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Extension Notes: Help the environment by reducing food waste

By: Rebecca Konopka
Carter County Extension Agent

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste can be defined as food that has been served but not eaten, spoiled food or peels and rinds considered inedible. It is estimated that more than 30% of the food generated in the United States, approximately 80 billion pounds, ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) found that fruits and vegetables have the highest percentage of waste at 50%, followed by fish at 35%, then cereals with 30% losses for oil seeds and meat and dairy at 20%. 

Having food in landfills isn’t the same as “composting,” as food doesn’t break down when dumped. Food in landfills is akin to produce in a plastic bag, it will not disintegrate. The nutrients in the food don’t return to the soil. As the food rots, it produces methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas. 

Studies have found that food waste is responsible for up to 10% of all carbon emissions across the globe. The FAO estimated that the carbon footprint of wasted food was equivalent to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. For comparison, all the transportation in the world, such as cars and planes, account for 14%.  

There are plenty of ways to prevent food waste. 

One way is to only purchase what you need and take inventory of what you have on hand before you grocery shop. This will keep you from buying duplicate items, and creating unnecessary food waste.  

Use what you have in the order you bought it. This goes for produce all the way to packaged goods. It may be helpful to learn what the terms “sell by”, “best by” and “use by” mean so that you can know what food is still good that you have. 

  • Sell by – Grocers use this term to inform their employees when products should be removed from shelves to ensure frequent rotation of stock. It has no indication of food quality. 
  • Best by – It simply provides a conservative estimate of when the produce should be consumed for quality. It does not imply that foods are unsafe to eat after the date. 
  • Use by – Refers to dates when food should be consumed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food will go bad if you are eating it the next day, but you should exercise caution with these labels. 

Learn how to properly store fruits and vegetables. This will ensure they last longer. Some produce items are picky about how and where they are stored.  

Donate or barter. Find a neighbor, friend or family member to share extra produce and meals with. Also, there may be opportunities in your community to donate items to those in need.  

Get creative with leftovers or simply cut back on the amount of food you prepare if you are unable to eat all leftovers in the recommended amount of time.  

Start getting creative with the entire product. Did you use carrots and still have the carrot tops? Those are great to add to homemade vegetable stock, or give them a try! They are edible, and it could be an opportunity to try something new.  

And finally, embrace imperfections. We expect produce to look perfect, but oftentimes they can be an odd shape. This has no effect on their nutritional quality or taste. Just because it doesn’t look picture-perfect doesn’t mean that it tastes any worse than their prettier cousins. 

For more information on reducing food waste, contact the Carter County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.   Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability. 



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