5 Easy Ways to Cut Back on Food Waste

dehydrated fruits

Food requires a lot of resources, including land, water and energy. It should come as no surprise then, that the food we waste accounts for a whopping six percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to cut back on food waste. It can even be fun! Check out these five ideas for waste-preventing, emission-reducing inspiration.

1. Store food properly

How you store food makes a big difference in how long it lasts. First, check out this food storage guide from the EPA to learn which foods last longer when kept inside your fridge and which ones don’t. Next, find out what parts of your fridge are best for which foods.

2. Freeze, dehydrate or pickle food that’s about to go bad

If you have too much food sitting in your fridge, don’t let it go to waste! Extra bananas can be peeled and frozen for future use in breads and smoothies, while other fruit like peaches and berries can be frozen and stored for smoothies, pies and other baked goods. Uncooked meat can be frozen for future meals, and cooked meals like soup can be frozen for an easy meal on a lazy day.

Have an abundance of fruit or veggies from your garden harvest or a deal at the supermarket? Try dehydrating and storing them for use later. This guide will help you reach the perfect level of dehydration for storage.

If you have extra veggies like cabbage, carrots, cucumber or green beans, try pickling them to make them last. You don’t have to learn canning, either — quick pickling works just as well.

3. Eat veggies without peeling

Not only will it save you a lot of work, it will cut down on food waste, increase your dish’s flavor and give you more nutrients. The veggies you can stop peeling include beets, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, parsnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Worried about dirt? Soak your veggies in water for a few minutes to get most of it off, then use a vegetable brush to finish the job.

4. Find ways to eat the parts of your food you’d normally toss

If there’s a part of some kind of food that you always toss, see if there’s a way you could make it edible. Here are some of our ideas:

5. Put your food scraps to work

Not all food scraps are destined for the bin. Try out some of these fun ideas to give your scraps a second life:

  • Make a broth out of carrot, celery and onion scraps.
  • Make an exfoliating coffee scrub out of used coffee grounds. Simply add a little oil of your choice (like coconut or jojoba) to freshly brewed grounds and exfoliate away! Use a drain catcher to keep the grounds from clogging up your plumbing.
  • Make potpourri from dried orange and other citrus peels.
  • Grow new plants out of food scraps.

Go Green In Every Room: Plastic Free Pantry

Pantry that is free of plastic containers

The pantry can be a place where many single-use plastics live, including food packaging and plastic storage bags. However, there are a few easy ways to purchase the same great food while reducing waste. Consider the options below to help reduce plastic waste in the pantry.

Glass Storage Jars

Glass jars can be purchased or recycled from other food products, such as pickle jars for example. They are an ideal way to store food, as it’s easy to see what’s inside, they typically fit nicely next to one another on a shelf, and their lids generally seal better than plastic food containers. When buying groceries, it’s easy to put bulk items like beans or grains in a glass jar brought from home. Depending on the store, cashiers may ask to weigh your jar before you fill it or they may ask you to self weigh on store provided scales. This weight will then be subtracted from the total weight when it’s time to pay.

Be sure to call ahead to see if there are any COVID-19 related bulk container restrictions at your store.

Silicone Storage Bags

This lightweight option is a great way to store smaller items or leftovers, like crackers or chips. It’s easy to bring on the go, just toss it in a lunchbox or backpack when you’re headed out of the house.

Reuse Spice Jars

Once the original packaging of a spice is empty, it can be reused. Both glass and plastic spice containers are refillable, and often have a lid that can be unscrewed for easy refilling. Spices can be bought in bulk and are typically cheaper than their pre-packaged equivalents. When it’s time for more, simply bring the container to the store, have it weighed when empty, and refill it at the bulk bins.

Be sure to call ahead to see if there are any COVID-19 related bulk container restrictions at your store.

Beeswax Food Wraps

These handy cloths are made of fabric dipped in beeswax. They can be purchased from a local vendor or even made at home. They’re great for protecting baked goods like breads or muffins. The cloth is wrapped around the items, and then naturally clings to itself creating a seal around the food.

