Help end food waste

Grocery store fruits and vegetables

You can make a measurable, meaningful difference. By taking the time to plan better and sharpen food storage skills, you can eliminate your food waste. (Photo: Raul Gonzalez via Unsplash)

You’re doing your best to eat local, organic, even growing your own food. Make sure you don’t end up throwing out the fruits and vegetables of your hard-earned labour!

Besides being a waste of money, time, energy and nutrients, unused food in landfills is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases.

  • Worldwide, food is discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and kitchens.
  • Many fruits and vegetables don’t even make it onto store shelves because they’re not pretty enough for picky consumers.
  • About 20 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions (a potent greenhouse gas) come from landfills.
  • When people toss food, all the resources to grow, ship and produce it get chucked, too, including massive volumes of water.

How you store food matters

You can make a measurable, meaningful difference. By taking the time to plan better and sharpen food storage skills, you can eliminate your food waste. Consider these tips and tricks when storing fruits and vegetables.

  1. Avoid plastic produce bags and take produce out of plastic wrappings. Airtight wrappings suffocate fresh produce and speed up the decay process.
  2. Don’t wash produce until you’re ready to eat it. Moisture encourages decomposition and mould growth.
  3. Don’t rip off fruit stems. Once living cells are broken, microorganisms start to grow. Keep produce whole as long as possible.
  4. Eat the most perishable items first. Raspberries last a few days. Potatoes can hang around for about a month.
  5. If you want, speed up the ripening process by putting the item (a peach, for example) in a paper bag with a banana.
  6. Store herbs with stems (such as cilantro and parsley) in a jar with water in the fridge. Don’t forget to change the water a few times a week!
A close up of a variety of vegetables on a stand

Did you know?

All fruits and veggies give off ethylene, a colourless, odourless, gaseous hormone that, among other things, stimulates ripening.

Fruits and vegetables are still breathing even after they’ve been pulled out of the soil or off the tree or vine. In general, warmth speeds up respiration and cold slows it down — that’s why refrigeration makes some foods last longer. Some produce is cold-sensitive, so refrigeration accelerates spoilage. Once a cold-sensitive gas-emitter (e.g., banana or avocado) is ripe, it can be refrigerated, but only for a little while.

Organize your fruits and vegetables efficiently in the refrigerator to maximize their freshness and reduce spoilage.

Place fruit that emit ethylene and rot like apples, cantaloupes, honeydews, apricots and figs in one crisper drawer (and set the humidity control to low if your fridge has that feature).

Place fruits and vegetables that wilt along with ethylene-sensitive fruits and vegetables, like strawberries, cucumbers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, parsley, carrots, and cauliflower in your other crisper drawer (and set the humidity control to high).

Put avocados, unripe bananas, peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes and nectarines in a bowl on your counter. Garlic, potatoes, winter squash and onions thrive best in a dark, dry cupboard.

Six shopping tips

01

Pick the first one

This goes for things like dairy items. Don't reach to the back. Grab from the front. (Best before dates have to do with food quality — freshness, texture, flavour and nutritional value — not safety.)

02

Pick the last one

If it’s still fine, grab the one remaining tomato or head of lettuce.

03

Pick the brown, spotted or crooked one

Imperfect-looking produce should be tasted, not wasted.

04

Choose overripe produce, sometimes

See that pineapple? It's going to be mouldy tomorrow. And it came all the way from Hawaii! If you know you’ll eat it right away, buy it. Otherwise, it's dumpster-bound.

05

Choose single bananas

Grab a few single bananas next time instead of choosing a bunch.

06

Only buy what you need

Make a list and stick to it. Don’t get carried away down the aisles!

How to not waste food

Meal plan

Take a few minutes to write out a week’s worth of dinners. Start with what’s already on hand. Think about leftovers for lunches, snacks or other meals. Create a grocery list based on your plan.

If you prefer electronic help, there are loads of recipe websites — some even create a shopping list. If you have miscellaneous ingredients you’ve never used together before, do a web search with your list or use a website like Supercook or Epicurious. Use what you have and try new meals!

Buy the food you need now. Eat the food you planned. You’ll be rewarded with a clean conscience, a healthier planet and a fatter wallet.

Make soup

Veggies past their prime can still make delicious soups and stews. Leftover mashed potatoes thicken any stock.

Make juice

If you have a juicer, give your overripe or bruised fruit or vegetables a new liquid life! Use the leftover pulp to make broth, hearty smoothies or fruit leather.

Freeze

Freezing food takes only takes a moment and extends the life of what isn’t getting eaten right away.

Share

Swimming in leftovers or perishable garden produce? See if your friends or neighbours want some. Invite people over (health restrictions permitting) to feast from your bounty.

Create an “Eat-me-first” bin or basket for the fridge

Feeding a family or living with roommates? This brilliant, simple tip comes from the Just Eat It movie:

  1. Repurpose a plastic bin or basket
  2. Label it: “Eat-me-first”
  3. Add sad-looking produce and foods approaching their “best before” dates
  4. Find and share recipes that incorporate bin items

You’ll save money and put valuable nutrients into people instead of the compost.