Mindful Ways To Reduce Food & Beverage Waste Daily

Words and Images: Elana Jadallah

40% of all food in America is wasted each year.

That’s 119 billion pounds of food.

Kind of hard to comprehend, isn’t it?

I mean I know we all scrape a plate of food into the bin from time to time but thinking about that much food rotting in landfills is shocking. Don’t even get me started on the beverage industry… last time I checked it was something like 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills every single day.

Statistics can be overwhelming, I get that, but they’re important because they show what individual action looks like multiplied.

Oddly, this gives me hope because my intention in writing this and sharing the knowledge I’ve picked up along the way is to reverse that multiplied action.

What if you integrate these tips and tell one person? Maybe they’ll tell one person… and so on.

Action Multiplied is powerful.

We are in an era of abundance. Resources, like food, water or electricity, are often taken for granted and wasted. Although reconnecting with the origin of our resources – i.e. joining a CSA, growing food (even herbs!) ourselves, meeting our farmers or butchers, locating a spring near us, knowing who makes our clothes, etc. – can foster reverence and appreciation for the resources we are in contact with, and make us much more aware of our waste.

Here are some ideas on how we can be mindful of and reduce our food & beverage waste:

1. Store Food Properly to Preserve Freshness

Storing our food mindfully preserves it longer and gives it the most viable chance to be utilized. For produce, I recommend soaking them in filtered water with either apple cider vinegar or baking soda and giving them a scrub / rinse prior to storing.

Some storage tips that have helped us preserve food longer are:

  • Purchase “naked” produce (that’s not packaged in plastic) as food stored in plastic packaging spoils faster due to “sweating”
  • Carrots and celery submerged in water will keep fresh longer
  • Lemons & limes also stay fresh longer if stored in water
  • Leafy greens can be kept in airtight containers (like these stainless steel to-go boxes) with a tea towel or a paper towel to soak up the moisture.
  • Store broccoli, green onions and fresh herbs like flowers, upright in a container with a bit of water
  • Store ready-to-eat foods at the top of the fridge because heat tends to rise, try leftovers in the middle and perishables (i.e. dairy, new produce, raw milk) towards the bottom in the coolest spot
  • Keep the freshest produce in one crisper drawer and older produce in the other so you always know what to eat first

If you’re wanting to deep dive into this topic specifically, here’s an article I found helpful… especially the section about ‘foods that are wrong for each other’!

2. Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time

One of the biggest reasons for food waste in our household is lack of planning. Once we made the shift towards a weekly menu – our food waste lowered significantly. It moved us from buying those random ‘ooh, that looks good!’ items which we didn’t have a plan for (and often got wasted) to knowing exactly what we needed and intentionally utilizing what we purchased.

In case you, like me, weren’t taught how to plan a weekly menu or what the rituals are surrounding that, I shared some things to consider:

Step 01. Who are you cooking for that week? Are you having any additional friends / family over for a special meal that you need to shop for? Once you have an idea of how many you’re cooking for… how many meals are you making that week? Count breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.

For example – in our house, we love leftovers and usually try to eat them for lunch the next day eliminating the need to cook a whole meal in the middle of the day. This means we don’t usually buy ‘lunch ingredients’ because they would go to waste.

Especially if you live with anyone whose weekly plans may change (meaning skipping a dinner) I recommend including meals on your weekly menu that can be eaten the next day for lunch or frozen for later.

Step 02. Next, check your fridge, freezer and pantry to see what foods need to be eaten soon and what you already have on hand for the meals you have planned (i.e. bulk items).

Step 03. Write your market list. Ours starts with our CSA order, then farmer’s market, then the health food market. And the most crucial part? Sticking to it! By adhering to the list you wrote out, you’ll feel less pressure to impulse buy and can avoid random items you won’t use.

We prioritize local, seasonal ingredients in our meals which means that the available ingredients influence our menu vs choosing recipes we want to make and then hunting for the specific ingredients. If you are wanting to do the same, I recommend shopping the day after your local farmer’s market or the day after your CSA pick up. That way you’re just ‘filling the gaps’ at the grocery and shaping your meals around what you get locally and/or grow yourself. 

3. BYOBottle

I’ll say it time & time again – bringing your own vessel will save you SO much waste. Start there. This eliminates the need for single-use beverage bottles because you came prepared. Not only is this a better choice for the planet, it’s a better choice for your health.

