More than a third of the food produced and distributed in Canada goes to waste. Coupled with nonedible waste such as food packaging, it’s a monumental problem. Here’s how to change things for the better, starting in your very own kitchen.
According to a report released by the National Zero Waste Council, “more than a third of the food produced and distributed in Canada never gets eaten.” That amounts to approximately $31 billion worth of food per year! Waste disposal costs an estimated $100 billion annually, and the environmental and social consequences, such as increased greenhouse gas emissions and hunger among the least fortunate, are palpable.
Adding to that, nonedible waste such as packaging and plastic products complicates the issue even further. Hence the necessity to give the zero-waste concept another look.
Your kitchen waste audit
A simple way to reduce waste output is to keep an eye on how you shop for and store food.
Choose reusable bags and containers
Commit to reusable cotton or jute bags, mesh bags for produce, cotton drawstring bags, and glass containers for items such as pasta, flour, pulses, dried fruit, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Avoid processed foods
Avoid them and you’ll also avoid their packaging waste. Make your own energy bars and wrap in reusable beeswax paper. Ditto for trail mix that you put in reusable containers, or dried fruit and veggie chips (a food dehydrator is a good investment).
Scan for spoilage
In your fridge, regularly scan for spoiled food and throw it out, minus the recyclable containers. “Tired” but still good edibles can become soup or stew. Fruit can become a crisp or be frozen for smoothies.
Look to the future
Next, prevent future waste by changing your mindset. The magic word is “aftermath.” Where will everything end up once it’s peeled, cooked, emptied, and shopped in?
Committing to a zero-waste mindset takes a bit of discipline to start with, but the good news is that once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it rather addictive, says Daniel Papania, co-owner of the zero-waste café Lupii Café in Vancouver.
“You start small in the beginning, but as time goes by, you realize the benefits, not just in terms of money saved, but also in health and overall happier attitude,” he explains. “You’ll never go backwards, even when things get trickier, because making healthy choices a habit becomes an empowering feeling.”
No more food waste
Most people would assume that the bulk of waste in our kitchens comes from packaging. Not so. “Wasted food is the biggest culprit,” says Marcia Dick, solid waste services analyst with the City of Kamloops, BC. That’s almost half of the food you buy, she adds. Put another way, “The wasted food over a year could pay for a family vacation.”
“Plan your meals and shop the perimeters of the grocery stores instead of the aisles,” advises Dick. You’ll save money and improve the environment and your health. Also, “shop the fridge” before you buy more food, and place the most perishable items at the front.
Cook smaller meals
If you’re constantly haunted by the ghosts of leftovers past (you’re not alone), switch to cooking smaller meals. Exception: soups, stews, curries, and chilis usually taste better the next day.
Start them young
Having toddlers in the house means lots of food thrown on the floor. Solution? Give only a few bites at a time instead of a portion, and wash and reuse when appropriate. Engage your little one in a game of “pick-up food” and reward them with songs and hugs. It’s never too soon to learn about food waste.
Small changes for big results
Do snacks and school or work lunches stand in the way of your zero-waste kitchen? Instead of buying ready-made individually wrapped snacks, bake your own cookies or energy bars. Use beeswax paper or stainless steel containers for transport. For lunches on the go, use airtight stainless steel containers, whether layered or partitioned.
“It feels good to have a sense of control over your food choices, as opposed to reaching for already packaged food on the supermarket shelf,” says Papania. Buying in bulk allows you to change the ratio of product to packaging in favour of the first, he says.
Papania’s advice: “Always search for better alternatives, ideally local ones.” In the age of information, grocery stores are quick to adapt to consumers’ suggestions and offer products and services that address environmental and ethical concerns.
Let go of unnecessary packaging
Choose glass or bisphenol A-free cans over plastic whenever possible. Give homemade yogurt or kefir a try in order to avoid plastic (all you need for yogurt are glass jars, bacterial culture, milk, and an oven.) Shop at the local butcher to avoid Styrofoam trays.
“Avoid bagged produce and fruit, which often spoils faster, and buy individually instead,” suggests Papania.
Repurposing and reusing come before recycling
Shop in bulk
Search the bulk section before buying packaged foods. Multilayered foil coffee bags can be converted into shopping bags or recycled through TerraCycle, a company that recycles the “nonrecyclables” through various chain stores.
Rethink cleaning supplies
Replace paper towels with washable cotton towels, use biodegradable sponges and dish brushes, and make your own cleaning supplies (reuse spray bottles if they are clean and it’s safe to do so).
A zero-waste kitchen is a worthy adventure that connects you to nature and unleashes creativity. Have fun doing it!
Try these tips to help you and your family avoid food waste.
- Serve smaller portions (that includes drinks too).
- Freeze veggie scraps for stocks.
- Remember that “best before” doesn’t always equal a strict expiration date.
- Freeze what you overpurchased rather than toss.
- Label foods (yes, even that half of a sandwich) or have a special section for immediate consumption.
Canada’s Dialogue On Plastic Waste
Less than 10 percent of all plastics are recycled globally, while an estimated 8 million tonnes annually add to the existing 150 million tonnes already in the ocean.
The good news: the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has initiated Canada’s Dialogue on Plastic Waste, aiming to reduce marine litter and achieve zero waste on plastics in Canada. All Canadians are invited to share ideas online or via email.
Also, Canadian plastic and chemistry industries pledged to make all plastic packaging recyclable and recoverable by 2030.
A note on freezing
See beyond the plastic bags! Use glass jars for cooked dried beans (drained) and other vegetables. For soups, stocks, and stews (which will expand during freezing), leave headspace at the top.