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Earth Day 2024: Four effective strategies to reduce food waste at home

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Much food loss and waste can be avoided, especially in retail and households. Photo / 123rf

Food waste is a serious emergency worldwide, so here are four practical steps we can take this Earth Day to eat healthier, reduce food waste and save the planet.

While some food loss and waste – such as eggshells, tea bags or bones – is unavoidable, much of it can be avoided, especially in retail and household settings.

In the retail context, approximately 14 percent of avoidable food waste occurs because foods are often overstocked by supermarkets that prioritize consistent availability at the expense of wasted products.

In households, food is wasted mainly due to spoilage, with the greatest volume lost to perishables, especially fruits and vegetables. The latter area is responsible for almost half of all food waste in Canada.

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Food is wasted primarily through spoilage, with the greatest volume lost to perishables.  Photo / 123rf
Food is wasted primarily through spoilage, with the greatest volume lost to perishables. Photo / 123rf

Consequences of food loss and waste

In Canada, it is estimated that each household throws away nearly 3 kg of food that could have been eaten every week. To put that into context, it’s about 15 apples or large carrots that unnecessarily go to the landfill every week.

On average, food costs represent more than 11 percent of family income, with lower-income families having to spend an even larger percentage of their income on food.

The average household throws away nearly $900 each year, and with nearly seven million Canadian households struggling to put enough food on the table – and two in five reporting costs as a barrier to healthy eating – that waste is mounting.

In addition to money, food waste can also have an impact on the health of our diet. Often it’s the nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and perishables that end up in the trash, rather than shelf-stable, ultra-processed foods that have known health consequences.

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Because food loss and waste occur at every stage of the food chain, solutions are needed at every stage. While food loss may be harder to avoid earlier in the chain, retailers and households have the power to tackle food waste every day.

Current solutions to food waste include upcycling food waste, establishing urban compost programs to divert waste from landfills, and promoting consumer awareness through education to prevent food from becoming waste in the first place.

Food waste interventions in practice

Wanting to tackle this global problem, our research group developed and tested a four-week intervention in 2020 to reduce food waste among Canadian families.

Mothers, fathers and children were invited to participate in a four-week intervention with the following components:

1) A cooking class;

2) Four text messages per week with food waste information and reminders to reduce waste;

3) A toolkit including a vegetable brush (to reduce the waste of vegetable peels), a cookbook aimed at reducing food waste, a meal and grocery planner, reusable containers for storing leftovers and a fridge magnet poster showing where food can go best preserved.

The families indicated that they were very satisfied with the overall intervention and particularly appreciated the cookbook and the vegetable brush as tools in preventing food waste.

Parents also reported an increase in confidence in reducing household food waste. The children involved in the study also reported an improved ability to interpret expiration dates – or food that is not as fresh as it was, but still perfectly edible.

At household level, we found a 37 percent reduction in avoidable fruit and vegetable waste, measured during four-week food waste audits, where waste was collected and weighed individually.

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These results are promising because they show that even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic (mid-2020), families could still reduce food waste using simple tools and cues, without reducing fruit and vegetable intake. Another promising result is that we were able to involve both parents and children, resulting in changes at the individual and family level.

You can plan your meals before shopping to reduce food waste.  Photo / 123rf
You can plan your meals before shopping to reduce food waste. Photo / 123rf

Tips for healthier eating and less food waste

Incorporating healthy foods into our diets shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, but busy schedules and rising grocery prices can get in the way.

Finding simple ways to reduce household food waste is crucial.

That said, the responsibility for food loss and waste should not fall solely on individual consumers. While individuals can make a difference, bigger policy changes are also needed – in the way food is grown, processed and distributed.

If you are interested in eating healthier and helping improve the health of our planet, here are some steps you can take:

1) Plan your meals before you go shopping;

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2) Learn to love leftovers;

3) Store food properly so that it does not spoil;

4) Advocate for change!

Amar Laila is a postdoctoral researcher at the EAT-Lancet 2.0 Commission and studied at the University of Guelph. Cristina Gago is an assistant professor of community sciences at Boston University School of Public Health at Boston University. Jess Haines is an associate professor of applied nutrition in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.