Chances are that you know you waste food – a head of lettuce here, stinky leftovers there. But it’s hard to know just how much is going bad without keeping track.
Think about it this way. If you are trying to save money one of the first things you do is identify where you are spending it so you can create a budget to reduce unnecessary and excess spending. Reducing food waste should follow the same principles – you have to identify what you are throwing away so you know what you need to work on.
But first, it’s important to know exactly what food waste is. That might seem obvious, but for the sake of effectiveness, I am going to define food waste as any food product that was not consumed because it was spoiled, burned, moldy, etc. This does not include the part of food that are not edible.
The following tips come from the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook. Her book covers so much more than any of my posts do, so if you want an easy, hand-held reference guide to keep at home please go buy her book or check it out at your public library. It’s absolutely worth it.
How to Conduct a Food Waste Audit
- Identify what you throw away. For at least a week, commit to recording what you throw away. You can either write it down on a piece of paper or you can take photos of the food on your phone, like I did. For example, when some sprouts went bad a few weeks ago I snapped a photo of them to remind myself, and did the same when I didn’t use that yellow zucchini in time. Do not include things like egg shells, banana peels or avocado pits.
- Record how much you threw away. Be sure to keep track of the quantity of food you threw away so you have an accurate record of the amount you are discarding. For example, 1 handful of spinach, 3 strawberries, 1 container of leftover soup.
- Where it was thrown away. Be sure to count any food you throw away when you’re at work or eating at a restaurant. When you buy a $12 entree and leave 1/3 of the food on your plate, you’re wasting food and money then too.
- Why it was thrown away. This might be the trickiest part of the food waste audit because you have to think about the reason. Simply saying that my sprouts got slimy because I didn’t use them in time isn’t the real reason they went bad. The truth is that our weekly plans changed and I didn’t get to them in time. Had I prepared the meal the sprouts were for earlier in the week, I would have been able to eat them before they went bad. Thinking back to the root cause of the waste is much more helpful when problem solving. I’ll cover other reasons why we waste food as I go through the series, but here are a few other reasons you might list:
- Bought too much
- Weekly plans changed
- Cooked too much
- Didn’t like it
- Didn’t store it properly
- How much it was worth. This one is particularly painful because it connects it directly to wasting money, which is a powerful motivator. For example, I paid $4 for a bag of sprouts and threw about half of it away, so the wasted sprouts were worth about $2. If you don’t remember how much you paid, either find your receipt or make a note and try to look at the price next time you go to the store. Don’t skip this step because it’s important to equate wasting food with wasting money otherwise you may not be as motivated to change your habits.
So how did our food waste audit go? Turns out we did pretty well during our test period, probably because we have been very careful about reducing food waste since reading the book. But our full schedule and some impulse buys still lead to some waste:
- 1 yellow zucchini – weekly plans changed
- 1/2 head of garlic – bought too much
- 1 1/2 avocados – bought too much, didn’t store it properly
- Garlic scapes – didn’t know how to cook it (impulse buy at farmers market)
- 1/2 bunch parsley – bought too much
Total value: approximately $8.00
As you can see, most of the food that went to waste was because I bought too much. I’ll cover this and the other reasons in part three about meal planning and part four about storage.
So what do you think? Are you ready to conduct your own waste audit?