Commentary by Meredith McCutcheon
I can’t be the only person who regularly empties my fridge of well-intentioned groceries that went bad. The average U.S. household wastes one-third of the food it buys, and household waste accounts for almost 40 percent of all food waste in the country, including from restaurants and grocery stores.
This waste has an outsized environmental effect. Food rotting in landfills generates methane, a greenhouse gas more than 25 times worse than carbon dioxide for trapping heat in the atmosphere. The energy and resources to grow, harvest, package, transport and store food that never gets eaten also have a cost. In total, food waste causes around 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, almost twice as much as commercial aviation.
This is not to mention the financial cost of food waste, which can average up to $1,500 per family per year.
Shrinking how much food you send to the landfill is an easy and effective approach to help. Shopping with a list, creating meal plans or freezing extra food when you buy in bulk are all ways to waste less.
You can also make the food you buy last longer by learning how to store it. Some fruits and vegetables give off gasses that cause nearby foods to deteriorate more quickly. You can combat this with a product in your refrigerator, such as Bluapple, which absorbs the gasses.
Another thing to remember is that food is often safe to eat after its expiration date, according to the USDA. The dates on foods frequently mean something unrelated to food safety. The label “best by/before” usually recommends when the product will be at its peak freshness, and “sell by” is a suggestion to help retailers determine how long to keep products on shelves. A “freeze by” date is the date that food should be frozen to maintain peak freshness. None of these dates mean that food is no longer safe to eat.
On the other hand, the expiration date on infant formula is required by the USDA for safety. It also might be best to follow a “use by” date, depending on the appearance of the food.
You can’t save every potato peel, but an alternative to the landfill is composting. You can compost in your yard or through a local company, such as Earth Mama or Green with Indy, that offers a pick-up service. Composting food releases much less methane than food in landfills. And, as an added benefit, you can use it in your garden, further improving your environmental impact.
Meredith McCutcheon is a member of Carmel Green Initiative.