Next time you sit down for a family meal, think twice about what you do with what’s left. A new report released by the Waste and Resources Action Program in the UK, has some pretty stunning statistics.
According to the report, about 60 million metric tons of food are wasted a year in the U.S., with an estimated value of $162 billion. About 32 million metric tons of it end up in municipal landfills, at a cost of about $1.5 billion a year to local governments. And it’s not just in the U.S.
Worldwide, about 30 percent of the food produced for human consumption each year goes to waste. That’s about 1.3 billion tons. And the problem isn’t just an ethical one (all of the food wasted by wealthy countries could feed all of the world’s 870 million hungry people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
To understand the true environmental effect of wasting food, it’s important to look at the journey of food from production to table to consumption or landfill. To produce all of this extra food, there are additional chemicals like pesticides that are used unnecessarily. Then, those foods are stacked on trucks, which use more fuel to transport them.
And, once the food is wasted, it usually ends up in landfills, where it rots and creates methane, a super-potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Around the globe, this process creates about 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases a year–not an insignificant amount.
How to Minimize Food Waste
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to cook just the right amount for every meal (especially when you’re dealing with any picky eaters in the family). So what can you do to minimize food waste?
1) Be strategic about leftovers
If you cook more than you think you’ll finish in one sitting, store leftovers properly and reimagine them for a future meal instead of just reheating them. For example, meatloaf from tonight’s dinner can make a tasty sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. Or breaded chicken cutlets can be reborn in a nice casserole the next day.
2) Monitor expiration dates
Take stock of your refrigerator regularly and move older items to the front so you don’t lose track of older foods until it’s already too late. The same goes with canned food and frozen foods, which–surprise, surprise—don’t last forever!
3) Split a dish with a friend
It’s become a big trend (literally) for restaurants to serve enormous portions so diners feel like they’re getting a lot for their money. If you suspect you might not eat leftovers that you bring home, head it off at the pass. Consider splitting your dish with a friend.
If you don’t already compost, now’s a great time to start. Put that food waste to good use to enrich your soil and grow a garden! Here’s a beginner’s composting guide to get you started from the EPA.