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Tips & Tricks to Reduce Food Waste

Californians throw away nearly 6 million tons of food scraps or food waste each year, which ends up being about 18 percent of all the material that goes to landfills (CalRecycle)! Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, is emitted into the atmosphere when compostable materials like food are buried in landfills. By promoting edible food recovery through programs and practicing tricks to extend produce longevity, Californians can alleviate food insecurity while reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Follow these tips to reduce food waste in your home and local community!

Before the Grocery Store

It’s easy to overbuy when food shopping blindly. Before you leave the house, take inventory of the goods in your pantry and refrigerator. From there, you can plan out healthy meals for the week – whether that’s a diverse menu or the same meal prep recipe. If something will expire soon, plan to buy ingredients to incorporate it into a recipe. Make a grocery list of the necessities and stick to it! This stops shoppers from purchasing excess perishable items, which ultimately creates more food waste. 

At the Grocery Store

Don’t be a perfectionist when picking produce! We all come in different shapes and sizes, as do our fruits and vegetables. Buying misshapen produce allows farmers to flourish and reduces “ugly” produce that may be disposed of at the end of the day. You can also subscribe to companies like Imperfect Foods or Misfits Market to receive farmer’s unique or excess produce, and lessen food waste.

Storing and Preserving Food at Home

A large part of a food item’s life depends on the storage and preservation methods at home! First, check the temperature setting on your refrigerator (40°F or below) and freezer (0°F). Make sure food is well organized and items that need to be used first are in front, so that older food is not lost behind fresh goods. 

Leafy greens should be stored in the fridge with a damp paper towel in a reusable container, while bananas, tomatoes, and others can be left on the counter. Potatoes, garlic, and onions can be kept in a cool, dark and dry place, while fresh herbs thrive in a glass of water. Another great way to avoid food spoilage is by separating foods that can easily go bad from items with ethylene (which promotes ripening). Foods that produce ethylene gas include bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupes, peaches, pears, and green onions. 

You can also practice fermenting, pickling, canning, curing, drying, and freezing techniques to preserve food for as long as possible. This is an easy way to always have usable and safe foods at your disposal. 

After a Meal

If you are unable to eat your leftovers within a few days, store them in the freezer rather than tossing fresh food. Fruit and vegetable scraps can be made into soups, smoothies, stir-fries, and baked goods like banana bread. You can also save produce stems, butts, and seeds to turn into new fruits and vegetables with a little soil, water, and sunlight. Using leftovers creatively is a great practice!

Any food scraps, food or beverage soiled paper, and yard trimmings should be placed in your compost bin to be turned into a nutrient rich soil additive! RethinkWaste service area residents can even pick up finished compost at our Shoreway facility!

If you have more food on hand than needed, please consider donating to a local food pantry. By practicing edible food recovery and composting, you are supporting California State law SB 1383, which aims to keep organic material out of landfills!

There are endless ways to reduce food waste which save the planet and your wallet. Finding any small or big changes that work for your household is an important step to address food waste and help California reach its goal of 75% source reduction!

Share with us how you’re reducing your food waste by tagging us on social media! Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Get more food saving tips at StopFoodWaste.org.

Food, Too Good to Waste Webinar Follow-Up

RethinkWaste held a webinar about food waste on August 27, 2020. This page provides the webinar recording, presentation slides, links to more resources, and all of the questions submitted by attendees. If you have additional questions, fill out the form at the bottom of the page.

Starting with what we can do as individuals in our own homes is one part of the equation in stopping food waste. When individual actions are combined, we can then make collective action within our broader community, including pushing for changes in policy or systems. But it begins with individual day to day actions!  

We hope you find the following resources helpful in your personal journey to stop food waste.

To view a recording of the webinar and the live Q&A, click the recording below.

1. Are there any new/innovative ways to encourage (maybe even mandate or control) usage of the green bins? I saw that in Korea, they charge people to dispose of food waste to discourage waste. It may be too extreme for the U.S. Has San Mateo County improved the percentage of organics in the landfill from the last statistic?