November 15: America Recycles Day

america recycles day logo

America Recycles Day is November 15th! To celebrate, people all across America are taking the day to organize, educate and make our recycling systems more functional! Keep America Beautiful, the organization who founded this celebration of recycling, says that November 15th is “a nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States.” They encourage the public to participate by utilizing toolkits provided through the America Recycles Day website and forming action groups with other community members.

Why Recycle?

So, why does recycling need a special day? The United States recycles less than 22% of materials discarded, though much of what’s wasted could technically be recycled. A big part of the problem is caused by public confusion on how to recycle. If we can sort out the confusion, many of these items could be turned into new goods and prevented from entering landfills. For example, recycling five plastic bottles produces enough fiber to fill one winter jacket. Here’s another surprising fact: every three months, enough aluminum cans are thrown into landfills in America to build the nation’s entire commercial airline fleet.

Get Involved

America Recycles Day is aimed at helping dissolve the confusion around recycling, offering many ways for the public to get involved, from attending an event, or organizing one to simply signing up to participate individually. Those who wish to take the recycling pledge can sign up on the website, and commit to a 3-step promise: learning more about their local recycling facility and how to recycle, taking action to reduce waste over the month beginning November 15th and sharing their new knowledge with others.

Ways To Take Action

  1. The first step to creating meaningful change in recycling is to educate yourself on what’s recyclable in your community. Our recycling guide includes disposal information for hundreds of commonly used items as well as alternative ways to recycle, ways to reduce, and ways to reuse.
  2. Once you’ve got a handle on how to recycle, go the extra mile and attend a recycling or cleanup event. Check out Keep America Beautiful’s upcoming events to get involved.
  3. Another way to support recycling is by spreading the word. To make this easy, Keep America Beautiful has provided templates for writing letters to the editor and getting proclamations from local government leaders.

Ask the Experts: What is Biodegradable Plastic?

dishwasher pods
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Q: What is biodegradable plastic?

A: Biodegradable plastic is a tricky topic! Why? Because it’s a blanket term applied to many different plastics. It’s made in different ways by different companies, but called the same name because it’s designed for a similar end: biodegrading.

Let’s start by defining the term biodegradable. When something is biodegradable, that means it can break down into organic materials. Regular plastic can’t do this — it can only break down into smaller pieces of plastic, which is a synthetic material.

How Biodegradable Plastic Is Made

In general, biodegradable plastics are made from petrochemical (oil-based) polymers that are put through a chemical process to turn them into plastic. In this way, they are just like any normal plastic.

However, some biodegradable plastics are made from plant-based plastics — bioplastics — or a combination of plant-based and synthetic plastics. Plant-based plastics are made by taking polymers that exist in nature and putting them through a similar chemical process to turn them into plastic.

How to Dispose of It

It’s important to know that biodegradable plastics are not recyclable. And just because they are capable of biodegrading doesn’t mean that they will. Some require very specific conditions or special microbes in order to biodegrade, and some require a very long time.

For instance, one of the more common types of biodegradable plastic has chemicals added to it that can help it break down in open air and sunlight, whether that’s out in a field or floating in the ocean. However, it isn’t designed to break down when buried underground (in a compost or landfill) or submerged in water. Without enough oxygen and sunlight, it may never biodegrade.

You wouldn’t really want this kind of plastic to break down in the environment anyway, though — or in a compost pile, or in your water supply. The chemicals that have been added to it can leave behind a toxic residue, and some types of “biodegradable” plastic won’t actually break down into organic molecules at all. Instead, they break down into smaller pieces of synthetic plastic, also known as microplastics.

For these reasons, anytime you see something labeled “biodegradable plastic,” toss it in the trash. That way, if and when it breaks down, it won’t pollute anything other than the landfill.

Dishwasher & Laundry Detergent Pods

Dishwasher pods and laundry pods are the exceptions to this rule. These products are made from polyvinal alcohol, often referred to as PVA or PVOH. They are designed to dissolve in water and are fully biodegrade with the help of certain microbes present in wastewater treatment facilities.

Tricks to Beat the Plastic-Wrapped Treats

candy corn in mug

Scientists agree that single-use plastic is a big problem for our planet. Straws, takeout containers and plastic grocery bags are banned or in the process of being banned in many cities and states across the country. Unfortunately, single-use plastics seem to be built into many of our holiday traditions. Here are some simple tips to help you ditch the single-use plastic candy wrappers this Halloween.

