12 Creative Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste in Your Kitchen
If you've found yourself in the kitchen more than usual during the past year, you're not alone. About 40% of American adults report that they are cooking more since the coronavirus struck, according to the U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2020 report. Demand for online food content and recipes has soared, and without lengthy commutes or social engagements, many adults have more time to experiment in the kitchen and make more of their own meals.
Food waste, however, remains a major problem in the United States; the USDA estimates that 30-40% our national food supply is wasted. Wasted food is the largest category of material in municipal landfills, and represents a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, thus having a substantial impact on global climate change. Without food waste, about 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions from the global food system would be eliminated, found the World Wildlife Foundation.
While global food waste can seem like a distant problem, individual homes represent the largest source of that waste in terms of dollars, resulting in major economic consequences for individuals and families. American households spend roughly $1,866 a year on food that ends up being wasted.
For both beginner cooks and seasoned chefs, these tips for creatively reducing food waste in your kitchen will both cut down on your environmental impact and save you money by keeping more food out of the trash.
Freeze leftover herbs.
If you find yourself with more fresh herbs than you can use, they don't have to slowly wilt in the fridge until they're beyond help: rosemary, thyme, cilantro, sage, basil, or whatever else you have on hand can be frozen for future use.
Make sure to thoroughly wash and dry the herbs, and prepare them the way you normally would before eating (stems removed, spoiled pieces discarded, etc.). Finely chop and press into each "cube" of an ice tray. Top them off with olive oil and freeze. Once solid, the cubes can be removed from the tray and stored in a freezer bag.
The cubes can be tossed directly into a pan for sautéing vegetables, or melted to dress a salad.
Even fresh ginger can be frozen – either shaved and stored in ice trays for individual servings, or peeled and frozen whole to be grated as needed.
Save leftover lemon peels for a homemade cleaning solution.
If you use a lot of lemons for cooking or beverages, repurpose the rinds for an easy, organic surface cleaner.
After squeezing lemons for use, collect the rinds in a clean glass jar in the fridge, packing them tightly. Make sure to remove any stickers and thoroughly wash the lemons beforehand. Once full of peels, fill the jar with vinegar, cap it tightly, and keep in a dark, cool place (like the back of the fridge).
After about two weeks, your lemon-cleanser base should be ready. Strain the liquid through a piece of cheesecloth or a mesh strainer into another clean jar, discarding the peels.
In a spray bottle, combine the cleanser base with water in a 1:1 ratio, and it's ready to go.
This organic surface cleaner is excellent for glass windows and mirrors, showers and sinks, countertops, and other surfaces. Since the mixture is very acidic, avoid using on marble or stone, as it might cause pitting on the surface.
Keep produce dirty.
Extend the life of fruits and vegetables by refraining from washing until you're ready to use them; too much moisture on produce can cause premature decay and send food to the trash. If you get a particularly dirty batch of potatoes or other fruits and veggies, you can still give them a good wash if they're dried completely before being stored in the fridge.
Stock up on scraps.
Save veggie scraps in the freezer to make your own veggie stock. Not only will you keep peels out of the trash, but you'll circumvent buying pre-made stock, which often comes in wasteful, non-recyclable packaging.
As you accumulate vegetable scraps – stalks, skins, stems, chopped-off tops and bottoms – add them to a Ziplock bag or Tupperware container in the freezer, where they can stay for up to six months. While peeling often eliminates the need for washing some foods, like potatoes, you'll need to thoroughly wash any vegetables from which you plan to save scraps in order to avoid a muddy stock.
Once you have a decent amount of scraps, drop them in a pot and fill it with water. Bring the water to a boil and let simmer for 30-40 minutes, adding salt as needed. Strain the stock, making sure to remove any visible scraps.
The stock can be refrigerated for up to four days (or frozen for up to three months), and can be used in all of your favorite recipes calling for vegetable broth.
Rescue avocados from browning.
Before stowing an avocado-half in the fridge, rub a few drops of lemon or lime juice on the exposed surface. The citric acid will slow down the browning process and your avocado will stay fresh for longer.
Revive limp kale.
