How to Practice Easy Bargain Environmentalism #2
Save & Be Green at the Same Time — #2 Grocery Shopping & Food Waste
I often hear the argument that making greener choices means spending more money, suggesting that environmentally friendly choices are a luxury of the upper middle class and above.
But that is not entirely true. With smart purchases and small efforts, you can help the planet and your wallet.
Each week, I present a new tip that will save both your money and the environment.
Check out last week's tip - Make the switch from liquid to bar soap.
This Tuesday’s Green Tip is: Grocery Shopping
This is kind of a massive subject.
I could go on about any number of changes that the average person can make to both reduce waste and money spent at the grocery store.
But my plethora of tips will have to wait. Because this week, I want to focus on food waste and how to prevent it in your home.
Why should you care about food waste?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in one year about one third of the food produced throughout the world is wasted. That approximately equates to a staggering and disturbing 1.3 billion tons.
That averages out to about 174 kg (384 lbs) of food waste per human being per year. Are you throwing out 14.5 kg (32 lbs) of food each month? Not quite. The majority of that waste happens during production, packing, distribution, sales, etc.
Still, in Europe and North America, the average waste per consumer ranges between 95 and 115 kg (210–255 lbs) per year. Meanwhile, in parts of both Africa and Asia, yearly waste is a mere 6–11 kg (13–24 lbs) per capita. In those parts of the world, people waste roughly the same amount in a year as most people in industrialized countries waste in a single month.
The worldwide loss of 1.3 billion tons of food per year equates to roughly US$990 million. That’s a lot of lost and wasted money, no matter which stage it happens at.
In developing countries, 40% of the food wasted is lost during post-harvest and processing — typically due to inadequate infrastructure and industry.
For those of us in industrialized countries, the same 40% of the waste happens during the retail and consumer stages. A study by the FAO found that “raising awareness among industries, retailers, and consumers” is key in decreasing the amount of food wasted.
So let’s increase some awareness!
A package of beef is more than meats the eye.
Wasting food is a problem exclusive to the human species because we’re not just foraging for nuts and berries. We use vital resources (water, land, food, energy, time) to create our food supply.
Wasted food doesn’t only mean that people go hungry. It also means that we unnecessarily increase our carbon footprint.
The most pertinent example of this lies with meat. 20% of meat produced is wasted, which is roughly equivalent to 75 million cows.
After slaughter, the average cow yields 220 kg (490 lbs) of boneless beef. For every 25 kg of feed, 1 kg beef meet is produced.
That means the average cow needs about 5,550 kg of feed before its slaughtered. If 75 million cows-worth of meat are wasted, that equates to over 416 million tons of feed wasted. (This is somewhat exaggerated because not all the meat that is wasted is beef — the category also includes lamb, pork, and poultry, all of which require less feed than beef).
However, feed is not the only resource wasted on those lost cows. Water, land, energy, and time are all lost from both the cows and the production of their feed. Which is likely how the carbon footprint of wasted cereals/grains (~1,100 million tons CO2) exceeds that of meat (~700 million tons CO2).
It’s a tragedy to waste food when so many people are hungry in the world — your mom wasn’t lying when she said, “Eat your peas. There are hungry kids who wish they had peas.”
But it is even more tragic when you realize that throwing away a kilo of spoiled meat means that you’re also tossing ~25 kg of grains, and roughly 120,000 liters of water.
How to Waste Less Food.
Eat the food you buy, then buy more food. It seems simple, right? And yet, the numbers say otherwise. Here are some techniques to prevent food waste in your home.
Change the Way You Shop
#1 Make an Inventory
Go through your cabinets, pantry, storage area, refrigerator (all drawers/shelves), freezer, and anywhere else you might store food.
- Make a spreadsheet to inventory everything you find in each storage area (I like Google Sheets so I can open the list on my phone while in the grocery store).
- Estimate when you’ll need to buy more (suggested categories — Need, Running Low, Plenty, Too Much).
- Optional: Give the items a rating from 0–5 based on how often you eat them (0=never, 1=annual, 2=bi-annual, 3=monthly, 4=weekly and 5=daily).
This might take a while, depending on your own food supplies. But it’s a worthwhile investment to prevent the wasting of food in your home.
#2 Make a Shopping List
Now that you know exactly what foods you already have, you can determine what foods you need to buy.
All you have to do is sort the items in your spreadsheet based on your estimates of when you need to buy more. Only pay attention to the “Need” and “Running Low” categories while you’re shopping.
#3 Buy Only What’s on the List
(a.k.a — Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry)
When the 5:30 hanger sets in, even those Cappuccino-flavored potato chips start to sound good. But in an hour, you’ll be stuck with an inedible bag of chips.
Instead, go to the store prepared. Have a snack before you go. Be sure that your list ready so you know what you need to buy. Avoid the aisles that don’t feature items on your list.
Pro tip! Certain stores allow you to try before you buy (two chains that I know participate are Trader Joes and Whole Foods). Ask an associate if this policy applies at your local grocery store. This way, you can sample an item before purchasing something.
#4 Update Your List
This shouldn’t take much time if you keep up with it. Whenever you use or buy an ingredient/food item, update its quantity in the spreadsheet.
#5 Rotate Your Ingredients
When putting away groceries, be sure to put the newest items behind the older items. Restaurants and grocery stores use stock rotation to prevent waste, and it is incredibly effective. Implement this technique in your home as well.
#6 Donate Items that You Won’t Use
If you rated the items in your list from least to most used, use that ranking to decide what you can donate to the local food bank.
Only donate unopened items that are not expired.
#7 Modify Recipes
Many people buy ingredients that wouldn’t normally fit into their repertoire for the sake of making a recipe. This often leads to excess, forgotten ingredients that eventually go to waste.
If you feel comfortable in the kitchen, play around with modifying recipes so you either (a) don’t need to buy that extra ingredient in the first place via substitution or (b) use more of the ingredient than the recipe calls for.
When you can’t substitute an ingredient, one option to use everything you bought is to make large batches to share with friends or to eat as leftovers throughout the week.
So many recipes call for odd amounts, such as half an onion — what are you supposed to do with that other half? Most people probably put it in a plastic bag, stick it in the fridge, and forget about it until they find it spoiled two weeks later.
Instead of wasting half an onion (and a plastic bag), just use the whole onion. Unless you’re baking, most recipes are just guidelines and suggestions. Add or subtract whatever you want for the most efficient use of ingredients.
Also, make up your own concoctions. Personally, I love challenge of using all the odds and ends that need to be eaten within one meal. Some of my favorite food creations were born out of forcing myself to use foods that were on their way out.
#8 Keep it Simple
Stick to buying essentials (veggies, fruits, protein, grains) and avoid much else. This way, you’ll rarely end up with weird items you’ll never use.
Ready to change the way you shop?
What methods do you use to prevent food waste in your home?
If you implement and encourage others to use greener methods of living, you will reduce your carbon footprint and the amount of waste you create.
While every effort to live greener is a worthwhile cause, there’s always more you can do to help. First and foremost, vote for representatives who understand that climate change is real and deadly — people who value the planet and its inhabitants over a pocketful of cash.