Is your garden brimming with cucumbers, zucchini and kale? For Woodinville residents gifted with green thumbs, late summer means baskets and refrigerators bursting with bounty from the garden.
It can also mean wasted food if garden overflow catches you without a plan for using all those fresh fruits and veggies.
The reality is, wasted food is a serious problem at all times of the year. The average U.S. household tosses out 25% of the food we buy. That’s like walking out of the store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and not bothering to pick it up!
When you consider the energy, water, land, and fuel that go into producing and transporting food that gets wasted, the impact is huge. Looking at greenhouse gases alone, the amount of food Americans waste every year generates emissions equivalent to 39 million cars.
Fortunately, a little extra planning can make a big difference in reducing waste when the garden is overflowing and year-round when meal prep leaves us with leftovers.
When the challenge is a bountiful harvest, sharing is a wonderful option. Neighbors often love a ripe, homegrown tomato or head of garden lettuce, and some neighborhoods enjoy “Garden Swaps” throughout early fall. Additionally, many churches and community centers encourage community sharing by setting out “Help Yourself” boxes.
Year-round, reducing food waste begins as we make our food plans and grocery lists. Before you shop, check your fridge, freezer, and cupboards so you can plan meals with items you already have. At the store, use a list (and restraint!) to avoid buying more than you need.
Got leftovers? Freeze extras or give them to friends and family. Just think of the money you’ll save! A family of four can save $1,500 per year by reducing food waste.
Another common cause of wasted food is throwing it out before it's gone bad. Labels such as "use by," "sell by," and "best by" are misleading and result in 90% of people throwing away food too soon. Except for infant formula, manufacturers use dated labels to indicate peak quality, not food safety. Instead of tossing food out based on date, trust your senses! Does it look good? Does it smell good? If so, it's likely still delicious.
For all the odds and ends that didn’t make it into a meal, get creative! Toss overripe fruit into a smoothie or wilted veggies into a soup. Stale bread is great for breadcrumbs or croutons. Check out Waste Management’s food storage and waste reduction guide for more tips.
Any food scraps that can't be eaten should go in the food and yard waste cart or your compost pile. Composting food scraps allows them to naturally cycle back to the earth as nutrient-rich soil and helps conserve natural resources.
Why is reducing food waste important? The answer is simple: Because it’s good for the planet, good for the household budget, and good for your taste buds.
Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s recycling education and outreach manager. To see what’s recyclable and compostable in Woodinville go to wmnorthwest.com.