According to CNBC, 77 million tons of discarded packaging is delivered to landfills each year, ranking packaging as the top contributor to municipal waste. In an era of convenient, ready-to-eat food, three meals a day and many mouths to feed, it’s safe to assume a good deal of this waste comes from our packaged food products. However, there’s more to it than that. Food itself often goes uneaten, with Americans wasting 150,000 tons of food each day or a pound per person. Furthermore, “each American consumes an average of 2,200 standard 2 ply napkins annually,” and paper products account for “over 28% of all trash sent to the landfills,” as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Americans aren’t getting less hungry, so where do we begin tackling these food-related waste issues? It begins with changing our habits at an individual level and it can start in your kitchen.
Ditch plastic wrap for alternatives
Containers with lids, or wax wrap, which can be made of beeswax or soy wax, are reusable alternatives to plastic wrap for storing food.
Refuse vegetables and fruits packaged in plastic from the grocery store
Most fruits and vegetables have a natural protective skin, and those that aren’t peeled are typically washed before use. Avoid unnecessary plastic by choosing fresh fruits and vegetables that are not packaged. Do not bag the items either just to keep them together. If it feels necessary to bag produce, bring your own small cloth bags.
Buy bulk products
An easy way to avoid unnecessary packaging and food waste is by buying in bulk. Bring your own container and fill it with only what you need.
You can reuse plastic and paper bags, bring lightweight cloth bags, or any container – just be sure to ask the cashier for the empty or “tare” weight before you fill up if your container is heavy! That way, they can subtract the weight of the container at checkout. If your local bulk store isn’t accommodating, lightweight bags are a simple solution. You can even wash and reuse plastic bags!
Check out and follow our Seattle Bulk Stores map on Google Maps to learn where to shop package-free!
Make sure your refrigerator isn’t too cold
To check the temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the middle of the refrigerator. Wait 24 hours for the water to cool to the temperature of the fridge. If colder than the recommended 35°-38°F, it may be too cold. To check your freezer temperature, place the thermometer between frozen packages and wait 24 hours. If below the recommend 0°F, consider turning up the temperature.
Raising the temperature of your fridge and freezer will reduce your energy use.
Use towels and rags, not paper towels
Kitchen towels and rags are a simple reusable option to paper towels.
Don’t want to use your nice kitchen towels to wipe up spills? Repurpose old clothing, bath towels or bedding by cutting them into rags you can use without worrying about stains.
Use natural fiber cloth napkins
Cloth napkins seem like a more lavish alternative to paper napkins but are also a practical solution to reducing your waste. Treat yourself to this upgraded experience by using your own cloth napkins which can be reused hundreds of times. This swap will save trees by reducing the demand for paper products.
When choosing fabric products, minimize your impact by buying products made from natural fibers such as cotton, hemp, or linen, which will breakdown naturally rather than plastic based materials like polyester.
Find ways to use food scraps before composting
Before composting, try using the food scraps for something else. For example, instead of throwing out vegetable ends and peels, you can save them to make vegetable broth. For more ideas, check out our article Five ways to get more out of your food scraps.
Compost all food waste
Luckily here in the Seattle area, it’s easy to compost by putting food waste directly into the yard waste bins.
If your city doesn’t have curbside yard waste or compost, try asking local gardeners or farmers if they would like to take your compost as it is a valuable resource to create healthy soil. Many farmers’ markets gladly take compost.
If you live somewhere that doesn’t have these options, consider buying or making a home composting system, or creating one to share with neighbors.
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