In California we have state laws that are helping increase the availability of the green compost bin. AB 1826 requires businesses and multi-family dwellings (MFDs) to have organics collection services if they generate 4 or more cubic yards of combined garbage, recycling, and compost weekly, while SB 1383 aims at reducing the tonnage of organic waste in the landfill by setting a goal of 75% organic waste diversion by 2025. As we increase the number of businesses and MFDs with compost services, we will get closer to these goals as long as everyone uses these programs and composts correctly. If you live in a MFD that doesn’t have compost service and would like it, reach out to your Property Manager to contact Recology to set it up.

2. How do you motivate friends/family to compost and be intentional about reducing food waste?

Consider making it into a game where you have to cook a meal with just the items available in your refrigerator! You can emphasize the resources and money that goes into producing that food item. Motivations will vary between people so try to find what factors are most important to your loved ones.

3. Do you know of any non-recipe uses for food scraps? For example, using orange peels in potpourri.

Cinnamon or orange peels can be boiled to produce a nice scent in a house and lemon or orange peels soaked in vinegar can be used as a household cleaner. A natural hairspray for a “soft hold” can be made with lemon or orange (depends on hair color) and vodka. Watermelon peels can be used on your face to eliminate oil and to clean pores. Egg shells are great for soil to grow plants. Coffee grounds can also be used to make an exfoliating facial cleanser. Avocado peels and pits can be boiled to use as natural dyes.

4. Do you happen to have good suggestions on storing tofu? It’s one of the foods that goes bad most regularly in my fridge.

Take the leftover tofu, drain the water out, put in a tightly sealed container, add new water in the container and change the water every 2 days. If you don’t think you’ll be able to use it right away, you can freeze it. Before freezing, you can cut it up to how you’ll use it later so it will be easier to manage when it’s frozen.

If you have more questions, fill out the form below!

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9 Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, planning ahead is even more important. Not only can planning ahead help keep us prepared, it can also help reduce waste. This can apply to many types of waste, but today our focus is on food waste. According to the 2018-19 San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury Report, 71% of waste landfilled in San Mateo County is made up of organics. If you want to help lower this statistic, here are some tips we’ve found useful in preventing food waste.

  1. Recognize your schedule. It’s important to realize how busy your schedule is and how that might prevent you from doing certain tasks like grocery shopping and cooking. You may even underestimate how often you get take-out and end up overbuying groceries, which usually causes wasted food. Remember to plan your schedule accordingly and it may reduce the number of trips you make to the store.
  2. Keep a regular list of groceries you usually buy. Having a list of ingredients you consistently buy can help you keep track when you run out. To make it easier to access, keep it on your smartphone as a checklist, so you can have it at your fingertips. Your list could also include ingredients that last longer, like flour and sugar, and when you run out, it’s as simple as unchecking it on your digital list to remember for your next grocery trip. If using a smartphone isn’t for you, paper lists work as well! Leave a notepad and pen attached to your refrigerator so that when you run out of something, you can immediately add it to the list. Just make sure to bring the list when you go to the store!
  3. Conduct an inventory of your refrigerator and pantry before grocery shopping. Now that you have your list, before you leave for the grocery store, do one last check to ensure your list is up to date. This can be helpful in case you used up an ingredient while you were cooking and forgot to update your list in that moment.
  4. Plan your meals for the week. If you plan out what meals you’ll be cooking up during the week, you will know what groceries you’ll need when you go to the store. For new recipes, check the ingredient list and make sure to add any new items you may need.
  5. Don’t shop while hungry. Going grocery shopping while hungry somehow makes you think you need to buy things you don’t need! Remember to have a snack before heading out on your next grocery shopping adventure.
  6. Buy some shelf-stable foods. While fresh produce is great, having some shelf-stable foods handy (jarred or canned items) can help reduce food waste as they last longer. Just note that some shelf-stable foods may be high in salt, so be sure to balance it out or consider diluting it so you’re getting the right amount of nutrients.
  7. Know which groceries will go bad first. When trying a new recipe, you might have to buy an ingredient you don’t use often or doesn’t last long before going bad. By being mindful of how long ingredients will last, you can plan your meals smarter and more ingredient-efficient. When it comes to leftovers, try and eat the oldest dish first to ensure you eat it before it spoils.
  8. Preserve it by pickling. Fresh produce may not last very long, but you can make them last longer by pickling. Find a pickling solution recipe you like and enjoy your pickled veggies when you’re running low on produce or if you haven’t been to the store recently.
  9. Save it by freezing. Whether you’re cooking a large portioned meal (i.e. a huge lasagna for two) or with expiring ingredients, freeze the leftovers if you don’t think you’ll eat the rest right away. This way, you can give your future selves a break by having something ready immediately. 

