Throwing away what we don’t eat creates a heaping food waste problem. In 2017, Columbians sent 34,000 tons of food to the landfill, or about 17% of the city’s landfill waste that year. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates we throw away up to 40% of the food supply each year.
Add in things like individually wrapped goods, nonrecyclable packaging and carbon-emitting delivery trucks, and it seems a zero-waste food lifestyle is next to impossible. But Kalle LeMone, co-owner of Nourish Cafe and Market, says she thinks you can get “pretty darn close to it.”
“I think it takes a lot more work,” she says, but making lifestyle changes makes it easier. “You get systems in place, and you get used to it.” How you choose to shop, cook and dispose of food has a big impact on how much waste you produce.
Here’s how you can cut down on food waste in each of those areas.
At the market
Tackling waste production starts with what you buy and how.
Think about how your food gets to the store. Buying local reduces the hidden environmental costs of food, especially carbon emissions, says Mark Haim of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks.
Also, purchasing nonperishables in bulk saves money and can prevent waste as long as you’re smart about how you prepare meals with them over time.
Be sure to ask what your purveyor does with whatever it can’t sell. Many local establishments partner with organizations such as CoMo Food Not Bombs, which gives away the leftovers.
If you want to go the extra mile, plant your own garden; it doesn’t get much more local than your own backyard. If you don’t have the space, Columbia’s Community Garden Coalition provides plots around the city that you can use for free.
At the table
Just because you cook meals at home doesn’t always mean you’re cutting down on waste. If you’re making a new dish every night, you’re likely also producing more waste as a result.
Bulk cooking and meal planning are important steps toward eliminating waste at home, Haim says. This will help you cut down on packaging. Make sure you’re using everything you buy, and don’t be afraid to push the best-by dates, especially on shelf-stable products. According to a report from the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, for many products, those dates have nothing to do with safety and are largely unregulated.
If you regularly eat out, choose destinations that are making an effort to be eco-friendly. For instance, opt for those that use compostable or recyclable to-go containers. Nourish composts food scraps, too, LeMone says, and the owners allow locals to take some for their gardens. What’s left is fed to the co-owner’s donkeys.
At the trash can
There’s a good chance that no matter how careful you are, you’re going to wind up with some food scraps and empty containers. Knowing how to deal with the inevitable waste is critical to cutting down.
Recycling the containers is helpful, but you can “recycle” your leftovers, too, by composting. If you’re not sure where to start, the city operates composting workshops throughout the year that you can register for online.
If you have space, you can even raise your own livestock that will eat your scraps. City ordinances allow residents to raise up to six chickens in their backyards.
Or, maybe you love the idea of feeding animals but don’t have the space for chickens. Try vermiculture: Feed your scraps to a bucket of worms under your sink. You might get some weird looks from guests, but Mother Nature will thank you.