Have you ever thought about how much food ends up being wasted? Expired yogurt cups, slimy salads, moldy leftovers – it all adds up. Experts estimate that more than 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. – from farm to fork – is wasted. Imagine all the resources that went into growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, packaging, selling and serving that food. And then imagine throwing away almost half of it.
So what can smart consumers do to waste less food? First of all, we can start thinking of packaging as an investment in our food and all the resources used to produce it. Studies find that up to 10 times more resources are used to make and distribute food than to make the packaging that protects it. Packaging provides barriers to oxygen, light, temperatures, moisture, microbes, critters and dirt to deliver food to us safely – so we waste less food.
The right packaging also can reduce packaging waste. For example, lightweight plastic packaging not only does a good job protecting food, it also is “lighter” on the environment. By using less material to package food, lighter plastics typically reduce the energy used to deliver food, the corresponding greenhouse gas emissions, and the amount of waste after use, compared to alternatives. Plus, more and more plastic packaging can be recycled today, which further reduces overall packaging waste.
So if you’re looking for ways to reduce food waste and packaging waste in your kitchen, here are some tips:
* When you have leftover food after a meal, plastic storage containers, wraps and zipper bags help seal out air so food lasts longer in the fridge. In the freezer, zipper bags also help prevent freezer burn. And many of these bags can be washed out and reused and even recycled (when clean and dry) at grocery and retail stores that collect plastic bags and wraps. Check for a collection bin in the front of your local stores.
* Look for foods in a little bit of packaging that can prevent a lot of food waste. For example, those cucumbers wrapped in thin plastic film can last two weeks or more, while an unwrapped cucumber lasts about three days. Poultry, beef, fish, produce and many other everyday foods today are wrapped in transparent, lightweight wraps or bags that increase shelf life and help waste less food with very little packaging.
* All those new, minimalist plastic pouches in grocery stores also help protect food with very little material; many can be crumpled up to the size of a poker chip. Look for re-sealable pouches that make it easy to use what you need and save the rest for later.
* A great way to help reduce packaging waste is to recycle everything you can. Today plastic beverage bottles, milk and juice jugs, margarine tubs, condiment containers, and more can be recycled in most curbside programs across the country. Don’t forget to include caps and lids. And take plastic bags and wraps back to participating grocery and retail stores for recycling.
* Recycled plastics can even make it back to your kitchen. To close the recycling loop, look for cutting boards, bowls, storage containers, garbage bags, and more made with recycled plastics. For example, cutting boards can be made with used milk jugs, and mixing bowls can be made with used yogurt and margarine containers. And many of these recycled products can be recycled once again at the end of their useful life.
To make sure you’re recycling everything you can, visit Earth911.com or IWantToBeRecycled.org to find out what’s accepted for recycling in your area.