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to stopping food waste in your home! It can be challenging at times and you might still throw away some food, but trust that as long as you keep trying, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

5 Pantry/Freezer Recipes to Try

With the current shelter in place orders, many of us are having to “shop” in our own pantries and freezers. This doesn’t mean your meals have to be boring! Below are 5 recipes you can make with ingredients that you might already have in your home, whether it be in your cupboards or the freezer. Shopping in our own kitchen is also an easy way to prevent food waste while saving yourself a trip to the grocery store (and the emissions that may come with it)! Enjoy these recipes! 

Fresh Pasta

Making homemade pasta requires few ingredients. If you don’t want to eat all the pasta at once, you can separate it into serving sizes, dust it with a bit of flour so it doesn’t stick together and then put it into the freezer on a sheet pan. Once it’s frozen, store it in a container or bag until ready to eat!

You will need:
1 large mixing bowl
1 clean kitchen towel
1 sharp knife
1 cutting board

Ingredients:
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 cups all-purpose flour
1.25 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Mix eggs, flour, oil, and salt in a large mixing bowl with your hands until a sticky dough forms. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover dough with a wet towel and let rest at least 30 minutes. This allows the gluten to form!
  • Cut and roll as desired.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone soup is hearty, yummy, and a great way to use up any vegetables that might expire soon. Play with the ratios to find your ideal flavor!

You will need:
1 large pot
1 knife
1 cutting board
1 can opener
1 wooden spoon or other spoon for cooking

Ingredients: 
Olive oil
Onions, diced
Garlic, diced
Canned beans or other protein
Vegetables, cut into small pieces (examples are carrots, celery, potatoes, or chard stalks – anything that requires a bit longer to cook)
Tomato sauce (this is a great way to use up any half-jars of sauce, though a whole jar is best)
Stock (if you don’t have stock and are a meat-eater, browning the meat + using water instead is a good substitute)
Leafy greens (spinach, chard leaves, etc.)
Cheese (optional, dairy-free, or vegan)
Salt & pepper, to taste

  • If using meat – Add olive oil to a stock pot and brown the meat.
  • Add onions and sauté until almost translucent.
  • Add garlic and cook until both onions and garlic are fragrant and translucent.
  • Add your vegetables that take longer to cook (carrots, celery, chard stalks, etc.). Cook until soft.
  • Add tomato sauce and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • When finished simmering, add any leafy greens and/or canned beans. Let simmer for a few minutes.
  • Add cheese and stir.
  • Taste your soup and add any salt or pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Tomato Stew

An easy, filling dish that goes great with rice. Any protein will do, but if you’re using canned beans make sure to let them stew for a while so they absorb the flavor.

You will need:
1 large pot
1 knife
1 cutting board
1 wooden spoon or other spoon for cooking

Ingredients:
Olive oil
Onion, diced
Garlic, diced
Canned tomato sauce and/or fresh tomatoes, salted
Bayleaf
Protein (if using pork or beef, cut into 1” cubes)
Soy sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Salt & pepper, to taste

  • Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent.
  • Add tomatoes or tomato sauce & bayleaf. Simmer until tomatoes soften & cook down.
  • Add protein into simmering sauce.
  • Season with 2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce & soy sauce.
  • Cover and let simmer until meat (or other protein) is tender and cooked through.
  • Taste your stew and add any salt or pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Fried Rice

Day-old rice is best, but if you don’t have any on-hand, cook some rice and let it sit out for a bit. Feel free to add any other spices or sauces that you like!