Halloween Candy

Americans bought 600 million pounds of Halloween candy in 2019, and of the top ten most loved brands, eight are wrapped in plastic. For a holiday that encompasses just a single night, that’s a whole lot of single-use plastic.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to recycle plastic wrappers. They’re too small to be sorted effectively by machines or by humans working on a fast moving sorting line. So wrappers must be thrown in the garbage where they will end up in a landfill.

If you love candy, but hate the waste check out these sweet tips:

  • Buy from the Bulk Bins
    Many stores and candy shops offer bulk candy which can be put directly into a container or jar. Even if candy is individually plastic-wrapped, buying from the bulk bin eliminates the need for a big plastic package.
  • No-Wrapper Candy
    (e.g. candy corn, gummy bears and chocolate covered raisins)
    Some candies can be purchased from the bulk bins with no wrapper, which is the most environmentally-friendly option. No-wrapper candies are perfect for candy bowls at home and other places where germs are less of a concern.
  • Foil-Wrapped Candy
    (e.g. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s Kisses and gold coins)
    While the wrappers will still be too small to recycle, foil is non-toxic and decomposes more rapidly than plastic.
  • Paper- and WaxPaper-Wrapped Candy
    (e.g. Pixy Stix and Bits-O-Honey)
    Like foil-wrapped candy, these items are too small to be recycled but are less toxic than plastic.
  • Paper-Boxed Candies
    (e.g. Nerds, Dots, Milk Duds, chocolate-covered raisins and Junior Mints)
    Paper boxes can be recycled once empty. Unlike plastic wrappers, paper boxes can be shredded into pulp and recycled various paper products. Place empty paper boxes into a paper bag and staple shut before placing in the recycling.

No matter how you celebrate this Halloween, do your part to minimize single-use plastic and reduce your impact on the planet.

National Zero Waste Conference Highlights

The National Recycling Coalition has partnered with EcoJustice Radio and Adventures in Waste to spread the Zero Waste message beyond the walls of the conference.  They have recorded podcast episodes highlighting National Zero Waste Conference speakers, including efforts around Zero Waste and social equity, as follows:

Connecting Waste and Climate Change, Episode 53 – Interview with Leslie Lukacs, Executive Director of Zero Waste Sonoma

Reducing Single-Use Culture Through Legislation, Episode 55 – Interview with Mike Sangiacomo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Recology and Eric Potashner, Vice President & Senior Director of Recology

Social Equity in a Zero Waste Baltimore, Episode 58 – Interview with Meleny Thomas, Shashawnda Campbell and Greg Sawtell, of United Workers, Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Reusables in the Age of COVID

reusable jars with panty staples

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. These three Rs have framed how to be a responsible consumer for decades. Now, in the midst of a health crisis caused by a highly infectious disease, consumers are struggling to understand if the middle R — Reuse — is safe or not. Luckily for us, the good folks at The Indisposable Podcast have brought together an epidemiologist and leaders from the reuse industry to get to the bottom of this important issue. Listen along below!

Environmental Footprint of Milk Containers

bowl of cereal

From traditional cow milk to vegan options like hemp milk, a wide variety of milk is available these days. Milk comes in three main types of packaging: the carton, the plastic jug and the glass bottle. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each of these packaging options to determine which is friendliest to our planet.

Cartons

Pros:

  • Milk cartons are lightweight, which minimizes greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to transportation. Less weight also means less material used in creating new cartons. On average a carton is 94% product and 6% container by weight.

Cons:

  • Cartons are not recyclable because they are made up of mixed materials — paper, plastic and occasionally foil — that are hard to separate. Therefore cartons must be tossed in the garbage and end up in a landfill.

Plastic Jug

Pros:

  • Plastic jugs are made of a single material and therefore can be recycled.
  • Plastic jugs are the lightest weight option of the three most common container types. On average a plastic jug is 96% product and 4% container by weight. This means they have the lowest GHG emissions related to transportation.

Cons:

  • Plastic jugs are not recycled into new plastic jugs due to sanitary concerns. Plastic jugs are typically “downcycled” into materials such as composite lumber. This means virgin plastic is used for all plastic jugs.
  • Plastic is made from fossil fuels.

