October 19, 2017
Waste is difficult to overlook. It is a major player in the increasing environmental issues that we face as a country and a planet. We see it everywhere– on the side of roads, washed up on the shores of beaches, and packed into those strange, grassy hills that peek through the treeline on our drive home. We turn our heads and wish it wasn’t so. “Someone should really clean that up,” we say. But there is much more that we don’t see.
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), commonly known as garbage, includes everyday items we throw away like packaging, clothes, food scraps, etc. In a 2013 study conducted by the EPA, it was found that the largest component of MSW was organic materials. Yard trimmings and food comprised 28%, paper materials 27%, and plastics 13% of MSW. As that waste decomposes it produces about half carbon dioxide (CO2) and half methane gas (MH4), a potent greenhouse gas that’s about 28-36 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 100-year period. In 2015, MSW landfills were the third largest source, at 15.4%, of human-related methane emissions in the U.S. Not all waste ends up in a landfill. Garbage finds its way to a variety of places, including oceans, which poses contamination risks to humans and wildlife.
In addition to the substantial environmental impact, wasting food is a major budget buster. The average household loses $1,600 a year in wasted food. In the U.S. 31% of available food, worth $161 billion dollars, goes uneaten every year. Simultaneously, nearly 50 million Americans live in food insecure households, without consistent and reliable access to food. About 73,000 of those people live in Mecklenburg County.
Charlotte is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, so food waste isn’t a problem that is slowing down and it isn’t one for someone else to fix. Many of us want to see changes but only if it doesn’t upset our comfortable routines. What if I told you that reducing your waste has only positive impacts? That with a little effort you could reduce the amount you’re throwing out and in turn could save money, better your health and the health of your family, and improve the environment?
Beginning on October 26, the City of Charlotte Solid Waste Services Department will host the Food Too Good To Waste Challenge to help jumpstart your efforts! For the challenge, Charlotte residents will compete to see who can eliminate the most food waste from their garbage over the course of six weeks. Participants will be given a scale and container to collect and record their waste. This year, there is even an app that can be used to track your progress. Last year the winner reduced her waste by 1.8 lbs and won courtside tickets to a Charlotte Hornets NBA game. This year you can win kitchen supplies (flatware, plates, classes), storage containers and waste containers from IKEA.
Here are some tips you can implement to help get you started reducing your food and overall waste:
Shop with a plan
Going into a grocery store without a plan is self-sabotaging. You leave yourself completely open to whatever catches your eye. Plan your meals ahead, make a list, and stick to it. Unless you’re really a culinary aficionado, only purchase ingredients you know you’ll eat. This reduces the likelihood of food going bad. If you really want to try a new ingredient, find a recipe and commit to making it!
Buy in bulk
This saves money and reduces packaging. Buy the big bunches of spinach and kale instead of the pre-packaged kind. Farmers markets are great places to buy food in bulk, not to mention items are local and in season!
Invest in reusable packaging
Ziplocs, saran wrap, produce and grocery bags– all of these one-and-done packaging options, and others that have a short useful life, contribute rapidly to waste. Luckily, there are many reusable alternatives. Most grocery stores offer tote bags for a few dollars or, if you really want to up your recycling game, you can make one using an old t-shirt. Additionally there are many reusable food storage options like these baggies. As for produce bags, just skip them. You’ll wash it at home anyway!
It’s not all about looks
Food, primarily fruits and vegetables, tends to bruise, discolor, wilt, and scratch easily. Americans are so aesthetically motivated that buying an apple that isn’t pristinely polished and perfectly shaped is almost inconceivable. So buy that cucumber with a few dings or a bunch of bananas just past its prime. Most people will push those foods to the side and they will end up spoiling and going to waste. Be like Charlie Brown and buy the tree that everyone else has overlooked… it’s all the same on the inside.
Prep your ingredients
When reaching into the fridge for a snack, chances are you’ll choose a quicker option than those whole carrots down at the bottom of the produce drawer. What if those carrots were already chopped and ready to go on the top shelf? Pick one night of the week just after your grocery run and commit to some food prep. Soak beans, make a bunch of rice, sauté some onions and garlic for multiple recipes. Make things easier on yourself!
Don’t be a sloppy chopper. The little things that make the bigger picture so get closer to the ends of that cucumber and cut that apple to the core! And remember, ain’t nothin’ wrong with the bottom of a tomato.
Foods that are stored properly will have a longer shelf life. Utilize those produce drawers in your fridge for crisper veggies and keep things at the appropriate temperature. Did you know that storing certain foods next to others make them spoil faster? Take a look at this comprehensive guide to solve all your food storage woes.
Understand expiration dates
You know your food doesn’t really expire on the date listed on the package, right? Depending on the item, there is a significant grace period. Companies choose the safest date for liability reasons. Reference this chart to learn more.
Remember, just because something is tossed out and hauled away by a garbage truck doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. Join in with your community in waste reduction efforts by participating in the Food Too Good To Waste Challenge. Remember to sign up today and attend the kickoff event on Oct 26 to learn more! You may be surprised to see just how much of an impact your efforts can have!
Learn more at healthcommunitiesclt.com.
*CLTure is a proud partner of the City of Charlotte’s Food Too Good To Waste Challenge*