You will need:
1 large pan
1 cutting board
1 knife
1 spoon or spatula
1 fork

Ingredients:
Oil
Onion, diced
Garlic, diced
Frozen or wilting vegetables, diced
Cooked meat, cut into small pieces
Rice
Egg (leave out if vegan)
Soy sauce

  • Sauté onions and garlic in a pan until translucent.
  • Add your vegetables and cook until soft.
  • Add your meat and stir.
  • Add your rice and mix thoroughly.
  • If adding an egg, make a small well in the middle of the pan. Crack the egg into the hole and either cook until sunny-side up OR scramble with a fork.
  • Add a few dashes of soy sauce and/or other sauces that you like. Stir and let cook until the rice is to your desired doneness.

Casserole

Casseroles are an easy, one-dish meal that serves as a tasty way to clean out your fridge.

You will need:
1 large mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon or other spoon for cooking
1 oven-safe baking dish
1 can opener
1 knife

Ingredients:
Canned cream of mushroom soup
Stock
Milk, alternative milk, or water
Thyme, rosemary, or other herbs
Salt
Uncooked pasta
Chicken (uncooked or cooked then shredded) or other protein
Mushrooms (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Mix canned soup, stock, milk (or alternative milk or water), thyme, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add uncooked pasta, protein, and mushrooms. Give it another good stir.
  • Pour into an oven-safe baking dish. Cover with foil.
  • Put in the oven and let bake for 35-40 minutes or until pasta and chicken are cooked through.

These meals are meant to be adaptable to your palate, so have fun with them! If you like your casseroles a little spicier, add some red pepper flakes. If you like herbs in your pasta, fold in some basil! This can also be a fun activity for kids if you want to pretend you’re in a cooking competition.

Whether you use these recipes or not, it’s always important to think about minimizing food waste. If food waste is sent to landfills, it becomes a source of methane emission, which is a greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change. Even if food waste is composted, there is still water, land, emissions, and labor that is wasted. By shopping our own pantries and freezers while being creative about our cooking, we can all make a difference! 

How You Can Stop Food Waste

Did you know that one of the most environmentally conscious choices you can make is to not waste food? Food waste affects many aspects of our daily lives: transportation, the environment, the economy, and even our wallets. It’s estimated that in the United States that food waste represents 30-40% of the food supply, and yet 1 in 3 children in Silicon Valley are food insecure. The good news is you have the control to lessen your food waste and here are easy tips on how!

Only buy what you need

Plan your meals out for the week by making a shopping list and buy only from that list. Feel the satisfaction when you realize you bought the perfect amount of food for the week!

Stay organized/store food properly

It may seem surprising to know that a huge reason we end up wasting food is the way it was stored! Keep food that should be eaten sooner at the front of the fridge and try to use air-tight containers. Additionally, temperatures and humidity levels in your fridge vary from spot to spot. Stash items in the proper section and they’ll last longer.

Only take what you can eat

This may seem like a simple one but too often we fill our plate with a bunch of food we do not actually have the appetite for, which ends up getting wasted. Start off with a smaller portion and you can always go back for seconds.

Bring a reusable container when you go out to eat

Always keep a reusable container handy when dining out. If you have any leftovers, you can slip it into your container to take home. You’ll be reducing food waste AND a take-out container from the restaurant. Double win!                      

Freeze food

Remember the great benefits of having a freezer! Nearly every meal can be frozen and eaten at a later date. Portion it into smaller servings and remember to label it.

Taking mindful steps to lessen our food waste ensures that the resources and time that were put into making the food does not go to waste. When you consistently make conscious decisions about how to buy and store your food, it will eventually become habit and you’ll be rescuing food from being wasted in no time! Americans waste an average of one pound of food per day. Let’s get that to zero.

For more food waste tips, visit stopfoodwaste.org.