The harmful toxins in the plastic bottles actually leach into whatever we’re drinking, then enter our bodies. These chemicals are linked to cancer, reproductive issues, immune system suppression and problems with childhood development. 

If you lean on electrolyte drinks often (like Gatorade), a tip I learned this year is how easy they are to make with minimal, clean ingredients so you can skip the harmful dyes, synthetic ingredients and plastic containers. Combine filtered water, high quality sea salt, and a bit of local honey or maple syrup to quench your thirst and rehydrate! Take it a step further and add a splash of aloe juice and/or magnesium.

4. Reduce Tea / Coffee Waste

Another way to reduce beverage waste is to skip K-cups and pre-packaged tea bags. K-cups are nearly impossible to recycle and end up in our landfills and waterways. If you already have a Keurig, they make reusable k-cups!

So the negatives of K-cups may be more obvious but tea bags are also harmful…

I was really shocked to learn that a large majority of pre-packaged tea bags are made of synthetic fibers (aka plastic) and here we are just unconsciously dunking plastic in boiling water, trying to have a nourishing cup of tea in peace and instead gulping down chemicals.

Let’s avoid all of this, shall we?

Alternatively, we can buy our beverages of choice the old fashioned way – in bulk by the pound (or even more if you drink it more frequently, this will save $!)

It’s become such a fun practice to create my own tea blends, lately focusing on medicinal leaves and herbs and exploring plants I can even grow myself! You can get a reusable metal steeper, fill that baby up over and over again.

Lastly, if you get your coffee at your local coffee shop, bring your own mug and most places will discount your coffee!

5. Freeze What You Can't Eat

Besides canning, freezing is the ultimate way to preserve food! If you have an excess of anything, freeze it for later so that you don’t have to toss any of it. Make sure you store your food in an airtight container.

  • Fresh fruit that’s taken a turn towards mushy can be frozen to use in smoothies or desserts
  • Flavor Cubes – whether you want to blend lemon juice and ginger to pop into hot water in the morning, a mix of fruit and greens for smoothies or even fresh herbs with olive oil, the list is endless! Pour your blender mixture into ice cube trays and then store in an airtight container so that you can use these later!
  • At the peak of ______ season (insert: berry, tomato, squash, etc), buy a bunch of it locally & freeze it! For tomatoes or pumpkin / squash, cook a bunch & then freeze to make pasta sauce or soup all year long! If you store in glass, never fill above the curve line of the jar (aka leave 2cm of space at the top) to allow room for the liquid to expand when frozen.
  • If you purchase meat from your butcher, freeze whatever you’re not going to eat immediately. And if you haven’t, consider buying in bulk from a local regenerative farm.
  • Freeze veggie scraps like carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, etc so that you can make broths. Once you’ve got your container filled up, pop the scraps into a big pot with or without meat bones and simply make a zero waste, nourishing broth.
  • Two surprising ones for you – both avocados & bread can be frozen whole!
  • Broths only last for about a week in the fridge. If you make your own (like advised above), freeze whatever you’re not going to immediately use / have plans for that week so that you can use it later. Same goes for excess soup!

6. Compost The Rest

Sometimes, things just fall through the cracks and our food has gone by – it happens! Instead of scraping it into the bin headed for landfill, ask yourself, can this be composted? It always feels better knowing that I am *making* something with the waste rather than sending it to the dump.

Depending on the method you’re using for compost (i.e. bokashi) most food waste can be composted… but if you’re just getting started with composting, start with the basic idea of veggies, fruits, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea leaves, brown paper bags, brown cardboard, dried and fresh leaves.  

Composting is awesome for a number of reasons: it enriches the soil, reduces methane emissions, absorbs carbon and allows our food to break down naturally and regenerate into something powerful! If you’ve got some land around your home, I recommend starting a simple compost pile. If you don’t have the space or don’t feel comfortable yet, look into community composting programs in your area!

There is no such thing as perfect compost – just start! If you’re brand new to the concept and hungry for information, here is a great comprehensive guide re: composting!  

To learn more about soil health, I highly recommend watching The Biggest Little Farm or Kiss The Ground (both on Netflix).

 Rather than contributing to the $408 billion in food thrown away or the 38 billion water bottles going to landfills each year – let’s rethink our habits, shall we?

We need large corporations to step in and policy to change, absolutely. But we also have the power as individuals to be mindful of how we show up in this world, what we subscribe to and the waste we create.

Which of these tips will you integrate first? Feel free to tag me if you share any of your actions with your community on social media!