Changing the food waste narrative

Books on composting and food waste on display at the Hotchkiss Library in Sharon.

Photo provided

Changing the food waste narrative

An apple stored in a refrigerator stays fresh several days longer than an apple in a bowl of fruit on your counter — particularly if that bowl has a banana or an avocado in it.

Bananas, by the way, are the fruit most frequently thrown away uneaten, due to the perception that the discoloration and softness means “icky” or “inedible.” (Tip: make banana bread, or store in your freezer for a smoothie.)

Bearing in mind that close to 40% of all food produced in the U.S. goes uneaten, and that one third of all garbage is food waste, it is good to know what one can do about reducing food waste.

This week is Food Waste Prevention Week (April 1 to 7), and many communities across the country engage in activities that promote awareness of wasted food. Why does it matter?

There are several reasons. For one, it saves money. Every year Americans lose more than $218 billion on wasted food. Individual households are responsible for most of that wasted food.

Second, when wasted food is thrown away in Connecticut, it goes either to a landfill as far away as eastern Pennsylvania (as it does for Salisbury and Sharon garbage), or to a Waste to Energy plant (as it does in other parts of the state).

In landfills, decomposing food waste emits methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas. At Waste to Energy plants, the wet and heavy food waste stresses already outdated equipment.

Wasted food includes scraps created in preparing meals and snacks, plate scrapings, prepared but uneaten foods, and spoiled foods. Much of this wasted food can be composted in a backyard system and all can be composted in a commercial composting facility. Many households already compost food scraps. That is a good thing. But, preventing food waste in the first place (upstream solutions) means that more food can go to hungry people, or if not suitable for human consumption, to farm animals.

Americans would save money and resources by learning how best to store produce, meats, and other groceries; how to use leftovers resourcefully; how to maximize the refrigerator’s different zones of cooling; how to use the freezer and other methods to preserve food; and how to change shopping habits.

The Salisbury/Sharon Transfer Station Recycling Advisory Committee (TRAC) and the transfer station Manager learned of Food Waste Prevention Week in a late-February webinar, which left little time for organizing outreach events, but, nonetheless, a few activities have been planned and some have already taken place. At Indian Mountain School, Tom Stewart, the Director of Sustainability Programming and Initiatives, reported that in addition to regularly talking about food waste, the school presented a food waste awareness quiz, and plans to have a series of announcements based on materials from the website for Food Waste Prevention Week. The Corner Food Pantry posted Spanish-language signs and offered handouts about how best to avoid wasting food. The children’s librarian at Scoville Library read books about composting and food waste (and children observed a worm-composting bin). The Hotchkiss children’s librarian will display similar books.

Salisbury Central School will have a food drive later in April. At Sharon Center School, the students will learn about Food Waste Prevention and brainstorm solutions during STEM class in the month of April. The STEM teacher at Sharon Center hopes to make room for a trivia quiz or other activity, also later in April. The Fairfield Farm at Hotchkiss School will present a kitchen class about using foods that are over peak freshness, or ugly, or past the “best by” date.

For more information about wasted food, go to:

Barbara Bettigole is chair of the Salisbury/Sharon Transfer Station Recycling Advisory Committee (TRAC).

Click here for tips for proper food storage in your refrigerator and freezer.

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