Are peels, scraps, leftovers, and food packaging all contributing to your kitchen waste?
Here are simple tips on how to reduce food waste at home.
They’re easy enough to start today.
1. Look at what you throw out
What are the large items in your garbage bin? Leftovers? Wilted veggies? Moldy fruits?
Figuring out what is wasted in your home will certainly influence how you reduce waste.
Before going low waste, every week I threw out produce that went bad in the fridge. Turns out, I was overbuying and underusing the food. So, I adjusted by buying less.
It was so simple and worked to reduce my waste.
So, think about simple tweaks to reduce your trash.
2. Start a garden to grow your own food
In the Caribbean, it’s sunny year round so I grow lettuce, sweet peppers and herbs all the time.
Having food on-demand in my backyard is always fun with no plastic packaging, no wilting, and no mold.
Here’s a look at some of my plants – sweet peppers, culantro, lettuce, chives, and mint.
If you could, start your own backyard garden.
P.S. it’s also an eco friendly way to relax and unwind.
And if you don’t have warm, sunny conditions, try setting up an indoor garden.
Plants aren’t too fussy. They just need a fairly warm little corner, soil, light and water.
Containers and Soil
Repurpose old containers as plant pots (cut holes to the bottom to allow good drainage). Repurpose covers too as saucers.
You can get potting soil at your local hardware or plant shop. They should have package free options too.
Coconut coir is another good option to grow plants in. There are lots of compressed fiber blocks like this one on Amazon but they do come wrapped in thin plastic.
As for indoor lighting, GE has a nine-Watt LED grow light that’s cheap and can last you for about 3 years. The bulb is light weight so you can anchor it on any diy repurposed frame. The only downside is the bulb itself is plastic and I haven’t seen any recycling initiatives for it yet.
For bigger set ups with much more plants, GE has a forty-Watt, 24-inch LED grow light. The life span is about the same and yes it’s also made of plastic.
Now, there are also lots of little indoor garden kits on Amazon. Some of them are so simple to set up – you just need to plug in the lights, add water and watch the plants grow.
But, many do come with lots of plastic components. That’s why I suggest getting the single LED light bulb if you’re just starting off.
As spring starts heating everything up, move the plants outdoors for natural lighting.
By putting in all the work, your rewards will be fresh, organic, home grown, package-free food that won’t be wasted.
Compost all the fallen leaves, branches and food scraps and add those nutrients back to the plants.
3. How to reduce food waste at home? Meal planning is key
Remember at the beginning I said I was overbuying and underusing food? Basically, I was not meal planning properly and that caused a lot of my food waste.
Besides buying less, and buying less often, planning my meals with what I had in the fridge and in the garden really helped to reduce waste.
For instance, if my lettuce plants were ready to harvest within a week, I would buy other veggies and beans to make fresh salad every day.
The same went for eggplant. When they were almost ready, I purchase ingredients to make eggplant parm or ratatouille.
Meal planning doesn’t stop there though if you’re on this zero waste journey. You have to think about the scraps too.
Sometimes, I’ll save and dry citrus peels to make tea later – orange peel tea is big in the Caribbean. Regrowing chives and pak choi are common too.
Plus veggie scraps are perfect to make broth for a lazy day soup.
There are so many ideas to use every part of your fruits, veggies, and even meats.
They have lots of ideas on how to use everything from root-to-tip and nose-to-tail.
4. Store food properly
Food always lasts longer when it’s stored properly.
Some fruits and veggies can stay on the counter. They don’t need to go in the fridge.
I’ve kept fruits like mangoes, bananas, and avocadoes on the countertop for days. They ripen faster out of the fridge. But, once ripe, it’s important to refrigerate them so they don’t go bad.
Repurpose old paper, newspaper and brown paper bags to wrap your produce. That’s another way to speed up the ripening process.
By the way, some fruits actually release ethylene gas as they ripen. That makes other fruits close by to ripe faster too. If you don’t want all your fruits to ripen at the same time, you should socially distance them, heh!
Bread can also stays soft on the counter for a couple of days.
Store onions, garlic and potatoes in the dark. They don’t like light, heat or any humidity. I’ve kept potatoes in the fridge in the past, but they always went soft. Popping them in a cupboard made them last for months.
You should also set your fridge to the right temperature to prevent excessive bacterial and fungal growth. I think the ideal fridge temperature is under 40°F and 0°F for the freezer.
Here’s another major way to reduce food waste at home.
Freezing food can extend its shelf life from days to months. And when you have excess produce or food, freezing is your best bet to reduce waste.
If you’re batch cooking or batch baking, pop some in the freezer. I’ve frozen everything from pasta, bread, cookies and cake.
You’ll see from my post on zero waste uses for coconuts, I store the white coconut meat in large pieces in the freezer. When I need coconut milk, I just add it to my blender with water and voila – coconut milk! There’s no need to buy.
My lime tree is laden and the fruits are almost ready to pick. When that happens, I’ll freeze some whole, squeeze a few and freeze the juice and pop the zest in there too.
Nothing gets wasted with a little planning and some freezer space!
You don’t need plastic bags here either. Use freezer safe glass containers, mason jars, and reusable silicone bags to store everything.
These glass kits are great:
6. Try other preserving techniques
Besides freezing, try other preserving techniques.
- salt, etc
Yep, we have a lot of ways to preserve food. Here is where zero waste meets preppers.
If you have lots of fruits, make jams and syrups. Use brine, alcohol, vinegar or oil to pickle veggies.
Ferment to make sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and wine. Try canning whole fruits, veggies, and tomato paste.
Dehydrate spices and herbs to make your own seasonings and powders. Make everything from ginger to chili powder.
Leda Meredith’s book on Preserving Everything is a must read if you’re interested in these preserving techniques.
When you’ve extracted as much nutrition out of your food and are left with scraps, the best thing to do is to compost them.
You can blend peels, coffee grounds and egg shells and add them to your garden as a natural fertilizer. Or you can simply dig a hole and chuck all your food waste in there. That’s what I do.
There are also indoor composting options that are great for apartments.
Epica’s kitchen compost bin is stainless steel and doesn’t allow fruit flies in there. You can rot your kitchen scraps for months without any smell.
If you have more space, outdoor tumbling composters are great but they are almost always made of plastic.
Composting isn’t for everyone either. If it’s not for you, that’s ok!
Look for composters and farmers in your neighborhood who are willing to accept your food scraps.
Reach out virtually and drop off your scraps safely.
8. Get everyone involved
You are only one person and you can’t do it all. Explain how to reduce food waste at home to your kids, your partner, your parents and everyone else in your circle.
Get them involved and excited to embark on this low waste journey. Ask them for their ideas too and implement them. That’ll get everyone more invested and willing to start gardening, preserving food, composting and reducing waste.
It’s time to turn it over to you. How to reduce waste at home? I’d love to hear your answers.