Glass Bottles

Pros:

  • Glass bottles are highly recyclable. Recycled bottles can be made into new bottles.
  • Some brands such as Straus reuse bottles through a deposit system. This eliminates the energy needed to remanufacture bottles.

Cons:

  • Glass is heavy. On average a glass bottle is 75% product and 25% container by weight. Transporting milk in glass results in higher GHG emissions than transporting milk in cartons or plastic jugs.
  • Extracting new materials for new glass is energy-intensive.

While each type of container has its pros and cons, glass bottles are the most environmentally friendly option. This is due to the fact that extraction and manufacturing require the most energy in a milk container’s lifecycle. Glass bottles have a clear advantage over cartons and plastic jugs because they can be easily recycled into new bottles or even reused without remanufacturing. However, milk sold in glass bottles is usually more expensive than milk sold in cartons or plastic jugs. If milk sold in glass is too expensive, reach for the plastic jug instead. Remember to recycle your glass and plastic bottles empty. Milk cartons go in the trash.

Ask The Experts: What Can I Do with Old T-Shirts?

t-shirts on hangers
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Q: I’ve got too many t-shirts. What can I do other than throw them away?

A: Many of us have a shelf or drawer filled with t-shirts from events or gatherings that are meaningful. But what can you do when, over time, these items wear out, or there are just too many of them? Repurpose them! There are a lot of easy home crafts and interesting ways to reuse an old t-shirt and save it from going to a landfill.

New or Usable T-Shirts

Some t-shirts just aren’t the right size or fit, or don’t get worn as much as originally planned. If they’re new or like-new, they can be donated to a local thrift store or charity. If a t-shirt is the right look but not the right fit, consider cutting the sleeves or neck. T-shirts still in somewhat good condition can also be donated to companies that will repurpose them into a new product.

Old and Worn Out T-Shirts

Worn out t-shirts can be cut up into small pieces to be used as cleaning rags around the house. Or cut them into strips and knot or braid them, to create an entertaining dog toy — just make sure your dog doesn’t eat it.

Sentimental T-Shirts

Old t-shirts with sentimental value that still have some life in them make great pieces for a quilt. There are many patterns available online, or craftspeople who accept whole shirts and can do the project from start to finish.

Get Crafty

There are many easy at-home craft projects that are perfect for old t-shirts. These include making bracelets, headbands, plant hangers and so much more. This helpful list provides many options for t-shirt crafts.

Steel: The Most Recycled Material in the World

steel recycling yard

Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? In North America, we recycle around 80 million tons of steel each year. That’s more than the weight of all of the cars in the entire state of California. It’s also more than all the paper, plastic, aluminum and glass we recycle each year combined.

Why Recycle Steel?

Steel recycling is good for the environment because the more steel we recycle, the less mining for new metals we have to do. Every ton of steel we recycle saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone. It also saves energy — recycling steel uses 74% less energy than creating steel from raw materials.

Why Is Steel So Recyclable?

Steel can be recycled over and over again to produce new steel. Why is it so easy to recycle? First, it’s magnetic, so it’s easy to separate from other metals. Second, unlike recycled paper or glass, which suffer from degradation when recycled, steel doesn’t lose any strength when it’s re-melted to make new steel, so it doesn’t lose any of its value.

What Is Steel Used For?

From cars and skyscrapers to soup cans and sardine tins, steel is used to make many of the objects we interact with every day.

Here’s a list of common steel items:
(Click to see how each item can be recycled)

Steel can be used in any of the applications above then be melted down and remanufactured into any of the other items on the list — or even the same item. Isn’t recycling neat?

How Do I Recycle Steel?

It depends on the item. Items such as food cans can be put in your curbside recycling. However, if your steel is scrap metal or large appliances or small appliances, check to see if a scrapyard will take it.

If you have scrap metal you’d like to sell to a scrapyard, start by determining the market price for the metal you have. (A few cans or small steel items are unlikely to be worth the trip.) Then, find a scrapyard by looking up your zip code in the iScrap app. When you bring in your steel, you can recycle other kinds of scrap metal at the same time, including aluminum, copper, brass and cast iron.