers can help create even more amazing foods to eat. We've all looked at our leftovers in the fridge and cans in the pantry wondering what to do with them. But instead of throwing them away, take this opportunity to mix it up and try something new.

Repurpose leftovers and scraps by using every part possible. Use bones for great stocks for soup. Many fruits and vegetables are usable from root to stem. You can even use leftover turkey meat from Thanksgiving to make sandwiches or stews.

There are so many lists online of recipes to do with leftovers, and especially as we head into the holiday season, the options are endless (and delicious).

4. Compost

If you end up with food scraps too small to use, don't fret or feel like you always have to find a way to repurpose them. There are ways to dispose of scraps that are much more environmentally friendly than throwing them away, including composting.

If the term is new to you, composting is the process of recycling organic material into a supercharged soil amendment that gardeners fondly refer to “black gold.”

What do we mean by “recycling organic material”? Basically, microorganisms break down piles of food scraps into nutrients that we can use to feed the soil.

There are many ways to compost. Some communities have municipal compost options where residents store and set their food scraps out for collection to feed the city or town compost pile. Growing numbers of young people and families use dedicated composting tubs or bins or build healthy compost pits outside.

So why compost? According to EPA, composting has many benefits along with enriching the soil, including reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and sequestering carbon.

It's easy to start composting - and if you don't want to set up a compost station in your home or apartment, communities around the world have food waste drop-offs. Want to see if there's a location near you? Check out this resource.

5. Talk About It & Learn More

One of the easiest ways to help fight and bring awareness of the impacts that food scraps have on the climate crisis is simply talking about it. Educate your friends and family on how they can reduce their own food waste, and get them involved in helping the planet.

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