Kale and most other leafy greens like to be kept dry – a dish towel wrapped around the leaves and placed inside a produce bag should keep them fresh in the fridge; but, droopy kale isn't a lost cause! Cut the edges of the stems and submerge in a few inches of water in a glass. Tuck them in the fridge for a few hours, and the leaves will perk right up.
Storing produce more mindfully is an important way to extend the shelf life of your produce, and prevent tossing foods that have been gone bad.
Most importantly, keep foods that produce more ethylene gas away from those that don't. Ethylene promotes ripening and can cause nearby foods to spoil – especially ethylene-sensitive foods, like leafy greens, eggplant, peppers, squash, and sweet potatoes. Ethylene-producing foods include apples, avocadoes, ripening bananas, mangoes, peaches, pears, plantains, and tomatoes. Storing these in a separate drawer will prevent your other groceries from rotting prematurely.
Grow your own herbs.
s0ulsurfing - Jason Swain / Moment / Getty Images
At most mainstream grocery stores, fresh herbs come pre-packaged in disposable plastic containers and in rather large quantities. When a recipe calls for only a dash of rosemary or a handful of chopped basil for serving, you might find yourself with more than you can realistically use.
Luckily, you don't even need a backyard to have a beautiful, indoor herb garden. Many herbs will thrive in a pot on your windowsill, close at hand to pluck exactly the amount you need for a given recipe.
To grow sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary, look out for planter starters – a small piece of the plant that has already rooted and started growing – at a local hardware, grocery, or garden store. Herbs like dill, basil, parsley, and chives are easier to grow from seed, although purchasing starters can jumpstart the process.
Plant the starters or seeds in a well-draining pot, and water only when the soil is dry or the herbs are drooping. If you have a window sill that gets around 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day, great; if not, a small grow light can brighten up any corner of the house where you have space for growing.
First in, first out.
When unloading your bags from the grocery store, don't let the new items sit front and center. Bring older groceries to the front to encourage your household to eat these first. Designating a "use first" drawer will also remind you what to eat before breaking into the new stuff.
If it's becoming clear that you won't get around to cooking with that red onion, try preserving it instead of tossing it in the trash.
Pickling is a great way to squeeze some extra life out of foods. Cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, beets, green beans, onions, and even fruit can be easily pickled for future use. By keeping some some vinegar, sugar, and salt on hand, you'll be ready to prepare an easy brine in a pinch for preserving your produce.
Some easy pickling recipes even add extra spices and seasoning for a more flavorful product.
Blend up the extras.
When you find yourself with produce on the brink, whip up a "whatever smoothie," adding anything you have on hand: overripe bananas, leftover stalks from leafy greens, wilting kale and spinach, or soon-to-be-spoiled produce that you just don't know what to do with. This delicious, waste-free smoothie is an easy alternative to tossing your less-than-perfect produce.
Compost if you can.
svetikd / E+ / Getty Images
Composting is one of the most effective ways to divert food waste from landfills, where it decomposes and contributes to methane emissions: a harmful greenhouse gas accelerating climate change.
As composting becomes increasingly recognized as an important practice, practical (and cute!) indoor compost bins are widely available and fit right on a kitchen counter or tucked discreetly underneath. Be wary of what you toss in, avoiding meat, dairy, and greasy leftovers that harbor pathogens and give the compost a strong odor.
When it's time to empty the bin, indoor and outdoor composting systems allow for the natural processes that break down food and create rich, organic fertilizer for lawns and gardens. If you have an outdoor space, maintaining your own backyard composting system is rather simple, with many different styles and options to fit your space. There are even excellent options for indoor composting if you don't have access to a yard.
Many cities have developed large-scale municipal composting programs for residents – including San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder – allowing city- and apartment-dwellers without their own outdoor space to compost. Even if your city doesn't have a composting program, there are plenty of independent groups that might accept your scraps, including some community gardens and communal composting centers. Research what options exist in your area and consider how composting might work for you.
Remaining mindful of our food waste and incorporating some new habits are great first steps to lowering our environmental impact. As we spend more time at home – perhaps trying new dishes and making more home-cooked meals – we have the opportunity to develop patterns and practices that reduce our food waste and save both money and resources in the process.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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