In 2013, Americans threw away more than 35 million tons of food waste. About 95 percent of the food waste we toss ends up in landfills or combustion facilities, where it breaks down to produce methane, a greenhouse gas.
How can we waste less? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers these tips:
- Plan ahead of time. Think about how many meals you'll eat at home in the coming week, and make your shopping list accordingly.
- Don't be tempted by buying-in-bulk deals unless you'll be able to get through all the food in time.
- If fruits or vegetables are on the verge of going bad, can them instead of tossing them.
- Don't wash berries until you're ready to eat them - this will prevent them from growing mold.
- Prepare and freeze meals ahead of time - not only will this save you precious time in the kitchen, it will ensure you use all the ingredients you've purchased.
- Bring leftovers home from restaurants (and eat them!) and take only what you have room for at buffets â€” you can always go back for more if you're still hungry.
Not all produce at farmers markets is sold - but some organizations are working to take the leftovers and connect them with people in need.
On a bigger scale, there are organizations doing innovative things to reduce food waste. Here are just a handful:
Food for Free: Helping combat food waste since 1981, Massachusetts-based Food for Free now has a new Family Meals program that repurposes prepared foods into individual meals for people in need. By taking leftover prepared food from universities, hotels, and corporations, they're able to provide it to homeless families living in hotels or shelters without kitchens.
Food Forward: A mature fruit tree can yield hundreds of pounds of fruit in a year - more than an individual family can eat, and sometimes more than a commercial operation can pick. In Southern California, Food Forward rescues that fresh, local produce that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to more than 100,000 people a month. They also work with farmers at farmers markets to donate what's not sold.
Culinary Misfits: Plenty of perfectly tasty fruits and vegetables never make it to the store or plate for one reason: They aren't pretty enough. Berlin-based Culinary Misfits takes this so-called "ugly" produce and incorporates it into catered meals that they serve across the city.